A recent study found that students’ minds were most likely to wander in class on Mondays and Fridays. Presumably, thoughts about the previous or upcoming weekend were just too distracting. So how can we help students improve their focus and improve concentration during lessons?
Research shows that the ability to improve concentration and attention is something that can be improved, even from a very young age. Our ability to focus is not a fixed quantity. We’ve reviewed the research and recommend eight ways.
There is a growing body of research that shows that people who eat breakfast have better concentration over the course of the morning. Unfortunately, many students regularly skip breakfast, with one study reporting that 60% of teenage boys and 70% of teenage girls do so.
A fascinating study split students into three groups; those that ate breakfast, those that did not and those that just had an energy drink instead. These students were monitored over the course of four days and did tests to measure their attention and memory. The results? Students who ate breakfast did significantly better than their peers who skipped it or just had an energy drink.
Other research have found a host of other benefits to eating breakfast. This includes improving physical health, better mental health and reducing feelings of fatigue. You can read more about this research in our blog on ‘7 Reasons Why Breakfast is Important’
Put The Distraction Away
Out of sight really is out of mind. One study found that simply having your phone out, even if you are not using it, can make you perform up to 20% worse in cognitive tests. One of the most famous studies in psychology, the Marshmallow Test, found that students who did not look at the temptation in front of them were less likely to engage with it. So if you want to improve concentration, before you start your work, clear your immediate environment of potential distractions.
Choose Your Study Mate Carefully
Working with other people has been associated with reducing stress, improving performance and developing resilience. It can also help boost focus and work ethic. That was the finding of a recent journal which found that if the person next to you is working hard then it increases your work ethic. Interestingly, this impact was found to be consistent regardless of whether they were doing an easier or more difficult task than you, or whether the task is similar or unrelated to yours.
Take Notes in Class
Taking notes in class gives you something positive and productive to focus on. This will reduce the need to seek distractions elsewhere. When it comes to taking notes, don’t overcomplicate it with technology. A recent study found that students who did so outperformed their peers who had made their notes on their laptop. Find our tips for better note-taking in this blog.
People tend to focus on what they can see. Simply put, if you are not facing the person who is talking to you then you are more likely to be distracted by what is in your eye-line (see Marshmallow study mentioned earlier).
Have Someone Set Your Regularly Deadlines
Left to our own devices, people tend to procrastinate. In fact, some studies have found that 75% of students consider themselves procrastinators, with 50% doing so regularly and to a level that is considered problematic. Research suggests that most students are poor predictors at estimating how long a task will take to complete, as they get distracted or face unexpected obstacles along the way.
One study found that when people set their own deadlines, they tend to procrastinate. However, when a teacher sets small regular deadlines, this help students manage their time better and perform significantly better in their coursework, achieving higher grades overall.
Do The Hard Task Early
Our daily biological clocks, known as our Circadian Rhythm, ensure that we are often at our most alert at about 10am before we suffer a mid-afternoon dip. The harder the tasks are, the more energy and concentration we need to complete them. It therefore makes sense to do the hardest and most important tasks early because trying to start them when you are tired is difficult, often resulting in people putting them off for another day. It is worth noting that this approach may not work best for everyone, as some people are ‘night owls’, but evidence suggest even these people get lower grades.
Get a Good Night's Sleep
The National Sleep Foundation recommend GCSE and Sixth Form Students need up to 10 hours a night. However, many teenagers are not getting anywhere near this, with many reporting that they sleep for less than 7 hours a night. Evidence suggests that those who get a good night’s sleep have far better focus, concentration and self-regulation the next day.
In a fascinating study, researchers found that sleepy participants remembered about 40% less than their more alert peers. What made this really interesting was that they found that the sleepy participants remembered a lot less positive and neutral things, but almost the same amount of negative things.
Find some tips to get better sleep in this blog, or head over to our "Benefits of Sleep" guide page for even more information.