How To Concentrate

August 15, 2009  |  Study Skills

Do you have have problems concentrating? Believe it or not, you are not alone! The first thing we need to do – before we can discuss how to concentrate – is to define the term “concentration”. According to Princeton University’s WordNet, concentration means:

“great and constant diligence and attention”

This is interesting… If concentration is related to attention then that means that we should be able to improve our concentration by simply becoming more attentive, right? Now, here are a few suggestions on how to do just that:

Apply The 5 More Rule

Instead of just quitting the task all together, you tell yourself to do only 5 more things before you quit. When these have been accomplished you promise yourself again to only do 5 more things (such as writing only 5 more pages, solving only 5 more math problems etc). The keyword here is the word ‘only'; by decreasing the size of the task cognitively you feel less hesitant to abandon it altogether. There’s an Arabic proverb that says:

“If you Can’t finish it altogether – Don’t leave it altogether”

Treat Yourself Like A Child

What do you do when your little child has accomplished a task? Well, you praise the little fellow and give him/her a reward. Treat yourself in the same manner by offering yourself incentives when ever you’ve completed a task. This will improve your motivation which in turn improves your concentration. For more information on increasing your motivation, please refer to this post on our blog entitled; improve your study motivation.

Why wait? Do it Now! resources

Procrastination is without doubt one of the biggest enemies you will face as a student. The temptation to delay your studies will always be strong, to counter this your will to succeed must be stronger. Why procrastinate and do something tomorrow if the same task can be done today?

Remove All Possible Distractions

The sad thing is that we don’t always notice when we are being distracted! There are really two kinds of distractions:

Those that are visible, such as someone who is having a lengthy (and boring) discussion with you during your ‘official study time’. Each and every “cell in your body” tells you that this is very disturbing.

The kind of distractions that are not picked up by ‘our radar’. This type is actually worse than the previous one. You can always tell your annoying friend that you’re busy but how on earth will you rid yourself from something that you’re not even aware of in the first place?

Examples of such distractions are (in no particular order); talking with someone on a topic that interests you, watching a movie while studying/working, listening to music and so forth. All of these things are distracting you from your studies even though you’re not thinking about it. The best way to avoid these types of distractions is by avoiding them from the start.

If you continue to have trouble concentrating once all distractions have been eliminated, you may be working yourself too hard. Exercise or take a walk to get rid of nervous energy. A lack of concentration is also a symptom of eye strain, so visit your eye doctor if you consistently have blurred vision or itchy, watery eyes. If a simple adjustment is in order, you can get contact lenses and be back to your old self in no time.

Make A Task List

I wrote about this in an article entitled how to do a to do list. A to do list is basically a task list that makes it easier to concentrate on your subject. It does this by making you think only about one issue at a time. Task lists are in some ways the opposite of mind mapping, since the latter involves scattering ones thoughts instead of collecting them. Although that’s a good way to initiate a project, it’s not very useful when it comes to actually doing the task in question.

About the author

ABDERISAK ADAM is an author, blog writer and a PhD candidate in the institution of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Chalmers University of Technology. He is also the owner and webmaster of www.study-habits.com, a website dedicated to the discussion of study techniques in the context of higher education. Adam is the author of a number of publications including 'The Study Guide PRO'. You can connect with him through Google+, Linkedin or by submitting a form.


270 Comments


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  1. this site helped me in very good means. this is a really good article. thanks

  2. No problem man. Thanks for coming by :D

  3. thanks a lot…this is
    a really good advices!

  4. Glad I could help :)

  5. A heartful thanks for all ur advices. They are really helpful and easy to apply.

  6. No problem, glad I could help :D

  7. I m thankful for this article. but my problem seems more severe. I cant concentrate : sometimes becoz others disturb me, sometimes coz my mind just get distracted. I m a 4th years student at a renowned University of Bangladesh and my exam is in nnext month but … what to do? I cant even feel good to write. How to prepare for the exam? How to keep stuffs in memory? Is there any remedy of this problem?

    Thanks once again!

  8. Salamu alaykum :D

    It always seems more complicated than it really is, if you don’t have a plan for your studies, you are in trouble. There’s an old saying that goes; “if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”. Here’s what I would recommend you to do:
    Take a piece of paper and list down ALL the topics that are covered in your upcoming exam and then order them into a list where you put the most difficult subjects in the top, followed by the next most difficult thing etc. It always helps to prioritize your problem in this fashion, as you do this you will notice that the task isn’t that big once you’ve broken it into smaller tasks.

