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


  1. thanx…….

  2. Hi
    Am working as a system engineer in amnc company last 3 year this is a right time to change my job but the reason is i do,t have much knowledge about my technology i want ro increase my technology but when i try to start study i got responce my site like bor,hesitation,concetration problem like that
    please help me wat can i do

  3. Hi, i am sayan my exams starts(class 12) on third march.my problem is i have not studied hard and cant focus now.i try to the extent of slapping myself but still cant stop daydreaming,plz help me get over da tranz and concentrate over studies.

  4. assalam o alikum
    i am currntly doing bioinformatics..
    my problem is that i want best marks but unable to plan and concentrate well…my paparz are starting from 1st march 2010 kindly help me..
    regards,,

  5. Wa aleykum salam,

    Don’t put forth to tomorrow what you can do today. The problem is the lack of continuity. You’re studying bioinformatics and thus should be well acquainted with pattern recognition. Study your own pattern, how do you spend your days? What are the biggest obstacles and distractions in your studies. If these things carry no meaning and are time consuming you should simply stop and remind yourself of the importance of your studies.

    Don’t look at the coming exam and wonder how you could possible learn all the material. Instead, look at each topic and each chapter individually. This way you’ll break it up into doable parts and you won’t be as overwhelmed. Starting today, write down how much you need to study per day and then stick to that plan!

  6. It depends, what are you day dreaming about? You can’t stop thinking about something until you decide to stop dealing with it. For instance, if someone is hooked on TV so much that he or she can’t think of anything else during the days, then this person won’t be able to stop daydreaming about their TV programs until they either stop watching them altogether or put a limit to it.

  7. Salam aleykum,

    How do you mean? If I understood you correctly, you wish to embark on further studies to improve your knowledge in this field?

    Keep in mind that you’ve already managed to work yourself through getting your present degree. That wasn’t always easy, was it? It’s the same thing now, if you could do it back then you should be able to do it now! Perhaps, and you know better than me, you’re hesitating because you don’t wish to study further or you’re not really sure if it’s the right decision? If this is so, then you need to first and foremost make sure that you’ve picked the right choice before anything else.

  8. Then don’t take private lessons from her! It’s only going to cause you more anguish and distress and I promise you that it’s better that you take private lessons from someone else even if it’s going pretty well in chemistry at the moment. It’s really a simple matter of strategy, would you rather perform well in one subject and fail the rest or do well in all of them?

  9. It’s easy, promise yourself that you HAVE to study for at least “X” amount of time and then stick to your promise. Humans, my self included, are weak in nature. We tend to drift away from our goals and loose track of time. Don’t let this happen! Turn of the TV, your cellphone, your PC etc. Don’t let these types of things distract you from your studies. Furthermore, give yourself some incentive to study (e.g I get to do something I enjoy when I’m done studying) and consequences if you don’t (e.g I’m not allowed to eat my favorite food in one month).

  10. Go to bed early.

    That’s my simple advice. I sense you try to study during the late afternoons which I think is a grave mistake (although it works for some). If you go to bed early, you can wake up early and there’s simply no time when you’re as efficient as in the early mornings. Try it out for a week and you’ll see. Wake up before going to school, eat breakfast and try to study for ยฝ hour or one hour and see the results for yourself. I recommend you finish all your studies before the evening. It’s perfectly okay to review your materials before going to sleep but it’s rather difficult to learn new concepts at that time.

  11. You may read the response I gave to Rahul on this same issue.

  12. Hehe, no problem! ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. Hi,
    I am a student of BCS ( 6th semester started now), so I wanted to overcome a deficiency I have.

    My problem might be a little different then what is being discussed over here,
    So,the problem is that,
    I am not very good at concentration but I can concentrate a little when studying, but afterwards like a week or two, sometimes maybe a day or two, I will forget what I learned, this doesn’t happens with small notes,
    it usually happens with big topics or a complete chapter,

    And also I take hours to learn a topic when a guy next to me does it with half an hour or so, means I pick up slow.

    So i think my question would be: How to make my memory better?
    Or if you think its some thing else please let me know.

    On a side note, I am not Mental ill or anything, I am a webdeveloper & am also earning my own money, I also do all of my house work & other work with ease, I only have problem with learning but only studying.

    Hope you help.

  14. salam
    i am a first year student and i have problem concentrating on my studies.. how can i put a daily habit of studying plus i watch alot of tv serials which is alot distracting. how can i overcome them? please give me some ideas on how to stop watching movies and all?

