If you’re like most students, you want to do well in your classes and get good grades. One of the best ways to achieve this is by studying effectively for long hours.
However, when you’re trying to study for hours on end, it can be hard to stay on task, especially when there are so many other things that need your attention.
According to experts, here are ways to help you study effectively for long hours without being distracted.
Online ESL Teacher | Owner, English With Brian
Gamify your study sessions
An often-cited 2015 study from Microsoft found that our collective attention spans have dropped from an average of 12 seconds to about 8 seconds (just 1 second less than a goldfish!).
Whether we take these findings seriously or not, it is undeniable that in our modern world of TikTok videos and bullet-point journalism, our ability to maintain prolonged focus on a task is being stretched—especially when that task is a tedious one, like cramming for an exam.
So, how can we compete with those over-achieving goldfish?
Gamification is a common strategy used by advertisers to combat our ever-dwindling ability to stay on task.
Instead of opening your pile of notes and reviewing them until your body and mind give out on you, try organizing the content you need to learn into bite-size, digestible parts and reward yourself for completing each micro-goal.
This could look like indulging in some chocolate after getting through each page, taking the puppy out for a short walk between chapters, or even giving yourself five minutes to scroll through Instagram before tackling the next section mindlessly.
Popular language learning apps, like Duolingo or Clozemaster, capitalize on this concept by rewarding learners with points, badges, avatars, and leaderboard scores.
Consider what motivates you best and integrate it into your study plan.
Shake up your study methods
By the time most of us reach high school, we have come to dread studying.
When an exam is looming over our heads, we envision ourselves spending hours re-reading textbooks, endlessly flipping through flashcards, or repeating phrases out loud in an attempt to hammer these bits of information into our brains.
This rote and mechanical form of memorization works for children who need to learn multiplication facts or capital cities but tends not to hold up when we need to demonstrate mastery of more nuanced and complex subjects.
This is where we need to move from studying passively to studying actively.
So what does active studying look like?
Drop the traditional flashcards in favor of an app like Quizlet that allows for more engaging problem-solving games while tracking your progress in order to exclude the information you’ve already mastered.
Completing past papers or exam prep workbooks with a timer is essential, as it not only allows you to self-test but allows you to better pace yourself on the real thing.
Visual learners can try mapping out concepts in diagrams or mind maps to clarify the relationship between ideas. Auditory learners may find that teaching the content to a friend will solidify their understanding.
Active studying not only encourages deep and long-lasting learning but is a surefire way to keep your next cram session from being a total bore.
Make studying social
Reflecting on my days as a student, I’m often surprised about how my younger self was able to study for hours on end and even pull off the occasional all-nighter on a regular basis.
Although I can’t imagine doing that now, it was a typical and expected part of student life. There was even a sense of pride in being able to pull off a high score after a brutal, caffeine-fueled night of panicked cramming.
What’s more, is that there was a sense of camaraderie in the shared misery. It might not have been fun, but at least we were all in it together.
In other words, studying was a social experience.
A lot of our inability to focus while studying comes from the fact that we often see it as a solitary process where we lock ourselves away from the world with the misguided notion that self-isolation will help keep us focused, when in fact, the opposite may be true.
In the age of online classes, students may feel a lack of support, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Whether you’re completing your Master’s or aiming to prove your proficiency in Japanese, with a little effort, you’ll be able to form a virtual study group.
If your program doesn’t already have an active group chat, it is worth searching for similar communities on Facebook, Reddit, or even Discord.
Aside from sharing memes and griping about instructors, having that social support allows you to clarify concepts that you may be shaky on and pool together resources. There isn’t anything quite as encouraging as opening a Google Doc at 3 AM and seeing all your sleep-deprived friends logged in alongside you.
Studying doesn’t need to be solo—lean on others when your focus is waning, and your motivation is in need of a jump start.
College Counselor and Community Manager, Transizion
It requires mental stamina, an optimized study space, and a study plan
Studying effectively for long periods of time requires three things: mental stamina, an optimized study space, and a study plan.
In one part habit and one part preparation, mental stamina is key to studying for long periods of time.
Habit is something that builds up over time. As one gets used to sitting still and concentrating, it gets easier to sit still and concentrate. As with all habits, it works best to start small and build up.
At first, study for 30 minutes at a time, then an hour. As you get more used to it, so your habit will improve.
Regarding preparation, it’s important to think about what your brain needs:
- Have you drunk a lot of water throughout the day?
- Eaten well?
- Slept well the night before?
It’s important to set yourself up for success by taking care of yourself physically first.
An optimized study space
When it comes to studying for a long period of time, it’s important to minimize distractions. To do this, you need to know yourself:
- Do noises distract you? Block them out with white noise.
- Are your headphones uncomfortable? Buy ones that feel better.
- Do you focus better if you do something with your hands? Buy a fidget toy, use a highlighter, or take notes.
The goal is to set up your study space, so you have everything you need within reach and you can block out anything that distracts you.
