Is your homework life full of diversions? Having trouble with that paper not because you don’t know what to write but because you can’t concentrate? Here are five simple strategies that, once implemented, may make a world of difference.
Wipe out any distractions
There are several apps and websites designed to block websites for a dedicated amount of time. Some are Mac specific while others are ensured to work in most browsers, no matter the operating system. Regardless of the application you choose, social media, games and other online interferences will be inaccessible.
Be sure to clear both desktops. While these apps may block any digital distractions, you’ll want to make sure your physical space is clear as well. It can be as simple as pushing all of the stuff on your desk into a drawer. If you’re not in the mood to clean (which can also help you focus: fun fact), there are plenty of spots on campus where you can plop down and get to work.
In general, water helps with everything. Dehydration can lead to lost focus, exhaustion, dry mouths and super yellow pee. You don’t want any of that do you? Water and other non-sugar filled drinks are important in keeping you healthy and in making sure your brain, and body, stays as functional as possible. Not only that, drinking water can strengthen your immune system so you aren’t sick while you work.
As you can see, there’s little to no reason to not drink water. And while you’re at it, eat something. Your body, like your paper, needs nourishment. It’s hard to focus on a prompt if your stomach is growling every 2 minutes.
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Many people use music when they’re exercising their bodies, why not use it while you’re working your mind as well? Music can also help block out surrounding noise, like screaming neighbors or the heart warming melodies of Flute Man from the gazebo (which, while beautiful, are also liable to lure you to sleep). Be sure to choose your music correctly. Classical music is often said to motivate people the most during studying but maybe it’s heavy metal, or slow R&B, or country that really gets your energized. Whatever you’re listening to, make sure it’s something that helps you focus.
Invest in the Reward System.
The Reward System is a simple way to boost your morale and you can customize it for whatever you’re doing. For every hour of work, give yourself 15 minutes of the Kim Kardashian game (does anyone still play that?). Or a gummy bear for every page read. The Reward System should be used sparingly, you don’t want to go overboard and end up indulging when you should be working. But, when used in moderation, it can still be used to self-motivate.
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Get up. Get up and go away.
Sometimes the best thing you can do to complete your paper is to stop working on it. Breaks can not only help prevent your head from spontaneously combusting but also allow you to look at your paper differently once you return to it.
—Melanie, peer tutor
So you drew the short stick. A chunk of your shift has been dedicated to something that involves entertaining a group (read: three, maybe four) freshman. Or maybe you and your friends are looking for a way to spice things up. Or you could be presenting and need a couple ideas. Whatever the reason, here is a list of activities to do or topics to keep in mind during your study session.
It’s Story Time
Round Robin is an old familiar game that can be easily used for a study break. All you need is a sheet of paper, a writing utensil of your choice, a couple of other people and a story topic. Playing is simple. The first player writes down a sentence then folds the sheet over, hiding said sentence, and passes the paper on to the next player. Lather, rinse, and repeat until your story is complete. Unfold and read aloud your handcrafted tale.
Exploding Hot Potato
Another game-like activity that can help you get in the studying mood. For this you should have some balloons and strips of paper. Each strip of paper will have a tip or a fact and be placed inside each balloon. It is easiest to have each balloon be themed, such as having a “Thesis” balloon or a “Brainstorming” balloon, all filled with tips/facts relating to that topic. Once your balloons are finished, it’s time to start popping. If you’ve ever played “Hot Potato” the concept is the same. Everyone sits in a circle and passes around the “potato” to a song until the music stops. It’s a lot like musical chairs but not really. Anyway, in the normal game whoever has the potato is out. In this version, whoever has the balloon has to pop it (protip: sitting on balloons is the easiest way) and then read the tips/facts inside.
Have a list of tips? A delicious way to help them stick is to set up a numbered list with a correlating set of numbered cookies. Just make sure you read the number before you eat the cookie.
A little feel good study booster are encouraging paper stars. You can make them for yourself or for others. Just write a little inspirational blurb and fold, fold, fold. Actually maybe you should write on the star after you fold it.
Novel idea really. The easiest way to use flashcards is with prompts on one side and information on the other. Use them to quiz yourself or others.
Not a pair of shoes, SpongeBob, paraphrase!
Something that could always use a refresher is paraphrasing. What’s the difference between it and quoting? How do I do it? Is it an instrument? Does it violate the Honor Code? The answers to all these questions and more can be addressed quickly (perhaps in a game of exploding hot potato). Our own handy dandy worksheet has a section on it as does the wonderful Purdue OWL website.
Where’s the beef?
A lot of students run into the issue of having all of the information they need for a paper but being unable to reach the length requirement. Transitions and cohesiveness can be helpful; sometimes brevity results in a choppier essay with less information over all. You could also try an exercise with taking a sentence and adding as many details as possible, not to set this as the ideal but just to highlight that writers can add to skimpy sentences/paragraphs.
Stuck Before You Started
The first step into an essay is often the hardest. Of course there are handouts to help with this but more interactive processes might help more. You can have a list (maybe a list attached to a batch of cookies) of brainstorming questions writers should ask themselves before each paper. Or craft brainstorming dice where each side has a different technique.
Again, just to make sure everyone is on the same page, it doesn’t hurt to go over what these are. Or why you need one. And especially how to make one. Compare strong and weak theses or create one as a group.
Although we are supposed to read every page of every book and understand it entirely by ourselves, spark/cliff/thug notes can be extremely helpful in reading comprehension. This comprehension, gathered from summaries and major plot events, can be used to your advantage and as a starting point to spark further discussion and thought, not a source of plagiarism. (Note: crashcourse is helpful for history, politics and science as well)
And with that in mind, Wikipedia, or rather the bibliographies on Wikipedia pages, are also another well of wisdom. If anyone does not know, please point them in the direction of the sources section of your local Wikipedia page. They are often prime places to find sources that’ll lead to other further information about a subject.
The lovely games suggested in this post aren’t always feasible or practical for any student studying in their room. Be sure to give a few suggestions about the best way to utilize study breaks. There are squats, frantic dance breaks and power walks around the dorm. Remind people to switch topics and take breaks in between each batch of studying. Don’t forget study times and locations, important aspects of the studying process.
One Last Thing – don’t forget that the most important part of an study session is snacks. Lots of (healthy) snacks. And chocolate (tis brain food).
–by Melanie, peer tutor