    Then what you need to do is form a schedule, one you must stick by in all times (except obviously when more important things comes along, e.g family matters, namaz etc) and pick (for example) one, two or three topics each day and try to fully understand these concepts and then the next day three more and so forth. This way, you will make sure you’ve gone through all the necessary parts before the exam comes. The final week before the exam, you review all the material in order to get a good grasp of its entirety.

    As for your problem to concentrate, this stems from simple forgetfulness that can happen to all of us. Just remind yourself why you started studying in the first place, how much time you’ve already put in your studies (4 years!) and how much work you had to put in order to get into the university in the first place. Also make sure you have a specific goal with your studies, exactly where are you headed? If you don’t know where you’re headed, you’ll never get there! I hope that helps a little and I wish you the best with your exams. :D

  9. Heloo..
    I am a 3rd year engineering student . My exams are going to start within a week . My problem is i am not being able to concentrate on my studies well . I feel sleepy all the time. This is the first time such things are happening to me . Not being able to get a remedy . Can you help me out somehow ?

  10. Hello there Pratik! :)

    Well it depends. Where you study, at home or somewhere else? Do you ever get tired while doing other things or is it only studying that makes you feel fatigued?

    In my opinion, the most common mistake that people do is that they try to study at home. I’m not kidding, studying at home is by far one of the most distracting places you can study. Countless number of things can distract you, TV, computer, the phone, the doorbell, grabbing snacks etc. If you truly want to be able to focus on your studies you have to make sure to find a place where you can sit in peace. There are usually places where you can sit on campus without being bothered. You shouldn’t be put off to go there during the holiday to study, the place is pretty much empty and you’ll have it for yourself.

    You mentioned that this is the first time such a thing has occurred in your life? I’m guessing it’s because you’ve drifted away from your original purpose. Why did you pick engineering to start with (engineering is also my field btw ;))? You have to have an incentive to be able to study, make sure you remind yourself what that incentive is.

    That’s about it, now go back in there and study until it hurts. No pain, no gain! :D

  11. hello

    Thanks for the all information you provided above.
    but my problem is bit different, I’m also a student of engineering and this is exam time of 3rd year.

    I’m trying a lot to study but every time thoughts are coming in my mind ,i avoided everything my mobile, pc even i don’t wanna use them but the only problem is the thoughts coming in my mind.

    what happens with me is : book is in my hand and i started studying after reading 1 or 2 topics i started thinking and that goes on and on and on …. and when i see that I’m distracted its already half an hour or 40-45 minutes are gone.

    that is sometimes very depressing. a full day is gone and what i did is very less !!
    what to do ?

  12. What you need to ask yourself is; why am I being distracted? Be sure to list all the things that distract you during a study session and then remove them (even if it’s unpleasant to turn of your phone) on by one.

    You may be interested to read this post on time management skills.

  13. I suck at concentrating, I could barely read through this page without getting distracted, that’s how bad I am. I’m a fifth year student now, and my exams coming up this year will basically decide if I get into university and whatever. I have had five or more exams already, and I couldn’t bring myself to study for any of them (I just say to myself “wing it”), and it’s been working so far. But I have Science next week and it’s soo hard for me; so I reckon I’ll give studying a go. Thanks for the advice, I am now secluding myself in my garden shed, which is empty, so no distractions. ;)

  14. When i start my study/ or when i attend my lecture, i understand it. But after a few minutes, i forget what i have learned. Can you give me a solution?

  15. hey there.. I have my exam tomorrow and i cannot concentrate i am easily distracted n my concentration level is zero ifeel like crying when i read something and i don’t remember it. Please help me …

  16. This was good to read & got the tips thanks 4 that.I am in T.Y.Bcom my exam are there in classes.Yet i hav not completed my studies due to that i get more stressed & tensed so that i can’t concentrate on my studies.If i complete than also i forgot what should i do for that.I am also depressed please help out.

  17. I m student of symbiosis law school pune india….this site really help me alot in my studies..A special thanks those who made “a wonderful site”..love u

  18. Hi,
    i am a medical graduate and preparing for post garduate enterance exam. its hard for me to concentrate..
    i am a house wife right now and cant go out to study..
    in college times i used to study seeing people around me studing.. discussing things with them.
    but now alone i am hardly able to concentrate on study and being at home i have lot of distractions…
    i feel very bad about this. can u please help me out with this..

  19. thank tou very much…………….

  20. ilove this site……….

  21. Hello,
    I have some problems in concentrating.Sometimes I can concentrate very well that I can finish many lessons together but sometimes I cant concentrate properly it feels very much boring and distracting to me and the main problem is thatI cant remember this things permanently.Could u plz help me in understanding my problems.

