When you’re studying at home, concentration can be a struggle – between your phone, your family and your general surroundings, there’s no end to the distractions you can use to procrastinate. There are plenty of straightforward ways to remove these interruptions and sharpen your focus, but identifying what kind of learner you are is a good place to start; this will help you to develop a strategic self-study plan that plays to your strengths.
Most learners sit somewhere within the VARK model. VARK stands for visual, auditory, readers and writers, and kinaesthetic learners. While visual learners benefit from the use of images and graphs to explain data, auditory learners prefer resources like lectures or discussion; readers and writers may need to see the information written down to understand it, whereas those who are kinaesthetic learn by practicing or tactile experience.
Have a go at our “What Type of Learner are you?” quiz HERE.
Once you’ve worked out how you learn, you can incorporate this into your self-study routine. Keep reading for more tips on organisation, productivity and methods to help you study effectively.
Get Organised – Preparing to Self-study
- Create a dedicated study space. You might have a separate room to study in, but if you rely on a communal area or your bedroom, it’s important to choose a specific area of that room to work in. Try and pick a space you wouldn’t usually relax in, where you can set up each day; comfort, natural light and noise are all factors worth considering.
- Structure a study routine. Creating – and sticking to – study habits should help you settle into tasks more easily. Work out what time of day you feel most motivated and productive, then build your routine around it. If you tend to get more done in the morning, why not get up a little earlier, and schedule things which require less focus in the afternoon?
- Plan to log off. PCs and tablets are a great resource for self-study, but they can also tempt you into distractions like social media. During your study period each day, put your phone away and log out of all your accounts, only checking in on your breaks as a reward.
- Organise your notes. If you learn best through reading and writing, keeping your notes organised is a game-changer. Whether you handwrite or type your notes, there are plenty of different ways to categorise them. You could use physical folders and dividers, colour-code your highlighters and sticky notes, create a PowerPoint containing what you’ve learned or keep track of everything using an app like Evernote.
Methods for Studying Effectively
The most effective methods of studying are bound to vary from person to person, in line with what kind of learner you are. Here are some popular study techniques to think about:
- The Leitner System. This method relies on repetition and flashcards to help you remember key information. Write a question or word on one side of the card, and the answer or definition on the other. The cards are sorted into 3 boxes – you revise the first box every day, the second every 3 days and the third every 3 to 5 days. If you answer a flashcard correctly, it moves along to the next box, but if you get it wrong, it goes back to box 1, so you encounter it every day again.
- The Protégé Effect. Based on the idea of learning by teaching, this method is great for auditory and kinaesthetic learners. By coaching your peers (or parents) on a specific subject, you’re likely to increase your understanding of it, and have a better chance of remembering it too.
- The Pomodoro Technique. This is a time management method that suggests breaking down large tasks or chunks of information into smaller intervals. It’s a simple idea: set your Pomodoro timer for 25 minutes, and study one topic until the timer pings. Take a 5-minute break between each Pomodoro, and one longer break (around 30 minutes) after 4 rounds.
- The Feynman Notebook Method. Take a fresh notebook or sheet of paper, and write down the concept you’re trying to learn in simple terms, as though explaining it to someone with no prior knowledge. Review your notes, and highlight the areas you struggled to describe in a simple way – you’ll need to re-learn the original concept until you can do this. Once you’re happy with your notes, arrange them in a clear order, and try reading aloud. The less confusing your explanation is, the more thorough your understanding.
- Active Recall. The opposite of passive learning (where information is absorbed through reading or writing), active recall is the process of moving things from your short term to your long term memory. You can do this using flashcards, practice tests or even by using the memory palace technique. The goal is to actively recall a piece of information using prompts, and eventually without them.
How Lifestyle Affects Focus
While there’s lots you can do to make the time you spend studying more efficient, your wider lifestyle choices also have a big effect on your concentration. Some of the things which might help with learning at home are…
- Getting enough sleep. The ideal amount of sleep is different for everyone, but lack of uninterrupted sleep can cause low mood, trouble focusing and reduced memory – an early night really can make all the difference.
- Eating properly. Food is fuel, and keeping a balanced diet can hugely improve how efficiently you study. Having a big meal at lunchtime might make you feel lethargic, but having a lighter lunch and scheduling a few extra snacks throughout the day could aid concentration.
- Fitting in your chores. If you’ve got a long list of chores weighing on you while you study, you might end up distracted. Break up your day with your household jobs – an interlude of physical activity might even help you concentrate when you get back to it.
- Taking regular breaks. Your attention span isn’t limitless, and your brain can start to wander after as little as 15 minutes – take a look at our guide on when to take study breaks if you’re not sure exactly how often or how long they should be.
Creating a study space, getting organised and finding the right study methods for you are all great steps to take when it comes to learning at home. These measures should help you to self-study more effectively, and learning on your own has many benefits. It can increase your confidence and conviction, give you the freedom to use the techniques you prefer, and allow you to absorb information at your own pace. Once you’ve figured out how to do it successfully, self-study is a skill you can carry with you into college or university, and even your place of work.
If you think you’ve got studying down but you need help revising, why not explore our guides on revision techniques?