  15. hey there!i too had thought abt those ideas…. but the fact is that it only sticks into my mind & not in my behaviors.. whenever I TRY TO TRY I just feel lazy and those plans; all fades away …i am studying in 11 and my exams r so near.. teachers even say that those who havent started until now are surely done for!! nevertheless i feel i can do but yet i am just like hanging around , dumbfounded …plz i really need ur help..

  16. jazakALLAH I AM overcoming my problem
    ALLAH BLESS U
    AMEEN

  17. ok it is my final year of school and i can never remember something i just read for example if we have to read something for homework i read it but its like my mind is somewhere else and im not taking in what i just read and then i can never remember its like im reading but its not staying in my head wat should i do i desperately need help its my last and i need all the advice i can get
    ps please write back to my email
    thanks

  18. Salamu aleykum,

    First of all, you sound like you’ve become a little bit tired of all the studying. Albeit, you should keep in mind that you’ve already passed 5 semesters and if you could manage to pass those courses, there shouldn’t be any reason feel disheartened about the present.

    I don’t necessarily believe that you are slow in picking things up, instead I believe it’s the circumstances that are different. For instance, if you’ve ever tried to study during the late hours of the night or when you’re sick you’ve probably come to realize that it’s very difficult. Why is that? Is it because we’re all slow learners or simply because we weren’t ready and equipped to study at that particular time.

    What you need to do is develop an interest in your studies (or rather, rekindle the old love you had for it in the beginning). When you are seriously interested in something, you won’t have to force it down your throat. Instead it will digest easily and won’t be much of a fuss to memorize. That’s why you see some people who can’t pick up a book for longer than a few minutes while at the same they know everything about football. It’s because of their interests and passions.

    Finally I’d also recommend you to read the following post: How to Memorize Fast

  19. No matter what you’re teachers said, there’s always time! As long as the exam isn’t today, you have time to study. Sure, you it’s better to study a little everyday during a long time span than it is to study a lot during a shorter time span but for now, this is our only option. As the old proverb goes; “If you don’t have time to do it right you must have time to do it over.”

    I don’t want you to redo it and I’m sure you don’t want that either. Thus, we have to what we have to do. Start cramming now! No more excuses, no more laziness. You have to make for yourself a personal study plan and then follow it stringently. Make sure you don’t get distracted with friends, TV, movies or the like. This doesn’t mean you should study from morning to evening, it means you should PRIORITIZE your studies, what they in the medical community call triage. Put all the topics you need to learn in order, starting with the most important to the least important. After that, don’t procrastinate and start studying!

    Just do it!

  20. I’m sorry for the late reply, I seemed to have missed this comment ๐Ÿ˜

    Anyway, you shouldn’t feel disheartened due to temporary study problems, this can happen to pretty much all of us. What you should do is make sure you don’t fall into this permanently. If you can’t concentrate during lectures it probably because of a) you’ve lost interest in engineering (how dare you ;)) or b) you’re preoccupied with other types of thoughts.

    If it’s because of lost interest in your field then you need to (if you still wish to continue on this road which I presume you do) rekindle that love/passion that you had towards it in the beginning. If it’s because of other types of thoughts then you need to be sincere and stern towards yourself. Do you really have time thinking about unnecessary things or are you man of action?

  21. I’ve sent a reply to your e-mail!

  22. Wa iyaka!

    ๐Ÿ˜€

  23. I’ve sent out a response to your email.

  24. No problem, glad I could be of assistance. ๐Ÿ™‚

  25. Totally understandable. Your predicament is not unheard of, it’s not always easy getting back into studying when you’ve been away from it for such a long period of time.
    The important thing to keep in mind is; take it easy. You can’t expect to be at the top of your game, going all rounds when you’ve been outside of the ring for such a long time period (please excuse me for my silly boxing metaphors :)).

    Take it as it comes and create a study plan for yourself where you make time for your studies as well as your other activities.It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed when you’ve been away from academia but just make sure you stick in there and take it step by step.

  26. Don’t be depressed because of school, there are way bigger things to be depressed about! Think of everything you have and compare it to the situation that many other people live in all throughout the world. No matter how difficult the studies feel today, it usually becomes A LOT easier once you start digesting it, step by step. Form a study plan that fits your schedule and stick by it stringently.

    Remember, quitters never win and winners never quit!

  27. I’m sorry for the late answer, I suppose you’ve already had the exam. However, no matter how it went, you should never feel disheartened or sadden by inadequate study results.
    Donโ€™t be depressed because of school, there are way bigger things to be depressed about! Think of everything you have and compare it to the situation that many other people live in all throughout the world. No matter how difficult the studies feel today, it usually becomes A LOT easier once you start digesting it, step by step. Form a study plan that fits your schedule and stick by it stringently.

