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How to Improve Your Memory and Concentration While Studying

Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash 

Estimated read time: 15min

So, it’s that time of year again, where you have the thought of tests and exams looming over you. And, if you’re one who battles to simply sit down and focus, this time can be particularly stressful to you. Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to help your situation. Read our tips below to find out how to improve your memory and concentration while studying and beat those test-time blues! 

But first, before you do that…let’s take a closer look at memory and attention and what actually defines these mechanisms in order to understand how we can hack into them and use them to the full.  

What Is Sustained Attention? 

There are many different types of attention, such as selective attention and alternating attention. However, when studying, the type of attention you typically draw upon is sustained attention. This can be defined as your ability to put your mind to one task for a prolonged period of time. For the average person, this period of sustained attention can be anywhere around 15 min to a few hours, dependent on what the task requires of them.  

Many people battle to sit down and focus, and they often find their thoughts wondering off from time to time. This is normal and does not mean that you have attention problems. The key skill in order to sustain attention is being able to bring your thoughts back to the task at hand. People who have ADHD (attention deficient hyper or hypo activity disorder) often struggle a lot more with this redirection of focus. 

Defining Memory 

As with attention, memory can be broken up into its different kinds, such as short-term memory, long term memory, procedural, visual or autobiographical memory. There are various kinds of memory required of you in response to different tasks. When you study new material, you require working memory to hold the information in mind, digest it, write notes, and to meaningfully understand it.  

Working memory is an action-based type of memory as the name implies. It is your ability to remember bits of information for a short period of time in order to carry out a particular task. For example, remembering a phone number and then dialing it to call someone.   

When you need to remember information in order to write a test or exam, you make use of your working memory and, in particular, your ability to recall information or to bring what you’ve learnt to mind and use it to respond to the questions asked. 

Your working memory is limited, and you can only deal with a few chunks of information (units of information) – around 4 chunks – for a set time span (typically 10-15 seconds if you do not actively deal with the information or repeat it to yourself). The less chunks of information you deal with, the easier it is to stay focused. It’s really important to keep this in mind when studying, so that you can successfully work around your limitations.  

Your Brain Works Better Without Distractions 

how to focus when studying, coffee cup and book at the beach

Photo by Aaron Burden 

Our brains have been uniquely built to focus on one thing at a time, and we are more efficient and productive when ‘single-tasking’, contrary to popular multi-tasking myths. Neuroscientists have shown how switching between tasks when multi-tasking depletes your brain of its resources quicker, causing you to lose focus quicker. This is why it’s important to filter out all distractions so that you can truly give your studies your all. 

Studying Without Your Phone Makes You Smarter 

A 2020 study published in the PLOS One journal, carried out by psychologists Clarissa Tanil and Nin Hooi Young, showed that the mere presence of your phone next to you while you’re studying can interfere with your focus, learning and memory. 

When you study with your phone next to you a very shallow type of learning occurs, making it harder to remember the information you’ve learned later on. 

This happens because by just thinking about your phone and anticipating a message, you devote a small portion of your attention to this and it’s not fully engaged in concentrating on the task at hand. 

Your concentration gets even worse when you switch between the task of studying and the task of messaging your friend! 

So, if you take anything away from this article – let it be that you need to put your phone away in a separate room to where you study. 

Peace and Quiet are Your Friends 

Sitting in a quiet room, like a study, bedroom or library, can help a lot when it comes to studying. In your day-to-day routine, you may have many different things going on in the background, all of which compete for your attention (for example, your family member or partner asking you to do a chore or engaging in a conversation). 

Since your brain is wired to work better focusing on one thing at a time, and your working memory is limited, it’s best to shut the door and shut out the distractions or get out of the house and find your ideal spot. 

The Way You Study Matters  

how to improve concentration and focus while studying  

Photo by Paico Oficial on Unsplash 

If you’re not familiar with different techniques to help you zone in and conquer your studies, then you’re missing out big time! We’ve selected some of the most effective techniques that will up your grades.  

Review Information You’ve Learned with Spaced Learning 

A German psychologist named Hermann Ebbinghaus, proved the effectiveness of spaced learning – which is revisiting the same information you’ve studied at regular and spaced intervals (for example, reviewing a particular section of a topic every 3 days). This reduces the rate at which you forget information and makes it easier for you to quickly bring to mind what you’ve learnt (something that comes in really handy when it comes to tests and exams). 

Chunking Keeps Things Simple 

Earlier, we discussed how your working memory can only work with a few chunks of information at a time. You can use this limitation to your benefit with the chunking technique of studying. Chunking is when you group a large amount of information into organised groups. As a simple example, think of a telephone number and how you write it out with spaces in between to easily remember it. Remembering 073 458 9332 is much easier than trying to remember the number in the following form: 0734589332. 

Another example of chucking is when a neuroscience student who needs to remember all the different parts of the brain groups their list by the function that each part of the brain serves. When information is organised into smaller, more meaningful chunks, we can learn a lot more! 

The Pomodoro Method is a Game Changer 

The Pomodoro study technique is not new and has been around for over two decades. It involves using timed intervals to boost your concentration. You begin with a 25-minute study period, followed by a 5-10 minute break. You repeat the pattern of studying for 25 minutes and taking a short, timed break four times. After your fourth session, you can then take a longer break around 20-30 minutes.  

