Becoming a Better Student



Concentration is an elusive state of mind. Ironically, the more you think or worry about concentration, the less you're concentrating on the task at hand. That's why strategies to enhance concentration approach it indirectly, usually by focusing on the elimination of distractions.

While there are few "quick fix" solutions for improving concentration, the first step is usually the same for most students, whether you're having difficulties or want to enhance your present ability. A thoughtful analysis of what distracts your concentration will often indicate the most effective course of action for improvement. A summary of typical disruptions is presented here to provide a framework for understanding your particular situation.

The Disruptions:

  • Study Location
  • Physical Distractions
  • Self Talk
  • Motivation
  • Personal Issues
  • 1. Study Location

    First year students, especially those living in residence, often find concentration difficult because of noise, roommates, or an uncomfortable environment. Living at home or off-campus can also present challenges. Knowing how to find a quiet, comfortable and distraction-free place to study is one of the simplest and most effective means of facilitating concentration.

    2. Physical Distractions

    Irregular sleep, exercise and eating patterns can be the unsuspected cause of concentration difficulties. As adults we tend to ignore the connection between physical health and intellectual functioning. Finding a regimen that works for you and sticking to it can help to maintain your brain at its physiological peak. Time management strategies such as planning study periods around your body's energy highs and lows will ensure that your physical ability to concentrate will be at its best.


    3. Self Talk

    Many people are not aware that as we perform tasks, including studying, we talk silently to ourselves. "Self talk" can be motivating - praising accomplishments, helping to sort out what to do next, monitoring progress and achievement. However, if it becomes overly evaluative or critical, self talk can have a negative effect on concentration. Have you ever started to write a paper, then given up in frustration because you can't even get through the first paragraph? An overly critical "inner editor" may be the culprit. Comparing your abilities to others' and harbouring inaccurate expectations about how long or well you "should" be able to concentrate may also contribute to negative self talk. With a little coaching, you can learn to manage any distracting internal chatter.


    4. Motivation

    Many students who recover from academic difficulties and go on to succeed at university often define their ability to turn things around in terms of motivation: "You must want to be here. You must know why you're here." Sometimes difficulties with concentration can be attributed to an uneasiness about your course, your major, or just being at university. Strategies for dealing with difficulties in motivation range from a simple goal setting exercise to a detailed self-appraisal.


    5. Personal Issues

    You'll be one of the lucky few if you can make it through university without having to cope with studying through some personal disaster. Even something as commonplace as a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend can cause a major disruption in your ability to concentrate. For the most part, these disruptions are short term, and the ability to concentrate normally returns quickly. Serious situations, or minor ones which seem to carry on, warrant outside help. Some students find that designating a time to think about a problem can help reduce the time their mind spends wandering. When you notice that you're not concentrating say to yourself "I'll think about that at 4 o'clock." Then, at 4 o'clock, or whatever time you choose, sit down and think through whatever is bothering you. Using a strategy like this can help you to stop blaming yourself for not concentrating and get you quickly back to work.

     Copyright the University of Guelph, 1999 -1991.
    Copyright the University of Guelph, 1999-1991.