  22. thanks to this site it helped me lot to study thankssssssssssss

  23. its very good advise but i cant resist myself from dreaming nature

  24. Hi This article helped me a lot to concentrate on study and to improve my results. Thanks a lot

  25. I’m glad you found it helpful!

  26. If you want to remember something permanently you should focus on reiterating that thing over and over again in your mind. How come you never forget your best friends name but you can forget a name of someone you just met? Obviously, it’s because you talk to your friend a lot and you’ve mentioned this persons name a lot and hence it sticks in your long term memory and even if you don’t meet that person in years you’ll still won’t forget the name.

    Make sure the topic that you’re studying is important to you in the same matter. If it is, then you would want to revise it a lot and try to grasp it firmly.

  27. Hi,
    I am in a really big trouble i have a really important exam on Monday the 8th ,after this test I have a difficult one in Math in February the 14 th.
    And now i am preparing for Math because I haven’t learnt it at all during the year.But I try it hard to focus it has past a all day and i have only read 10 pages.I can not concentrate so in the end of the day I haven’t learn math neither economy.I depressed what can I do? I am hopeless ,aren’t I?please help

  28. Hello!

    The first thing you need to do is calm down and do not panic. The second thing you need to do is – starting right now – construct a plan for how you’re going to tackle these coming exams.

    Create a schedule for your studies; write down how much you need to study per day to reach your goal and then follow that schedule stringently.

    There are tons of math resources out there, we’ve linked out to several in our math section (I personally learned a lot of math by watching math videos online):

    http://www.study-habits.com/subjects/math-help/

    Please send me a message if your particular topic isn’t covered yet and we’ll work on getting it up.

    If these exams are as important as you say, you need to focus a lot on the coming days and that means, cut down on your usual time wasting entertainment (if applicable) what ever it might be. You’ll feel bad afterward if you failed your exam because something that wasn’t nearly as important.

    Finally, what ever you do, do not wait until the last moment to study. You still have enough time to pass these exams as long as you study every day.

  29. thaaaaaanks a loooooooooot I am beginning to hope now.I will do all my best, I’ll follow your advices.I will write you back with the scores of my test I promise.Once again thank you.:D

  30. dis month v hav examz n i cant concentrate on my study b cos sum things r in my mind when i was do my study a lods of thoughts cuming n that time i was totally confused can yu help me abt dis situation

  31. Hope your advice is going to help me

  32. I like your posts..very helpful and your words touched my hearts..hope i can improve my self..thank you

  33. Thanks lot sir,
    i face same problem. Now i’ll do to focus on my dream and concentrate on my study.
    thanks again for this helpul guides.

  34. Your advice helped me so much!! Scored my o level! Thank you so much!!!! =D

  35. Glad I could help! :D

  36. This is gr8888! Thankz a load! :D:D

  37. great article………..very realistic..
    thanks BUT I NEED SOME SP. ADVICE]

    YOU SEE my exams are a month away.and due to the fear i couldn’t
    concentrate on my studies…..even though i have been a good student……….FROM PAST FEW MONTHS MY EFFICINCY HAS DECREASED TO MIN. I AM GETTING MORE WORRIED…AND MY TASK IS PILING UP EVERYDAY…
    HEELP..

    -N

  38. Your advice is good!hey but i was excellent student before I got admitted in Engineering college from distinction I have fallen down to ATKT(allow to keep turn for failed subjects).I am really not able to concentrate during the lectures & morover the main problem is that I cant remain firm on my aims.Please help me.I am waiting for your mail!!!!!!!!!

  39. hellow dont say salamu alaikum it is the wrong meaning say (assalamu alaikum)

  40. tat was a nice advice for me……………………………
    i am in my 12th standard now!i know tat i hav enough capacity than anyone to read and understand my subjects. but the problem is that i dont sit in a corner or i don’t spend much time for studies rather i simply waste my time. i use to create time tables of myself but i find it very difficult to finish it. i have many dreams abt my future and i want to do many things in my life which could be possible only if i study well but i don’t work hard for those………my exams are on 1-3-2010 and i am sending this comment to you on 12-2-2010. i want to know whether if i can score atleast abt 90% in my board exams if i start working hard from this moment…..pls pls reply as soon as possible…….iwant to suceed in life against all my family problems and my DISTRACTIONS tat generally arises for students and teens in this age…………all my family members and relatives starting from my younger brother to my grand father are hoping good on me.
    i write to you all these things as i thought i could you would tell me some way to score good marks and becoz tat you would be the right adviser for me……….i am searching for a adviser like you and i hope you will give me some best advice……….
    and the main thing i wanted to say is tat i am not a good scorer in my school exams…………..so i want to know whether i can score more marks……..pls pls reply to my e-mail id………..i am waiting for your reply……..

