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IzzyAndHerBeans's avatar

Learning to focus with distractions?

Asked by IzzyAndHerBeans (353 points ) October 19th, 2011

I’m interested in learning some strategies to help my unsuccessful studying ways. For example, I’d like to learn how to focus and retain material for some of my more challenging AP courses. Any ideas?

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6 Answers

Coloma's avatar

It’s been shown that studying before bed helps with retention.
Do your studying in the several hours before sleep and it will be submerged in your subconscious for better recall. :-)

tom_g's avatar

I had a psych 101 teacher tell the class that we should take tests in the same state we were in when we studied. “If you smoked pot while you studied, you should probably come to take the exam high. If you drank and studied, have a couple before the exam.” I doubt she still has a job.

My stock answer for most anything (sorry) is meditation. Mindfulness meditation has had many benefits. One of them is dramatic improvement in my ability to concentrate. Here are a couple of interesting studies.

Bellatrix's avatar

Active learning too @IzzyAndHerBeans. So use the information you are trying to learn. Explain it to other people, write it down, speak it (record it and then listen to it again). Make up rhymes and the like. Reading isn’t enough, you need to keep using the information in different ways so it is programmed in your brain in various ways. One of the absolute best ways is to teach someone else (even if it happens to be your dog or cat!).

Yanaba's avatar

You could try spaced repetition, in the form of flashcards or computerized/online flashcards. There are at least two free programs that I know of that will do this, Mnemosyne and Anki, but each has a few quirks. It sounds like Anki may be better? Here is an article that talks about them. If you have an iphone you can also get an app called Flashcards that I’ve found to be very good, and you can add cards from your computer or on the phone itself. I’m sure there are alternative apps on other platforms.

I would also suggest getting or borrowing the book “Use Your Memory” by Tony Buzan. This guy, who supposedly “invented” mindmaps as well, generally annoys me but the book is very good. Looking on I see that it is only sold through their marketplace sellers now, but perhaps this one is just as good—it’s very recent anyway. And speaking of mindmaps, try one of the mindmapping free softwares ;) Example: Freemind.

What types of things are you trying to study? Languages? History? Science formulae?

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wundayatta's avatar

I like @Bellatrix “active learning” best. It helps if you have a study partner. Then you can engage with each other in discussing and understanding and memorizing the material. Memorizing, for me, is a last resort. I’d much rather understand the principles behind the thing. In this way, I don’t need to remember as much. I can make it up as I go along (which is what I am doing here).

One of the principles I use is the idea of feelings. If I can imagine the feelings of the characters doing whatever it is I am studying, I can probably figure out what they are doing and thinking and figure out their motives. There are principles in almost every field—from hard science to social science and in all the arts.

Another principle is to trust my intuitive responses to things. Also, teachers like you to talk and think and often will give you full credit if your thinking has any connected train of thought to it at all and if you document those thoughts without leaving out anything. Even if they totally disagree with you, they like it that you are aware of your thought process.

Anyway, I’m sure there’s lots more. Like I said, I make this up on the spot and for some reason, a lot of people buy it. Whatever. If it works, who is going to complain? If you do stuff like this, you will gradually become more confident in your studying skills, and your ability to make stuff up, and oddly, that makes it easier for you to retain stuff you read. You aren’t worrying so much about retention. You know you don’t have to rely on it.

It’s a process. One day, you, too, may be able to sound utterly confident about things you’ve never thought of before. Worse, you may actually be one hundred percent on target. When that starts happening, you first get scared and then you start to wonder if you could possibly be living in a world you thought was so hard a moment before. Then you learn that understanding is good, but it is not sufficient. Doing is another story entirely.

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