    Remember, quitters never win and winners never quit! Hang in there ๐Ÿ™‚

  28. This is completely normal. It takes a while for your short term memory to turn into a long term one. The secret is, repetitiveness as the old Latin proverb went: “Repetition is the mother of learning”.
    Instead of studying a lot during one session, skim through the material lightly every now and then so you can grasp it’s general meaning. Finally, the last week or so you can sit with it intensely. This way of studying usually (from experience) is the most fruitful.

  29. Haha, it’s okay. I could barley get through this page myself and I wrote the thing. ๐Ÿ˜€

  30. i am a IT student,im doin my final year of BCS, & i hav my final exms on april,still i didnt start studing,i find it very difficult to consuntrate on my studies,,im more addicted to movies & facebook,,,,i cant get rid of it,,& most importantly i whnever i take a book to study somthin pops up & i cant study,,im realy in great trouble,,wht can i do,,,i tried to stop watchin movies & not logging in to Facebook,,bt itseems lik its soo difficult,,whnever i go to sleep i promise my self dat i will study in da mornin & whn i wake up 1st thing i do is log in to FAcebook,,& convince my self dat i will study latr,,bt it never happend,,,wht can i do,,plz help me im in serious trouble,,
    THANK YOU

  31. Hello Shawn ๐Ÿ™‚

    In my opinion, the most common mistake that people do is that they try to study at home. Iโ€™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 shouldnโ€™t be put off to go there during the holiday to study, the place is pretty much empty and youโ€™ll have it for yourself.

    You have to make a firm intention to stop, not tomorrow or next week but TODAY. You could start by making a schedule for your studies and then stick to it firmly. Don’t give in and whenever you get the urge to do meaningless things, remind yourself of your priorities.

    Thatโ€™s about it, now go back in there and study until it hurts. No pain, no gain! ๐Ÿ˜€

  32. HI!!!
    Now that I am writing you I’m even more depressed that I was at the beginning when i first wrote to you.At the forth exam i failed and i feel super bad about it.I feel like crying all day, this was like the end of the world for me.I didn’t want to fail but yesterday everything went wrong my head ached my stomach too It wasn’t impossible for me to concentrate :((.So I have one exam left but the bad moments of yesterday keep coming to me over and over again.please please write me back please ,I need to study I don’t want to ruin everything with this exam either.
    Please write me as soon as you can plz, I know that i am wasting my time crying but i can’t stop.please help me.I think that yes i can don’t work for me anymore.

  33. I’ve been having most of the problems discussed here for more than 3 years by now….today i found my cure…thanks to this site, u r going to change a lot in me and my studies…..what an idea sirji??!!

  34. Hello,
    Your article was very good, thank you.
    I have an illness which effects my concentration,I’m studying at the moment for my NVQ in teaching and learning. I find applying myself to tasks hard. I have tried writing tasks out in to do lists, i sit down to start on number 1… and… nothing. I make sure there are no obvious distractions like you said, but still i find it hard. I am normally quite an organised person, but recently i have been slipping more and more. Do you have any advice for me????

  35. your advice are very good.it helps me really to concentrate on my studies.thanks!

  36. because i am a student of 8th class

  37. Hello,

    I’m terribly sorry that I couldn’t reply any sooner. I see your going through some difficult times and wish to assure you that shouldn’t grieve over matters relating to your studies. There are far worse things that could happen, always put things in perspective.

    Secondly, promise yourself that you HAVE to study for at least โ€œXโ€ amount of time and then stick to your promise. Humans, my self included, are weak in nature. We tend to drift away from our goals and loose track of time. Donโ€™t let this happen! Turn of the TV, your cellphone, your PC etc. Donโ€™t let these types of things distract you from your studies. Furthermore, give yourself some incentive to study (e.g I get to do something I enjoy when Iโ€™m done studying) and consequences if you donโ€™t (e.g Iโ€™m not allowed to eat my favorite food in one month).

    In closing, remember that people, human beings, just like you have managed to pass these exams. It’s not impossible but you need to work to get there.

  38. You say these things started just recently? Is it because of your illness or something else?

    You should try to locate the source of the problem. Has anything distracting with no or little value entered into your life? Make sure you find this (or these) cause(s) otherwise we would just be treating secondary symptoms.
    If it’s because of this illness, then try to have patience and study to the best of your capability. Sometimes in life, you want to go somewhere but end up somewhere else.

    Take care and I hope you get well soon!

