Categories: Lifestyle

Tips For Staying Focused This Semester

Eager freshmen—cardboard boxes in hand, ready for a host of adventures—make their way to colleges’ cobbled roads and brick buildings each September. However, the reality of weekly exams and a season dedicated for midterms soon hits new students, as even upperclassmen struggle to balance their study and social lives. 

If you’re trying to prepare for upcoming exams, here are some tips for staying focused this semester. 

Get enough sleep

Inevitably, every college will hold a cohort of individuals who brag about their poor sleep schedules. After heading to the library at 10 PM with a bag full of notes, they pack up at 8 AM and walk directly to their exam location. These library campers may try to tout the effectiveness of their sleepless study practices. However, the first step for staying focused this semester is to ignore those self-proclaimed “experts.”

In a 2019 MIT study, poor sleep had a negative correlation with high test scores. In other words, getting inadequate sleep related to performing poorly on tests. Additionally, according to MIT News, the researchers also discovered that going to bed after a particular threshold time (for the sample of students in this study it was around 2 AM) related to not doing as well on the test, “no matter how much total sleep [participants] ended up getting.”

If you hope to improve your ability to stay focused and perform well on tests, make sure to monitor how much sleep you get each night. Ideally, you should aim for eight hours. And MIT News added that getting a good night’s sleep before an exam is not enough to make a difference in your test scores; you need to have an adequate sleep schedule for several nights in a row. 

Consider your caffeine intake carefully

Whether you order coffee to fulfill your cappuccino cravings or buy a latte to fight off morning fatigue, many students frequent their college’s cafés. If staying focused this semester is on the top of your agenda, caffeine can boost your energy level and mood and assist you in getting through a stack of notecards.

However, as with most things in life, the key to caffeine is consuming it in moderation. Having too much caffeine can contribute to restlessness, a rapid heart rate and anxiety. 

Eat a filling meal

Daydreaming about your bagel order will not promote effective studying. Before sitting down to start assignments, eat a filling and nutritious meal. Some dietitians claim that foods such as blueberries, eggs and leafy greens can help improve concentration and memory, but any well-balanced meals that you enjoy can help you stay focused on your studies. 

For breakfast, try oatmeal with berries and nut butter or whole grain toast with eggs and avocado. Grain bowls are easy lunches to prepare and can be eaten on the go.

Turn off your phone

A stream of Instagram notifications, text chimes and email alerts will deter your study flow. Do yourself a favor and power off your phone when you need to focus on school work. 

If you’d prefer not to shut down your phone completely, you can also use a timer to encourage phone-free study blocks. Try setting an alarm for a chunk of time that you could reasonably use to tackle a few problems (maybe 30 minutes). Take a five minute phone break every time the alarm rings and repeat. 

Move to an environment conducive to getting work done

Studying with friends not only makes the process of diving through a textbook less daunting but also helps you decipher the concepts you could not understand on your own. However, the drawback of studying with friends—perhaps in the flurry of library activities or amongst café-goers—is the risk of getting distracted. 

See Also

Before agreeing to study with a friend the night before an exam, consider whether this friend will contribute positively to your studies. Even your best friends may have good intentions but could lose focus in group settings. 

Try to pick a study group that sets a study agenda and aligns with the work you want to accomplish. If you prefer to study alone, look for a quiet setting with little commotion. Though lounging on your bed to study may be more comfortable, often, your most thorough work will be done at a desk. 

Make a to-do list

When your schedule contains looming exams and countless projects, not knowing where to start prevents many from actually starting their studies. If you need help staying focused this semester, try making a to-do list before you head to the library. 

While some people may prefer to accomplish smaller items first and others may try to tackle the big assignments right away, there are some universal characteristics of a good to-do list. Firstly, try to be as specific as possible when writing down your tasks (“study for test” doesn’t really cut it). If you have one major task, you can also try breaking it down into manageable pieces. Finally, be realistic with what you can accomplish and set deadlines for finishing your goals. 

Try a study method

If you’re having difficulty staying focused this semester, you could try out a new study method. While you could practice  something as simple as asking yourself practice questions, you could also try a more intensive technique such as the SQ3R method. First, survey the text, taking note of subtitles, charts and key words. Next, create questions regarding the text’s content. The “3R” comes in with reading, reciting and reviewing. Read the text and recite a summary of each section. Finish by reviewing the material with a practice quiz. 

Be realistic with what you can accomplish in a day

Some days it will feel impossible to focus no matter how hard you try. Other days, your focus will be razor-sharp, but you will only cross one item off of your to-do list. Be kind to yourself if your progress does not go as planned, and remember that your ability to study waxes and wanes every day. 

With these tips, staying focused this semester doesn’t have to be an impossible task. Let us know in the comments which study methods help you focus.

Featured Image: Zach Plank on Unsplash
Madeline Murphy

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