I have a very short attention span when it comes to studying. If it was anything else, like playing the guitar, learning a language, talking about interesting ideas etc., I could spend hours without getting bored. I sense you might agree here, so now that we’ve established that we all get bored with studying (and if you don’t, I’d like to do research on you, so leave me an email), this post details how I hacked my study sessions to ensure I study a lot less and at least achieve a distinction average.

Honestly, I could write a few posts on this because there are a number of tricks you can use to ensure that you study a lot less. However, much like the extremely powerful 80/20 principle I wrote about in this blog post “The 80/20 Rule: Meta-Learning and Productivity Life Hacks“, I am going to give you my best tip. This is the 20% of my tool kit which provide me with 80% of my results.

Space Out Your Study Sessions

Okay, let’s get to it.

The secret is to break up your study into 25 minute intervals, with 5 minute breaks in between. So in an hour, you’d have 50 minutes of study time, and 10 minutes of break. It’s far more effective than the 3-hour long sessions that many people attempt. You can adjust that of course, I find that 20 minutes works best for me and I sometimes require 10 minute breaks for particularly heavy tasks.

The reasoning behind this is twofold:

1. I’m easily distracted when I study.

First I’m hungry, then I have to check Facebook because someone sent me a message, and… well you get the picture. The thing is, it’s hard to shut out distractions. Instead, you can work around it by giving yourself 5 minutes to do anything you want after a 25 minute session.

25 minutes isn’t that bad at all! In fact, you’ll find you’re flying through it faster than you think. This makes your hyper-focused on the task at hand. Knowing that you have a 5-minute break coming up every so often allows you to maintain an incredibly high level of focus for that 25 minutes.

2. Average concentration tends to take a heavy dip as the duration of study increases.

With this technique, you get to break up your study session so that you have a higher average level of concentration (I’ll explain this below).

The human brain has an attention span of roughly 20 minutes for most things, after which it sort of goes into a gentle slumber (flashback of history lessons in high school anyone?).

What do you remember the most of a study session? The beginning, the middle, or the end?

For most people, they remember the beginning, and the last thing they studied. The middle becomes a sort of fuzzy, mushy stew of information which is frustratingly hard to remember.

This is what happens when you study for long periods of time without regular breaks. You tend to remember the beginning and the end but not much of the middle. Concentration always takes a dip in the middle.

If you take a look at the graphs below (please excuse the poor illustrations, Microsoft Paint was all I had available), you’ll see what I mean. The first graph shows you how the average study session goes, with concentration taking a nose-dive soon after the first few minutes, usually ending up in pleasant daydreams and Facebook messages.

attention-curveCompare the graph above with the one below. You get a much higher level of average attention, because you have more frequent breaks, you’re have more beginnings and ends (thus you have improved recall) and you get to allow yourself some distraction every 25 minutes!average-attention

This is essentially the biggest secret that I have to improving your study sessions. You actually end up having to study a lot less because you understand things and remember them a lot better because each time you have a break, you come back refreshed and ready to tackle all that annoying material.

The Pomodoro Recipe

Here’s a quick outline of how you can structure your study session:

  • Start with the toughest material first, as you will get more tired with each session.
  • 4 sets of 25-minute sessions with 5-minute breaks, and then you get to have a 15-minute break before starting the next set of 4.
  • I sometimes do quick workouts during the breaks to get the blood flowing. This increases your energy levels as long as you don’t exert yourself too much.
  • I also break up study sessions into morning and evening sessions, at the times when I’m most alert. This way, it feels like I’ve had a massive break in between to recharge, but this depends on your preference.

Of course, the exact amount of time for the study period and break is up to you. I sometimes take 10 minute breaks if I’m working on something particularly tiring. However, sticking to the 25 and 5 rule is what I’ve found to be the most effective.

The Pomodoro timer

There are a few ways you can do this. You could just use a clock, but I prefer using a free app called Productivity Challenge Timer . You can of course use any Pomodoro app which are freely available, but I find this one highly engaging because of it’s funny descriptions and motivational goals that you have to unlock.

As usual, don’t take my word for any of this. Test it out yourself and let me know how it works for you! Better yet, if you have a suggestion, I’d love to hear about it! Like I said, if there’s a way to do something quicker with less work, I’m in!

TL;DR

  • The Pomodoro technique is where you study in short bursts of 25 minutes and rest for 5 minutes.
  • This improves recall and increases the number of beginnings and ends in a study session, which is when people tend to remember the most things.
  • It makes it a lot easier to focus because you allow yourself 5 minutes to distract yourself and knowing that you have a break coming up every so often is very motivating.
  • Download a Pomodoro app and try it out for yourself! The Productivity Challenge Timer  is my personal favourite.
  • If you have any other suggestions or tools to improve your study sessions, let me know!

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