A study plan
If you just sit down and tell yourself to “study,” it’s easy to get bogged down in indecision. Instead, figure out a plan in advance:
- Are you reading a textbook?
- Are you reviewing your notes?
- Are you going through problems with old exams?
You’ll be far more likely to succeed if you know what your goals are and have established concrete steps to achieve them.
While I was in school, this even included things like breaking at the top of every hour to stretch my legs and refill my water bottle.
Dr. Chris Drew, PhD
Online University Teacher | Founder, The Helpful Professor
Studying for long hours is all about getting into a flow state. This is the state of mind where you’re so focused that you’ve lost track of time. You may even be enjoying yourself.
Here are two tricks for trying to get into the flow state of mind.
Study in the library
Studying on the couch in the living room might be comfortable, but it’s a distraction. You’re far better off getting up, going to the library, and finding a space to study without distraction.
In the library, you won’t have the comforts of home to distract you.
Furthermore, the library has all the resources you need to study. If you need a book, it’s right there by your side.
Studying in the library is the best way to study without distraction. It will help you get focused and get into a flow state that will help you study for longer.
Alternate private study with group study
We all had that teacher who wouldn’t let us talk in class at school. That teacher missed something very important: we learn through conversation.
When you talk with friends about your study subject, you hear their perspectives on it. This challenges you and deepens your knowledge.
Furthermore, a discussion is energizing. Instead of sitting and staring at a screen for hours on end, you’ll get to talk, debate, and challenge one another. The study session will feel more enjoyable, and that will encourage you to stay in that flow state for longer.
Despite what your high school math teacher says, a discussion is a really valuable (and energizing!) way to study.
John Soriano, MS
Master Practitioner of NeuroLInguistic Programming and Academic Coach, Teen Coaching Online
Use the visual approach as a method of studying
There is a faulty presupposition in the question, namely, how to study for long periods of time. That is not effective.
In terms of time, studying should be in increments of 30-45 minute sessions, interspersed with 20-30 min breaks. These breaks are the time when the brain is allowed to process information.
More important than time, however, is the method, the how of studying.
Studying has to use an efficient strategy.
Many standard methods, such as verbal repetition or writing notes over and over, aren’t very useful because these are time-consuming and, frankly, boring. They also don’t allow a student to know where the information has been stored nor how to retrieve it.
Think of it like a document on your computer. If you file it, it helps to know where (what folder) and what you call the file (how to find it). This is the basis for the method I often share with students whom I am coaching for academic performance.
Academic skills such as vocabulary memorization, math fact memorization, and the like are best studied and learned using a visual approach.
As stated above, the common methods used are often lacking and also often slower. Seeing the words, facts, etc., in mind, then hooking them to an auditory trigger, is by far the fasted and most effective way to study.
For example, let’s suppose a student is studying vocabulary. They need to learn the definition of the word “antigen.”
The visual approach would be as follows:
- First, make an image of the definition, which is any substance that stimulates an immune response in the body. So the picture can be of a general rallying troops that look like white blood cells. In the picture, place the word “antigen.”
- While looking at the internal image, read the word out loud from the picture. This serves as the file name in the computer example given earlier. This auditory hook allows the file to be retrieved.
- Go over the word this way three to five times. This is quite quick, much faster than usual methods of studying, and much more efficient.
Now, let’s take a look at memory. Short-term memory works by using a method of storing the information for recall and being able to access it. Long-term memory is achieved by doing this over time.
So if the information in the example above needed to be in long-term memory, then the above process would be repeated over 3-4 days.
By using the above method, study time can actually be reduced while increasing academic performance.
Manager of Scholastic Achievement, JBG Educational Group
Repetition is the best way to learn
The best way to think about studying is to think smarter, not harder. It’s not about how much you study but how to study effectively.
Studying and mastering material involves the same process as practicing any sport. You need to practice a little bit every day.
You wouldn’t learn a new soccer move by cramming in your only practice right before the game; you would practice a little bit throughout the week leading up to the game, and studying is no different.
The material should be reviewed well ahead of the test so students can identify what they are struggling with most.
Then, for several days leading up to the test, students should practice that material (be it through quizlets, group reviews, worksheets, test reviews, etc.) a little bit each morning and a little bit each night. Repetition is how we learn best.
Then, the day or two before the test, students should pre-test themselves to see where they stand with the material and continue reviewing accordingly. The process is simple, and by creating a routine, studying is more likely to take place.
However, when students do implement this plan, it can still be hard to avoid getting distracted or losing motivation to stick with the process.
Here are the best tips for maintaining focus:
- Find a study space that is free from external noise and make it a habit to work there, whether this is a place at home, in your dorm, or perhaps at the local library.
- Leave phones in another room, at home, or in silent / do not disturb mode, so you aren’t tempted to check what others are saying to you while studying.
- Mix up the material to keep your brain engaged. Instead of working only on one subject for a long time, try smaller sections of different topics across that same period.
