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Have a lot on your mind? You’re not alone.

When it comes to studying, we all have our own methods. Some say last-minute cramming is effective, while others argue for long-term tutoring.

But a strategy is useless unless it targets the more fundamental issue of studying – focus.

You can have the most organised notes, the best study resources or the best tutor, but none of that will make a difference if you can’t absorb information.

The better you focus, the better you retain information and the better you perform.

So, the big question is: how can you improve your focus? Here are five tricks to sharpen your study techniques:

Mental clean-up

Have a lot on your mind? You’re not alone. For most students, the greatest challenge to staying focused are all the irrelevant thoughts that get in the way.

If you’re worrying about getting out of your Saturday shift or finding a new housemate, you’ll find it hard to remember the year the anti-discrimination act was passed.

To improve your focus, you need to make space. 

There are many ways to do a mental clean-up, but the most effective is to purge your thoughts in writing. You could do this on a loose sheet of paper, on your computer or in a diary.

It doesn’t matter what you write – in fact, the more puerile the better. The idea is if it’s on paper, it won’t be in your head.

Brain dump

Studying can be overwhelming. With so much to learn, it can be hard to find a clear or direct path to follow. For instance, should you follow chronology or common themes? Whatever the subject, there are multiple ways ‘in’. Brain dumping can help you find the right path and stay focused on it.

It works like this. After a study session, you write down all the key points, areas for further study and anything else that has come up. The idea is to capture all your ideas before you lose them.

In ‘dumping’ these ideas, you will start to see patterns and ways of organising your ideas for essays and other assignments.

The Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is devised to help you stay in the zone by breaking up long stints with multiple short breaks. The technique suggests you study in 25-minute sessions. After each session, you are allowed a five-minute break. After one hour, you are allowed a longer break. You can measure each session with a special Pomodoro clock or a simple timer.

The benefit of Pomodoro is that it helps you concentrate on the task at hand. Breaks are scheduled for when your thoughts are most likely to wander, meaning you maximise your concentration time.

Stationary blitz

Focus is in the mind. But it helps if your notes are just as mindful. Getting out the old highlighter might seem daggy, but it will give your brain a higher chance of retaining information.

According to numerous studies, colour is very important to memory. It improves your attention, which makes remembering information easier.

But remember not to overdo it – this technique won’t work if you’ve highlighted everything!

Visualisation

Close your eyes, take a deep breath and visualise. No, you’re not at yoga class: you’re studying.  

Visualisation is an important technique to help you stay calm and focused, particularly in an exam setting. It can improve how you understand a question, remember key points and manage your time.

For this technique to be effective, you need to visualise the process – not the outcome. Concentrate on visualising your learning process as you read, gain skills and feel prepared.

Now visualise the exam hall, picking up your pen and responding to the first question.