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December 2005

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Dennis Congos

Creating a Concentration Environment

By Dennis Congos, University of Central Florida

This information has been gathered through the years and compiled into this document, which may be used as a handout for students. Each statement may be turned into a question for students to answer individually or in groups. Colleagues are welcome to rearrange and edit this information to best meet the needs of their students.

Concentration is an outcome, a by-product, a result of a series of activities and behaviors totally under the control of each individual student. The students must create an environment where concentration can take place.

  1. Find A Place That Is Quiet And Will Stay Quiet. Research is clear that sound interferes with and in some cases prevents learning. Some of those sounds are most types of music, talking, and intermittent sounds such as doors opening and closing, noise from roommates, pet sounds, TV, etc. Beware of egocentric individuals where you live. Egocentricity means self-centered. An example of an egocentric individual's behavior goes something like this: when I want to listen to my stereo so does everyone else within a 2-mile radius. Egocentricity is a child-like characteristic that many college students have not matured beyond. In college, the worst place to study is usually where you live. Remove potential sources of visual and auditory distractions or remove yourself to a less distracting study environment. All the study skills in the world won't do much good if students are studying in the wrong place that interferes with concentration.

  2. Have Everything You Will Need before you begin to study: pencils, pens, paper, notes, textbooks, reference books, etc.

  3. Study In The Same Place As Much As Possible. You will associate that place with study, which enables you to begin concentrating sooner, do it more deeply, and get the job of learning done faster. Psychologists call this a conditioning effect and it speeds learning.

  4. Study With A Pencil Or Pen In Hand. According to an expert in concentration, Dr. Pauk, you should study with a pencil or pen in hand and use it to take notes. The activity of taking notes increases concentration. Use the Cornell System for lecture notes and the Notecard System for textbook notes.

  5. Vary Your Study Activities. If your study style is not to focus on one subject for a long period, then vary what you do. Read and take notes for a while, formulate answers and questions for a time, then recite and review your q & a's to break the monotony. An example is to do math problems, then take notes from your psychology text, quiz yourself on the psychology notes, and then go back to math.

  6. Eat Well Balanced, Regular Meals. Research indicates that those with healthier diets earn higher grades. Avoid quick uppers such as sugary snacks because quickly rising and falling blood sugar levels negatively affect concentration. High fat foods cause sluggishness and drowsiness. Choose to snack on fresh fruits and vegetables.

  7. Get Plenty of Nighttime Sleep. Fighting sleepiness lowers concentration. If your living environment prevents sufficient nighttime sleep, change it. It is your future at stake. College students need between 7 and 9 hours of nighttime sleep to not hinder learning ability.

  8. Use A Worry Sheet. Each time you catch yourself worrying about something, jot it down on a piece of paper. Then do something about each item as soon as you can. If worrying prevents you from concentrating, use the expertise of the campus counseling center staff. They help students with personal concerns daily and may have just the information and assistance that you need.

  9. Intend To Cencentrate. Sounds simple. Humans tend to do what they tell themselves to do. Therefore, it's easier to concentrate if you set a specific length of time to study and consciously tell yourself that "I will concentrate" for that length of time. It is easier to concentrate when there is a beginning and an ending time.

  10. Adopt A Proven System For Studying And Learning. An effective step-by-step plan for studying and learning makes concentration easier. For example, take main ideas, turn them into questions, and place them on one side of a notecard. On the other side, use the details that clarify and explain each main idea as answers for your questions. Frequently and regularly, look at the questions and practice reciting answers aloud from memory. Then, turn the notecard over to check your answer. If right, move on to the next notecard. If wrong, do not move on until you read the answer aloud and re-quiz yourself until you get it right. This activity promotes concentration. Reading, and rereading, and rereading, and rereading does not. If you study by rereading and rereading and suffer from poor concentration and poor recall, you are normal.

    This activity also allows to identify what you have learned and what you have not yet learned before you take a test when you can still do something about it? When is the best time to see if your parachute has been packed correctly? Before you jump out of the plane or after? When is the best time to discover what you have and have not learned? Before or after a test?

  11. Take Regular Study Breaks. It is normal for concentration time to vary individually from 5 minutes, to 20 minutes, to an hour and on up. Take a short 5-minute break when concentration wanders. Use the restroom, get a drink of water, look out the window. There is danger in starting conversations with others during breaks. Many conversations turn out to be more interesting than the studying at hand.

  12. Study away from the temptations of your computer such as email, games, and exploring the Internet. Turn off cell phones when trying to concentrate. Did you know that people survived before cell phones when they missed a phone call?

Think of concentration improvement as a 3-step process:

Step 1) Learn the causes of poor concentration and decide which apply to you.

Step 2) Understand what you can do to control them.

Step 3) Apply these controls and make your concentration habitual.

Use the chart below to help you identify sources of distractions and how to deal with them.

External Causes Poor Concentration Table Internal Causes Poor Concentration Table

Even if you lapse into old habits of distraction and daydreaming, keep expecting yourself to concentrate. Use the controls above until you can routinely concentrate well on your studies. Soon, concentration will become a habit for you.

Humans become better at that which they practice. If you practice not concentrating, you will become better at that, also.

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