- After completing a subject or study guide, reward yourself by taking a short break, having a snack, or going for a walk. Splitting up longer sessions of studying can increase endurance.
- Set an end time so you don’t feel like the studying will go on forever. It’s best to have a balance in life, and this goes for school work as well.
After a few times, you’ll find what methods and tricks work best for you. Sticking with this process will allow for effective studying and garner stronger results.
Former Lawyer | Founder, PreLawPro
Break your study up into chunks of time
When it comes to studying for long periods, too many students confuse quality with quantity.
Instead of ‘studying’ in the library for five hours, what you often find is that the quality of study represents much less time that the five hours claimed. Instead of trying to focus for five hours straight, students should find out what their ideal focus period is.
For some, that might be 30 or 45 minutes, but it is usually no more than an hour.
Once you know your ideal, break your study up into chunks of time, divided by short, dynamic breaks.
That might mean 50-minute study sessions, broken up by 10 minutes of stretching, listening to music, checking your texts and emails, or whatever it is that you consider rewarding.
Hold yourself accountable
When it comes to being able to study for long periods, it is important to use a timer. A simple countdown on your phone will allow you to see the progress you are making in that session.
The timer also serves as a great accountability tool.
Using the timer to countdown your breaks, as well as your study sessions, means you are a lot less likely to waste unnecessary time or stray from the plan.
Put yourself in situations that are designed to help you succeed
Where you choose to study is an often undervalued consideration.
For some, campus libraries are a much better fit than a dorm or apartment — where social interactions and distractions abound. For others, being on campus is itself a distraction.
The bottom line is that you need to choose an environment where you know you can focus.
On top of where you study, you also need to make sure that you limit your distractions. This means putting your phone on ‘Airplane’ or ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode to avoid text messages, calls, or notifications that might distract you.
Having an orderly desk and even a checklist for the chapters, topics, or courses your session needs to cover will also help you have an orderly approach to what can often be a stressful process.
Actively engage with the material
It can be difficult and time-consuming to establish a study style. Switching from a passive to an active approach is one method for studying effectively for long periods of time.
Most studying consists of reading from a set of PowerPoint slides or textbook chapters. Take the time to read effectively — divide your reading into topics and work through each one at a time.
For example, write the first topic on a piece of paper, then write what you know about it without using reference material.
Add to your list some ideas that fascinate you or seem critical as you read, and connect them to what you originally wrote.
This type of studying keeps your mind engaged for extended periods of time, preventing boredom. Furthermore, it is an excellent way to apply real-world concepts to new concepts introduced in your textbook.
Throughout my college career, I’ve used this method for various classes.
Turn your notes into questions
This method has been a lifesaver for me and has significantly improved my grades since I discovered it.
It’s one thing to actively engage with the material in a single study session, but remembering and applying those concepts later on, say, in a final exam, is quite another.
Most students end up cramming massive amounts of material the week before exams, which often leads to burnout.
I’ve discovered that after taking notes on a topic, converting those notes into questions that you revisit every few days is beneficial.
This method will benefit you in two ways:
- The spaced repetition will extend the forgetting curve and solidify your knowledge over time.
- You will be able to declutter your notes by figuring out the main ideas as you write questions.
In addition, very similar questions may occasionally appear on exams, which has definitely happened to me.
This method is ideal for long periods of study because it allows you to be creative while actively engaging with the material and feeling like you’re contributing to your knowledge throughout the whole semester rather than drowning yourself in/trying to memorize entire chapters in singular time periods.
There’s something in it for you in the long run because you’ll end up saving time.
Private Tutor and Founder, TPR Teaching
The best study method I have found is the Pomodoro technique
The Pomodoro technique improves productivity by breaking down work into manageable chunks and allowing for regular breaks. This method can be used for any task, whether it is studying for an exam, writing a paper, or working on a project.
Give it a try and see for yourself how effective it can be.
I first used this technique to help me study a language learning course a few months ago and have used it religiously ever since.
The Pomodoro technique involves focusing on a task for 25 minutes, then taking a five-minute break. After four “pomodoros” (or periods of focused work), you take a longer break of 15-30 minutes.
I find this method to be effective because it allows you to focus intensely on a task for a short period of time without becoming too tired or overwhelmed.
The breaks also help to keep you from getting too burned out and allow you to come back to the task refreshed and ready to focus again. However, for this to work effectively, I recommend leaving your desk during the five-minute break to get a glass of water, lightly stretch, or use the bathroom.
Using a phone may be too distracting, so I suggest leaving it in another room and only taking it out when you have a long break. For longer breaks, get the ultimate refresh by going outside or doing a short workout.
There are many websites and apps that have a Pomodoro timer online. They will count all the pomodoros for you so you can track your progress and know when you are due your next break.
I like to add a ticking sound to each of my pomodoros. It reminds me that the timer is active and stops my mind from wandering.
I would highly recommend giving this technique a try if you are struggling to focus on your studies or fulfill your daily tasks. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain with this timing technique.
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