  39. YOUR article on concentration while studying is very helpful.pls how can someone keep what he read in his momory for a long time.

  40. Hello,

    Im a seventh grader and im having problem in maths, no matter how much i try hard i end up with bad grades. And same is the problem with the subject history i cant remember the dats and events of it. And how can i create intrest in these two subjects?

    Regards

    Fatima Tariq

    The City School

    ……………………………………………………..

  41. they say chewing gum is gd for concentrating

  42. Thank You very much for the advice you have given. I have spent like an hour reading this and i didnt even get disracted. Now im going to bed because im trying the new method of studying in the morning and tomorrow i will create my schedule to see how that one goes.
    Thanks once again ๐Ÿ™‚

  43. There’s an old latin proverb that says; “Repetitio est mater studiorum”, Repetition is the mother of study!

    Repeat, repeat and repeat once more. It’s through the process of repetition that something gets stored in your long term memory instead of your short term, make sure you revise your study material often over a long period of time.

  44. Salamu aleykum

    Fatima, math is certainly one of the simplest subjects if you try even though people may claim it to be difficult. As a famous mathematician put it: “If people do not believe that mathematics is simple, it is only because they do not realize how complicated life is”.

    The thing with math is, you can’t allow yourself to fall behind schedule. Once you do that, you’ll become lost during the coming chapters (if you don’t have the foundation, you can’t build the roof). I’d suggest you take more time to study these two subjects (math & history), we’ve listed a couple of math videos that may be helpful here: http://www.study-habits.com/math-videos/

    Try studying more during the early hours of the day and only revise your material during the night before you go to sleep. Remember to ask your teacher about things that are difficult (make a list of all the things you find difficult before going to class). As for history, you need to repeat, repeat and repeat some more. We remember peoples phone numbers because of repetition. The more you repeat something, the easier it becomes to recall.

  45. Glad I could help! ๐Ÿ˜€

    Remember to be patience and not giving up just because something is difficult. Pretty much all good things in life are difficult.

  46. Hello,
    I am writing because i have a big problem that I don’t know how to fix so please help me.This is my first year at the university
    and every day I have to get up at 5 a.m every day because the university is far away from my house so I spend four hours a day traveling from home to school I am not sad about this fact how you say NO PAIN, NO GAIN.But the problem is that when i come home and begin to study i feel sleepy and I can’t concentrate and i end up postponing my work for the next day but the next day it happens again I need sleep.I have tried to sleep before the study but then it’s impossible for me to get up.Could you please please help me what can i do. I need to begin studying now because then the problem will increase with the amount of material i will have to study. please write me as soon as you can.please please

  47. I had that problem too!
    Try doing some stretching exercises before you get to studies at the end of the day. This stimulates blood flow and delays the urge to doze off. The neck, shoulders, thighs, upper back need the most work. Also, set a small specific goal every evening before you start studying. Say 20 minutes of reading. And at the end of the 20 minutes, stop. Even if you feel like you could continue.

  48. better to take admission in a hostel of ur university. or u can hire a room near by ur university…

  49. Hello,your problem is very common.I face the same one even though I don’t take nearly as long to get to college.Here are some sollutions:
    1.Perhaps studying at your university before leaving to go home.
    2.Changing your sleeping habits,I know it is rather tough,especially if you are still young,but if you slept at 9:00pm every night you will be full of energy until the next 9:00pm.
    I am sure you have probably thought about these ideas before. However though, if it really is bothering you, do something about it as soon as you can.Sleeping is not an excuse for not gettting your work done.
    Best of luck ๐Ÿ˜€

  50. Hi, i am Joshua, a second year medical student. I feel so tensed whenever i face exams or assignments. For example, when i was having my resit examination last month, i failed to adhere to my study plans. Thus, i felt terrible and i resorted to pornography. I wasted a lot of time surfing the net. Moreover, I couldn’t face studies as i felt that i would fail in the exam. But i tried my best in studying and reading all i could before the exam time. Thankfully, i have passed the exam. I want to have a right mind set and goals in studying medicine. I want to be a medical doctor that serves people.

    Yesterday, i had one important assignment to do which was about researching for related information and present them in a small group of students. I couldn’t manage my time well and my emotions. I felt very tensed and i couldn’t concentrate in reading the materials even though i had done some reading on the topic. At a very last minute, i managed to read up some extra information. After the discussion, i felt relieved. i didn’t really speak up during the discussion time fearing that i didn’t have enough information. I was also quite nervous during the session.

    So, i would like to ask for your opinion on how do i prepare for the coming assignments. How do i get ready mentally, spiritually, and physically?
    Thanks.

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