  41. Why have your efficiency decreased?

    Pinpoint what you think could be the cause of this issue (entertainment, sports, leisure, activities etc?) and if you find these new tasks to be time consuming and of little value, simply discard them. It’s really that simple. Never let today’s work become tomorrows worry. If you start to procrastinate, this is exactly what’s going to happen.

    Starting today, right now, list all of your studying task in order of their importance and start going through them. Do not stop until you feel you’ve done enough, push your self to the limits because there are no secret shortcuts to hard work. START NOW!

  42. Hello SRI,

    I am sorry for the wait, I did send you an e-mail as requested but I got an error upon sending it. Anyway, here’s the message in question:

    Hello there!

    You sent us a message a little while ago regarding your studies. I’m sorry if this response has been somewhat late, there’s been a lot of things going on around here lately.

    Albeit, I can see from your words that you are indeed a motivated and intelligent person, there’s no doubt about that. It seems that your problem is mainly one of concentration.

    You’re asking whether or not you can improve your grades to meet the required goal? This question is in fact self explanatory, of course you can! You have time, intelligence, support and a strong will to reach your goals. Why on earth should ANY small distraction hinder you or any SMALL obstacle stand in your way?

    I’ve written only briefly on this topic (of getting rid of distractions), you can read that post her: http://www.study-habits.com/time-management-skills/

    Also, I would say in your particular case. What you need to do is find a time slot for studying every day! No more occasional study periods, make sure you have designated AT LEAST 2 hours/day to study. My deeply guarded secret is to wake up early and study BEFORE going to school. No one does this and I have no idea why people don’t do it because it’s in the early hours of the day that your mind can comprehend the most. Studying 30 minutes in the morning is worth hours of studying during the late afternoon.

    Finally, as I said before, I feel that you are fully capable of doing this, you should worry less about your studies and instead use that time to study. Keep reminding yourself why you’re doing this and how much it means to your family and no matter what you do, don’t give up just because you happened to reach a small obstacle. Remove that obstacle and continue on with your journey!

    I hope that helped and I wish you the best of luck with your studies,

    Best wishes
    Adam – webmaster of study-habits

  43. Perhaps the way you say it is the common way of greeting but by removing the “al” I’ve made it into indefinite form but the meaning is still the same.
    Correct me if I’m wrong but “May the peace be upon you” and “Peace be upon you” deliver the same message, right? :)

  44. No problem, thanks for coming by!

  45. i m unable to study bcoz every tym i try studin i feel either sleepy or feel like doing some thing else. Pliz save me take me out of this as im desperate to get success

  46. Hi
    I finished those two exams I had and I don’t know the results yet but i think i have done pretty well thanks to your motivating words, thank you Mr Adam.

    So I did all my best for the exams I had but there are some students that score better than me and this is not fair because i try the same as they do and some times more and in the end the disappointed one is always me.

    how many hours should i learn during this week for the exam i have on Saturday because I always have trouble with time?Could you plz make me an example how to organize the day because i begin studying in the morning and continue until i go to sleep but this is not a good thing because i always end up sleeping over the books.I really really need your advice so please help me.

  47. i have tried wat is written in the article but i m always distracted when i sit for study i feel sleepy and if i try to do things listed above i got involved in other things. the most common is i starts using computer and tries to find any other simple ways by which i can concentrate.
    can u give me some simple tips abt how to not get sleepy while studying????????

  48. hey dude. i tried all your hints many times but failed. the problem is that i pick up to do a task like studying, painting, gaming or any other task, first five minutes, i have excellent concentration. but after 10 to 15 minutes, i lose interest and start doing unwanted things. i am an engineering student and. . . . .i i have this problem. i think you understand

  49. Hi
    I am facing a terrible problem. I study in XII standard and my board exams are round the corner.I have got a serious crush on my chemistry teacher. I also used to take private tuitions from her.The second i sit down with my books her face pops up in my mind.I can only concentrate on chemistry.I score pretty well here but i almost fail in Physics and Mathematics. Advices have been pouring in from friends about the threat such a distraction will pose for my future. I know no body takes me seriously but the situation is worsening.The problem is i know i am doing wrong but cant get over it.
    Please help me.

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