Concentration is one of the key requisites for learning anything. Your concentration should be at its peak when you study before exams.
Otherwise it will take you longer to learn something, you may not remember everything you study and you might fare poorly at the exam. Attention, focus or concentration is one of the most common problems experienced by students worldwide.
The Oxford Royale Academy published an article a few years back highlighting the common study problems and the first three are about concentration, distraction and motivation. All three are essentially about attention or ability to focus. You can read the article here.
Scientists, educators and parents around the world are discussing the concerning decline in attention span, not just among children or teenagers but also in young adults. The digital era with all its temptations has its rewards but is also posing new challenges.
When was the last time you have read a three thousand word article in the New York Times? We are drawn more to gifs, memes and snippets of information. A recent article sheds more light on this.
The Common Causes of Poor Concentration
1. The Threat of Distraction
The first major cause of poor concentration is distraction. There are just too many distractions all around us.
Log onto any social media platform and you can remain distracted for hours. The constant buzzing of the phone or the texts, the notifications being pushed through by apps and the natural tendency of the human mind to simply wander are making it increasingly hard for us to concentrate.
This problem persists not just for studying or before exams but for most things we do in our daily lives.
2. The Problem of Motivation
The second most common cause of poor concentration is motivation or lack thereof.
It is impossible for an individual to be motivated about everything. You will not like every subject you study. You may not have the same level of motivation every day and night.
There will be times when you may feel excited about studying something. Then there will be hours when you would not want to pick up the book you must study for an exam.
3. The Issue of Time Management
Time management or mismanagement is a real problem.
Very few people are really good at planning their entire day. Adhering to such stringent schedules is also a challenge. The studying hours leading up to the exams are very important.
You miss one hour and there is no way you can make up for it. This triggers anxiety. The sense of worry has an adverse effect on concentration. More time is then required to completely learn a given chapter or topic.
4. Correlation of Memory and Concentration
You may have realized this yourself.
Whenever you can remember something or learn something rather quickly, you are likely to concentrate more and you can remain focused for much longer periods of time. Whenever you cannot remember something or you are failing to understand a topic, you are likely to give in to distractions and motivation dips too.
Memory, whether you are recollecting or forming new ones, has a direct correlation with concentration.
5. The Current State of Mind
It is impossible for a human to be in the same state of mind throughout a day, week or month. Just as the body undergoes a biological cycle, which is known as circadian rhythm, the mind too is at its finest and weakest at certain times.
Your present state of mind will affect how well you can concentrate on studies before exams. Some people are more successful at influencing their state of mind than others.
How Energy affects Concentration
Energy determines how active you can be at a given point in time. While concentration is a more cognitive ability than a physical attribute, energy does influence the mind and how it functions.
If you are fatigued, it is unlikely you will be able to study like you normally do.
If you are too excited or ecstatic due to some reason, the hyperactivity may also be unsuited for you to focus on something.
Restlessness, whether physical or cognitive, leads to poor concentration.
Personal Challenges and Poor Concentration
Everyone has a few personal challenges. You may call these shortcomings or just how a person is.
Someone may find it easy to slide into study mode whenever needed. Someone may need a dedicated slot of time.
Many people wake up in the morning, feel fresh & alert and they are raring to go. Some people study better at night. A few lucky people can study all day long and well into the night, perhaps for twenty-four hours and more. Most people need breaks.
There are many other possibilities in the realm of personal challenges. I may have anxiety before exams. This anxiety is not just tension or nervousness that is usual and even expected. The anxiety can be unnerving.
It is not rare for students to freeze while studying and during exams. Students can go blank and may not be able to concentrate at all. Identifying such problems is the first step to start figuring out how to concentrate on studies before exams.
How to Improve Concentration before Exams
1. The first step is to improve your day-to-day life.
You should be physically and mentally prepared to study and for long hours. This requires adequate sleep, sufficient hydration, nutritious meals at the right times and regular exercise.
You cannot concentrate on studies before exams if you are not at your physical best. You do not have to indulge in high-intensity interval training at a gym. A long leisurely stroll or a short jog nearby should suffice during the weeks leading up to the exams.
2. The second step is to disconnect.
You must log out of the digital world. It is imperative to forget about social media. Internet use should be limited to what you are studying. Casual browsing, news and other types of updates should be completely avoided.
The phone should be ideally turned off but then your family and friends may not be able to reach you if there is an emergency. Turn the mobile data off and disable all notifications.
3. The third step is to isolate yourself physically.
Some people are able to concentrate anywhere, bus stops and train stations or in a café. If you do not have this ability, then you must have your ideal place to study.
Physical isolation is necessary for most people. The real world can have just as many distractions as the digital realm.
You should also tell your friends and others who may swing by for a quick chat to resist from doing so for the time you are studying for the upcoming exams.
4. The fourth step is to organize.
Your study table should be neatly sorted. You must have a routine or a plan. If you are studying only one subject, choose topics or chapters based on your energy level, motivation and expertise.
Harder chapters should be studied when you are fresh. Easier topics can be taken up when your mind is partly or substantially exhausted and you are physically drained too. A random approach to choosing chapters or subjects does not work for most people.
5. The fifth step is to have the right resources and learning tools.
Many subjects require a distinct approach. You cannot approach math and literature in the same way.
In math, you cannot approach calculus and trigonometry in an identical way. How you study is just as important as what you are studying, when and why. You should develop a studying method that works for you.
There are best practices. Many educators and subject experts have shared their tips and tricks. You can find such videos online. Everyone needs to be guided. It is only the extent to which one needs to be guided that varies.
6. The sixth step is to be really smart about your studies.
Every subject has some portions in a syllabus that are never important. There are some parts that are relevant at times. Most of what the syllabus covers is important though. You should find out which parts require greater effort and the portions that are relatively insignificant.
Prioritizing is necessary to become a smart learner. This also helps improve concentration as you can channel or regulate your level of focus or attention depending on the significance of what you are studying.
You should have a disciplined routine before exams. You should guard yourself against procrastination.
Do not deal with too many emotional issues while studying before exams. Emotions have an immense impact on concentration. If you have some problems in your life that need to be addressed, resolve them before you begin studying or take those up after your exams.
Do not think about peer pressure or expectations of others. Avoid dwelling too much on the consequences of the exams or the results. Live in the present moment when you study for exams and you shall have much better concentration.