It is not always easy to find concentration or the right technique to study or write an assignment in the most efficient way. Especially during this period of the academic year, focusing seems to be a distant mirage. EM met with Fred Paas, Professor at the Institute of Psychology at EUR, to discuss five useful tips to keep you on the right track.


1. Use active studying strategies

fred paas
Professor Fred Paas

“Active studying opposed to passive studying means that students actively work on their knowledge and the studied material so that the information sink in.” says Paas “A few active studying strategies are self-testing which involves questioning yourself on the studied material, self-explanation where one tries to explain to oneself or to a study partner the studied subject. Creating connections between the current studied material and the previous one is also a great way to work on your knowledge. There are other active studying tips which are more common among students, for instance summarizing or highlighting a text. Summaries should be hand-written to have the best results.”

2. Involve other studying modalities

“Involving other senses and modalities while studying is another great way to assimilate the studied material.” continues Paas. “Associating images to a written text or listening to a text after reading it are some extra input that will help your brain to better code the received information.” Paas argues that using gestures while repeating a concept out loud is also an effective way to provide your brain with visual codes. “The larger number of codes the higher is the chance to retrieve information.”


3. Background sounds

Listening to music while studying or writing could be motivating but at the same time counterproductive. Paas explains “Our brain has a determined capacity which in complex tasks should be entirely focused on the task we are performing. Listening to music takes up part of that capacity hence precluding the student to be 100 percent focused on the assignment.” Writing a paper would be one of those complex tasks. “In this case, ears and eyes closure strategies are the most effective, looking at a white wall also works. On the other hand, if the task is less complex, meaning that it does not require our brain’ full capability, background sounds are shown to be helpful in focusing on the task.”

4. Keep yourself in decent shape and well fed

Everybody knows this, yet it is still difficult to follow through with it. “Studies have confirmed that maintaining a good fitness level positively affects your brain consequently influencing your studying performances. I do believe fitness is an important component for students. It has been shown that fit people simply perform better than unfit people.” states Paas “Of course, food and sleep are also crucial elements for effective studying, yet it hasn’t been scientifically proven that particular types of food help enhancing your brain capabilities.”


5. Keep anxiety away

Anxiety is a recurrent topic among university students. Many suffer from it. Although it is not directly related with studying or writing an essay, it can still affect how you perform and how effective you are. Paas suggests “Write down your worries just before your exam or before starting to write a final paper. This a way to off load your memory with those negative thoughts creating space for incoming information or retrieving them.”