4.5 Concentration: Make the Most of Your Study Time

Building upon the notion of scheduling time to study, students need to monitor their levels of concentration during those study sessions. A study session that is filled with distractions and a general lack of concentration is wasted time. It is the responsibility of students to plan their study time and plan to do it in an environment that is conducive for good concentration.

To say that students are “paying attention” is to say that they are aware of certain factors that are going on in the environment. However, attention can wane and requires a process of continual refocusing, in other words, concentration. To determine if you are concentrating to your full ability, you need to monitor your level of concentration and what you are getting out of a study session. However, if you are not concentrating to your full capacity, that is not an excuse to just stop studying or zone out of a lecture; you need to take steps to improve your concentration in that given situation.



Keep a Time Log (see Time Log worksheet at the end of this chapter) for one full week. Try to record what you are doing to the nearest 30-minute segment. If you are multitasking, you need to select the most salient and intended task to record.

Record and add up the amount of time spent engaged in the following general activities:

In class ________hrs.
Studying outside of class ________hrs.
Sleeping/napping ________hrs.
Exercising/organized sports ________hrs.
Work/internship ________hrs.
Family commitments ________hrs.
Personal care/grooming ________hrs.
Meal preparation/eating/cleanup ________hrs.
Commuting (school, work, etc.) ________hrs.
Relaxing—watching TV, video games (alone) ________hrs.
Socializing with friends/entertainment ________hrs.
Other (List “other” activities) ________hrs.

There are 168 hours in one week. Do your totals add up to 168?

Reflect on how you are using your time. What surprised you about how you use your time? Are you spending as much time studying as suggested by the Academic Work Week formula? Do you need to make any adjustments in how you are using your time?

Figure 4-6. Concentration Capacity during a Lecture


Pie charts showing how a student’s attention capacity reduces during a lecture. In the beginning, most of the concentration is devoted to listening to the lecture, this reduces to less than a quarter of the total area of the pie chart 20 minutes into the lecture.

Each person has finite resources that can be allocated toward concentration. You need to determine what you can do to improve your ability to concentrate on the task at hand, which in this case (Figure 4-6) is listening to a lecture. Controlling the distractions is necessary to be able to continually refocus on the lecture at hand. External distractions are those that originate outside of your body, such as a cell phone ringing, people talking, the temperature of the room, etc. Internal distractions are those that originate inside of the body, such as hunger, stray thoughts, emotional responses and thoughts, etc. (Dembo & Seli, 2008). Students need to be able to identify the distractions that are currently detracting from the task at hand and work to reduce them. For instance, if you learn that you tend to get sleepy in class, sitting close to the front or getting enough sleep at night can help reduce this as a distraction. If getting hungry in certain classes is an issue, bring a snack in to munch on quietly during class. Beyond the classroom, finding the optimal study environment is key to concentration. You will find that if you tend to study in the same basic locations that space will become a mental cue to focus on your work. Typically, students who find the right place to study and learn to manage their concentration will have to study less to reap the benefits, because they are more productive during their study time.

Quick Tips to Improve Concentration

  • Control the distractions that you can. Turn off your cell phone; put a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door; log out of online distractions like Facebook©, SnapchatTM, Twitter©, and your e-mail; turn off the TV, and if you listen to music while you study, set a lower volume and avoid music selections that you find yourself singing the words to.
  • Use active learning techniques. Take notes in lecture or while reading. Quiz yourself on what you just read. Talk out loud about what you are learning. Use a variety of study techniques to reduce boredom.
  • Set a goal for what you realistically want to accomplish during your study session with activities that will promote active learning.
  • Study in a comfortable and reasonably quiet environment. Make sure the furniture is conducive to studying—comfortable but upright. Find a place with proper lighting, good temperature (about 68°F), minimal people traffic and noise level.
  • Make sure you have all the resources needed to complete your study task—notebook, text, writing utensils, charged laptop, etc.
  • Schedule yourself to study during high-energy times. It is difficult to concentrate when you are sleepy.
  • Resist procrastination. Putting assignments off to the last minute can lead to worry and stressful thinking that can interfere with concentration.
  • Take short breaks periodically. A ten-minute break for every 50 minutes of studying or a five-minute break every 30 minutes is enough to refresh your mind and regain concentration. Set a timer if you are prone to taking longer breaks.
  • For longer study sessions, alternate study topics to fend off boredom.
  • Write down stray or stress-based thoughts. Give yourself permission to consider them later, and move on.
  • Use positive directives, like “If I finish with this study goal now, I can relax later” or “I need to clear my head and refocus.”
  • Track periods of reduced concentration levels with check marks as a way to possibly identify patterns in locations and times that may not optimize your concentration.



Consider the three places that you tend to study most often. Write those locations below.

Location A:   ________________________________________

Location B:    ________________________________________

Location C:    ________________________________________

Answer True or False to each of these statements with regard to each of your listed study locations.

Location A Location B Location C
I cannot typically hear other people talking.
I have access to a comfortable, upright chair.
I have access to a desk or flat writing space that is easy to utilize.
It is quiet in this space.
The lighting in this space helps to keep me alert.
I am not too hot or too cold in this location.
I tend to keep my breaks short when I study in this location.
I am not interrupted by family and friends when I study at this location.
This location is free of distractions (e.g., TV, non-school related computers, magazines, etc.).
I feel alert when I study in this location.
TOTAL True Responses

In theory, you should elect to study in the location with the most “True” responses as it tends to have more of the features recommended for a conducive study environment. If you find that you are unsatisfied with any of your study locations, try out some new locations and utilize this tool to help you assess if it is a good location.


Time Log for the Week of __________________________

Name: ____________________________

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
12 a.m.
1 a.m.
2 a.m.
3 a.m.
4 a.m.
5 a.m.
6 a.m.
7 a.m.
8 a.m.
9 a.m.
10 a.m.
11 a.m.
12 p.m.
1 p.m.
2 p.m.
3 p.m.
4 p.m.
5 p.m.
6 p.m.
7 p.m.
8 p.m.
9 p.m.
10 p.m.
11 p.m.
12 p.m.


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