Do’s and Don’ts for How to Focus While Studying (Guest Post)

Guest Post by Katherine Laramie.
Katherine is a freelance writer who lives in Orlando, Florida.

Your textbook is open, your notes are out and a highlighter rests in your hand. You have an upcoming exam and the best of intentions to prepare for it. After reading one paragraph, your mind starts to wander and somewhere between understanding “fundamental visual development principles” and “thematic and design ideas using visual media,” you’re on Facebook, and it’s not where you should be. It hasn’t even been 20 minutes, and you’re shutting that book thinking, “I’ll study tomorrow.”

In David Glenn’s essay “Procrastination in College Students is a Marker for Unhealthy Behaviors” in The Chronicle of Higher Education, procrastination is referred to as “anxiety avoidance” and “self-defeating behavior.” The article suggests that procrastinators are less worried about future success or failure, and says they experience high anxiety because of the negative feelings associated with committing to a night of doing schoolwork. If you’re guilty of postponing your studies, “wishful thinking” and “rationalizations,” then the following tips may help you improve your performance for a class or achieve that online art degree.

photo by xb3

Disassociating Anxiety from Studying & Test-Taking

Your future depends on graduating from school. Graduation depends on passing classes. Passing classes depends on high exam scores. Scoring highly on an exam depends on excellent studying skills. Ah, the anxiety sets in. Physiological stress follows. Failed attempts at studying are the end result. By eliminating the anxiety that’s associated with school work, you can eliminate subsequent negative, self-defeating feelings that disrupt your academic focus and obligations.

As you blindly stare at a power point on your laptop or gaze at a textbook, create positive associations with studying. Combat procrastination with the following tips:

  • Free your mind from external stressors, agendas and obligations.
  • Remind yourself that you’re nurturing your brain and acquiring knowledge. Embrace that you’re educating yourself. You actually want to improve your mind with this subject matter.
  • Focus less on the exam. By putting less emphasis on scoring highly, you’re alleviating yourself of pressure — and thus anxiety that pushes you to delay your studies for another day.
  • Replace rationalizations and wishful thinking. To handle the negative feelings associated with studying, you may respond by making excuses. Take accountability for your responsibilities and self-defeating behavior. Replace rationalizations, such as “I’m really tired tonight and not even retaining any information anyway,” with “I’m going to maximize my time this evening. There’s no better time than now to prepare for my upcoming exam. Cramming only stresses me out.”

Refocusing: It’s Never Too Late

Losing focus and succumbing to distractions is natural and to be expected while studying. Don’t be defeated by these moments of weakness, which can manifest into negative thoughts and abandoned studying. Take a small break, breathe and get back in the game.

Re-focus by:

  • Changing your scenery and location. If you’re at home, move to a different room. If you’re at the library, change floors and desks.
  • Drinking water. Hydrate and refresh your mind and body.
  • Playing music. The soothing and calming music of cellist Yo-Yo Ma can provide new sensory that re-energizes your studying.

Editor’s Note: My new book, The Secrets of Top Students, contains lots of advice on how to study for exams and avoid procrastination. Order it now on Amazon!


For more tips on studying and much more, order your copy of The Secrets of Top Students today!

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