Picture this: You’re sitting in class as your teacher leads a lecture and discussion on…wait, what are they talking about? You notice in a panic that you have no clue how the current discussion relates to what you were taking notes on a few minutes ago. You must have zoned out. Whether this happens often or on occasion for you, you aren’t the only one—we’ve all been there. While you can’t force yourself to pay attention 100% of the time, you can make some easy adjustments that can greatly improve your focus in the classroom. Here’s how to start!
There are many potential distractions in a classroom environment, but they can be solved with a little critical thinking. Do you sit near friends and feel tempted to talk and crack jokes the whole time? Perhaps you use your laptop to shop online during class. Maybe the person in front of you plays games on their computer and you can’t stop yourself from watching. Is your phone always going off? This is where you can start cutting out distractions.
Think about who you sit near
In classes where you get to choose your own seats, it might be time to move away from the people who distract you. For some students, sitting in the front of the room can help you to pay attention better since there are fewer distractions between you and the point of instruction. Consider yourself and find a spot where you feel you can focus, whether that’s in the front row, middle, or off to the side.
Reconsider where you put your phone
We all know our phones can be a distraction—but sometimes we underestimate just how much proximity alone can affect us. College student Sarah noticed a dramatic difference in how often she reached for her phone when she stored it in her bag during class rather than in her pocket or on her desk. “Even if the phone was face down on my desk, I still felt this urge to check it every couple of minutes” she explains. “Now that I keep it in my backpack, I don’t check it as much out of habit.” It’s a small change, but it’s worth trying if you struggle to stay off your phone during class.
Consider what you have access to on your laptop
In classes where you take notes or perhaps follow along with slides on your laptop, it can be easy to open other tabs and get distracted. I’m looking at those of you browsing Reddit, shopping, or playing Wordle! If self-control alone can’t keep you on task, you may want to invest in an app or software to force you to stay motivated or consider handwritten notes. While this may not work for every class, writing notes by hand has been shown to improve memory and summarization skills as well as deepen your understanding of the content.
Participate more in class
There’s a reason educators make such a big deal about active and passive learning. In fact, some teachers will argue that passive learning isn’t really learning at all. Active learning means the learner is actively involved in their education by participating in a discussion, using new knowledge to solve problems creatively, working in groups to apply concepts to the real world, or other means. Even in a lecture setting, you can still be an active learner. Go above and beyond when taking notes by connecting information to the real world or adding helpful examples your professor provides.
Another huge part of active learning is asking questions. This may feel awkward initially, but thinking of and asking questions is a huge part of the learning process and shows your teachers you’re engaged in the class. Don’t be afraid to answer questions as well! Being able to verbally discuss information is crucial to remembering and applying it later for better academic success. If you’re actively speaking up in class, you’re guaranteed to pay attention because you’re staying engaged with the current topic of discussion.
Reflect after each class
Reflection is another huge factor in successful learning. At the end of each class, try to ask yourself three things:
- What is one thing I learned today?
- What is one thing I need clarification on?
- What is one thing I will do to prepare for the next class?
Make your answers as holistic as possible for maximum impact. For example, don’t just write down one random fact; try to sum up the overarching lesson from the class instead. Knowing you’ll answer these at the end of each class will hopefully motivate you to pay attention and provide clear next steps for yourself.
You can also use self-reflection to get even deeper. Ask yourself why you’re taking this class. Chances are most of your courses are part of a larger goal you have, whether it’s to graduate high school, get certified in a career path, or receive a college degree to get a job you’ve always dreamed of. While reminding yourself of your larger goals and aspirations alone may not magically cause you to pay attention, reminding yourself of the “why” behind the courses you’re taking can help push you to concentrate.
Outside factors affecting you in class
Several factors in your everyday life affect your concentration when you step into the classroom. Are you getting enough sleep? Drinking enough water? Eating a healthy breakfast and fueling your body throughout the day? Are you getting a little exercise in each day? All of these things play a role in your concentration, from getting out your fidgety energy to making you feel more awake. So if you feel like there’s no way you can sit still and pay attention, you may want to try making some lifestyle adjustments. Of course, in more serious cases, you may also want to discuss attention struggles with your doctor.
If you’re struggling to concentrate in class, you’re not alone. However, making simple changes to your habits both in and out of the classroom can help you pay better attention and work towards your academic goals more effectively.
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