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Improving Concentration

Improving Concentration

Most students do not find it difficult to plan their work for the day, the week, or even the semester ahead. Where it all gets a bit more difficult is when they actually have to sit down with their books and actually study.

Effective study depends on having the right space, time, materials and, most importantly, the right state of mind.

Consider the following questions. Write down honestly your response to each of the questions. Then click on the question, to find out what tutors and lectures have said about each of the questions.

  1. Where is the best place for you to study?
  2. When is the best time for you to study?
  3. Do you waste time finding bits and pieces before you start working? How well do you use your study time?
  4. What do you do with odd bits of time - e.g. bus journeys?
  5. Do you worry about how much work other people are doing?

Your answers to each of the questions will, of course, be different. What matters, though, is that your answer to each of the questions is enough to satisfy your own conscience. Only you can decide the best conditions you work under and what techniques help you to concentrate.

1. Where is the best place for you to study?

Some of you may have put down the university library, others may prefer to work at home. I bet only a few of you put down "whereever I can". If you think about it, this is probably the best answer, as no matter how well you work in your favourite study space, you cannot be there all the time. Not being able to work in a particular place can become for some just another excuse for not studying!

That said, there is nothing wrong with having a preference for a particular study environment. It is important to recognise your study enivornment needs, as you should spend your intense study sessions in environments which match these needs.

Some of the things you might want to consider are:

  • Availablity of the study location
    You might prefer to work at night, and places such as the library are not open at 2am!
  • Grouping
    Do you prefer to learn or study alone or in small groups? You may wish to take part in study groups to prepare for tests and exams.
  • Posture/Mobility
    You may prefer to sit at a table or desk, or you might be able to learn more easily while sitting comfortably on a sofa or lying on the floor. Further, some people have the ability to sit and study for long periods of time (high persistence), while others need to take frequent breaks (low persistence).
  • Noise
    Contrary to popular belief, not everyone needs to study in a perfectly quiet environment.
  • Lighting and temperature
    Choose to study in the environments in which you feel most comfortable.

Activity: Evaluate 3 studying environments

http://www.ucc.vt.edu/stdysk/studydis.html

On the web site above you will find the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Study Environment Analysis. This inventory helps you evaluate the three places you study most frequently.

2. When is the best time for you to study?

As with the first question, the best answer to this is anytime. Of course, you most likely have your favourite time of the day to study (Are you a morning person or a ' midnight oil burner'?). The unpredictabilities of university life, however, will almost certainly mean you will not always be able to work at an ideal time.

Experiment with different studying times. You might find that once you have made the effort to get out of bed, you actually work really well in the mornings!

3. Do you waste time finding bits and pieces before you start working? How well do you use your study time?

The peer mentors from the Department of English and American Studies have offered the following comments about time-wasting.

" It's really easy to waste time at the start of each working session tidying your desk, staring out the window, making a cup of tea, cleaning the fish tank out or doing one of the other million virtually important tasks which always seem to crop up when an essay deadline is looming. DON'T!!!

Remember that all this wasted time could be spent doing something you really enjoy instead! Once you've decided to start work, discipline yourself to start there and then pen-in-hand. If you still feel the need to make a cup of tea you can always make one after half an hour - but by then you'll be thinking about the work in hand as you do it, so the time won't be wasted."

Reference: Department of English and American Studies Working Towards Your Degree, Time Management pamphlet.

4. What do you do with odd bits of time - e.g. bus journeys?

Dr. Phil Race argues that these are ideal times to study.

As he writes, do you...

"Read the paper? Read other peoples' papers? Stare out of the window? Sleep? Not very productive, any of these. Did you answer that on regular journeys, you actually do a bit of work? If so, congratulations!

In fact, on regular commuter journeys to and from university, it's surprising how receptive your brain is to a bit of stimulus. You soon get bored with repetitive sights and sounds on your journey. If you do a small amount of learning on each journey, you may well find that it "sticks" rather well, because your brain is that bit more receptive. And of course, the time could so easily be completely wasted, so even if you only study for the odd minute or two on each journey, it's that much more than you would have done otherwise."

Reference: Dr. Phil Race Teaching & Learning in Higher Education, Part One (University of Manchester), p.18.

5. Do you worry about how much work other people are doing?

If you do, then maybe this advice offered by Dr. Phil Race will help. This excerpt dates back to the days Dr. Race was a Warden of a hall of residence.

Dr. Race: "Now and then, a student would get very anxious about the amount of work done in the room next door. "I can't sleep," the student may complain, at 0230 hrs... "the light next door is on" ... "I can hear pages turning."

If you feel that you are doing enough work then you should not worry about how much anyone else is doing - or seems to be doing. Some work best in the early hours anyway. Some of us take twice as long to master something than others take. It does not matter at all, as long as we master what we need to do. Exams and assignments measure what we've mastered, not how long it too us to do it (thankfully).

Reference: Dr. Phil Race Teaching & Learning in Higher Education, Part One (University of Manchester), p.18.