This study technique acknowledges your brain’s need to rest and ‘digest’ information in order for it to be better utilised and remembered. The widespread success of the Pomodoro method is testament to the fact that knowing your brain’s limits and needs can really turn your study experience around. 

Diet and Lifestyle Make a Huge Difference 

how to improve concentration and focus while studying , girl doing push ups, girl exercising

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash 

It’s long been known that diet and exercise have numerous benefits, but how exactly does it affect your memory and concentration? We’ll give you a brief rundown: 

Say Goodbye to Sugar 

Eating too much sugar – be it in the form of junk foods, baked foods, or syrups and sauces – is arguably one of the worst things for your concentration levels. High levels of sugar have been shown to impair your memory and attention. This is because it leads to temporary inflammation throughout the brain and, particularly, in the hippocampus (a part of the brain responsible for memory and learning).  

Supplement Missing Nutrients with Bio-Strath®

Modern diets are often high in fats and sugars and lack many of the essential nutrients our bodies and brains need to function properly. Even if you are eating plenty of fruits and veggies, unsustainable farming practices have caused large-scale soil nutrient loss, which trickles down to nutrient loss in your foods.  

The point is that you may not be getting all the nutrients you need in your current diet. And even if you are, your body may not readily absorb them all. So, you may want to try a supplement like Bio-Strath®, which has high-bioavailability, meaning it’s easier for the body to absorb and make use of the nutrients provided. 

Bio-Strath® has 61 nutrients that feed your brain. You can take it in syrup or tablet form, both which have been scientifically studied and shown to significantly improve your focus and memory. 

(Visit our product page for dosage directions and our research page to learn more about the studies conducted.) 

A Word to the Wise, Exercise 

Why is exercise so helpful when it comes to improving your concentration and focus while studying? Exercise, be it heavy cardio, a 15min walk, or a lap or two in the pool, helps improve your body’s circulation. Improved circulation gets more blood flowing to the brain, which is exactly what you need to light up those neurons and focus! 

On top of the immediate benefits of improved blood flow, regular exercise also has more long-lasting benefits. This is because it aids in neurogenesis, which is the creation of new brain cells. And studies have found that those who work out more have a larger brain volume in the hippocampus, which moves information from short term memory into long term memory. 

Green Tea is Key 

While it’s not the tastiest drink, green tea really is as good for your brain as they (the scientists) say it is. Not only will it help you concentrate but it also improves your memory.  

Green tea contains both caffeine and L-theanine. This duo has been shown to strengthen working memory and attention significantly. Additionally, green tea has shown to improve the connectivity between the different regions of your brain involved in working memory. 

Try out flavoured green tea if you battle to gulp it down.   

Managing Stress to Improve Your Focus and Recall 

stress and concentration, stress and focus, balanced pebbles

Photo by Austin Neill on Unsplash 

When your stress levels are particularly high, your body releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol isn’t a bad hormone, in and of itself, and can actually help keep you alert as it enhances your brain’s ability to use glucose (the fuel it needs to work well and stay alert). However, when your body releases cortisol over long periods of time, it becomes overexposed to it and this hormone ends up having negative effects, such as memory and concentration impairment. 

Create a Study Schedule as Part of Your Stress-Management Strategy 

It’s easier to focus and not get overwhelmed when you know you’re on track and you have a plan to prevent stress. Which is why it’s really important that you create a study schedule, looking ahead to estimate the total hours of studying required for each subject or module. 

Once you have this total, you can then break it down to the hours needed to study per week and then per day. This way, if you miss one day for whatever reason, you’ll know how many hours you’ll need to catch up.  

A solid schedule (that includes plenty of revision and spaced studying) can help reduce some of your anxiety or nerves about your upcoming test and keep your mind relaxed so that it can properly concentrate. 

Breathing Exercises Actually Do Work  

If you’re instantly annoyed when your friends say, ‘Just Breathe’ as a cure-all to your mental battles, you’re not alone. However, they may be right… they’re just missing one vital part of information. It’s not about simply breathing in and out. It’s about the technique that you use.  

Breathing techniques, such as slowly breathing in as you count to 4, holding your breathe for a few seconds, and then slowly breathing out for 4 seconds, have been shown to activate your parasympathetic nervous system.  

This system helps your body relax and helps you slow down your heart rate. Which is particularly useful when you’re stressed to a point where your mind can’t take in any more information. It’s also helpful to practice this technique before your exam or test starts to prevent performance anxiety which can interfere with your ability to recall the information you’ve learnt. 

Remember That Not All Stress is Bad 

A little stress, on the other hand, is actually a good thing and can keep you motivated and help you concentrate. While prolonged stress may damage your brain cells, short bouts of positive stress – what is known as eustress – is your body’s way of assisting you in times of need. When you experience eustress, your body’s fight or flight response is activated over a short period and releases a small amount of adrenaline, which causes the heart to beat faster and sends more oxygen to the brain to improve alertness which, of course, helps you focus better. Eustress can really energise you for the task at hand!

The next time you feel a little stressed, just remember that it can be a good thing. So, use it to your advantage. 

In summary, improving your focus and memory is a matter of understanding your attention and working memory limits, eliminating your distractions, learning better study techniques, making modifications to your diet and lifestyle, and managing stress better.  

Now that you know how to focus better when studying, we hope you’ll find learning to be a more enjoyable experience. Good luck, and all the best with your exams and tests!