While there are students who thoroughly enjoy studying, making notes and revising all their work, there are other students who, quite easily, don’t. And it’s not always a matter of them not caring about their studies, they just find it extremely difficult to focus when the time comes to sit in front of the books.

If you’re one of those students, here are a few ways in which you can find your focus while studying your course material.

Why focus-enhancers (or “study drugs”) aren’t always the best choice

Many students in these situations turn to focus-enhancers as a mental aid to help them focus when study time comes around. But it’s not always the best choice. Yes, some people require these types of drugs as part of their lifestyle plan where they cannot help it, but most people tend to take them only when it suits their deadlines. And that isn’t right.

Dr Amit Sen says, “If you don’t have ADHD, but you have undiagnosed anxiety, you can get a panic attack. If you have a heart condition, it can cause problems. It can lead to dizziness, insomnia, loss of appetite. If you have exam anxiety and you are seeking these drugs it’s counter-productive.”. So when you take these types of study drugs (Modafinil, Adderall and Ritalin) you may be opening yourself to other side effects apart from the staying awake and focusing effect. And what many students don’t consider is that these high-scheduled medications can be addictive as well.

The truth is, there are other things you can take and foods you can eat that will also, in its own way, help you to concentrate while you’re trying to study. Coffee is an obvious choice thanks to its caffeine content and broccoli is a great brain-boosting vegetable to add to your dinner meal. Bananas and avocados are also great food choices to increase the dopamine levels in your body and help you focus. Exercise and drinking water are also methods of boosting your focus and your levels of alertness.

Organise your environment

Before you can start studying (and no, this shouldn’t become a dragged-out procrastination task), you need to organise your study environment. Try not to choose an area that’s too comfortable, like the couch or bed because you’ll just end up falling asleep (regardless of what focus-enhancers you use), it’s best to stick to a desk or tabletop.

Next, you need to make sure your desk is organised. Remove any clutter and put away anything that might distract you. Make sure you have all the stationery you’ll need to make your notes and remove any unnecessary screens. If you need your laptop to access course material, make sure you download what you can and keep your internet access off for the rest of the time to prevent you from surfing the web and losing focus. There’s a good chance you won’t need your cellphone, so put it on the other side of the room.

With a cleared environment and study space, you’ll have a clear mind to focus on your work.

Keep a notepad close by

And, in the event your mind remains cluttered despite your clear workspace, keep a notepad nearby. It happens to all of us, we’re getting into the groove of our study session when all of a sudden, a thought pops into our minds of something we need to do, remember or just think about. When that happens, the wrong thing to do is to stop studying and run with your thoughts. The right way to deal with it is to write it down so that there’s no excuse of forgetting about it and you write it down to remove the thought from your mind so it can refocus on the work in front of you again.

Set your study plan

With your environment organised, you can start setting up your study plan. Take a look at your course material and make sure, first of all, you know what you need to be studying. Skim through your work and break it down into different study sessions over a set period of time before your exam that will ensure you have enough time to get through all the work and revise at the end of it all. This is where you’ll set your study goals as well, to which you can reward yourself with a study break and, hopefully, good grades.

Then you need to decide how you’re going to study your material. For most courses, it’s purely theoretical, in which case students prefer to make notes, mind maps and parrot-fashion learn their facts. For the courses with more practical or application aspects, students would need to practice or do extra research to get a better understanding of the work they’re doing.

For example, if you were taking a SEDA training course, it would benefit you to both learn the study material and go out to small enterprises and get a feel for how the business aspects work in real-life situations. This kind of insight can add experience and context to your answers in the examination that can be used to backup the study material you may refer to in your answers.

Your study method will have an affect on how you’re able to focus and changing your study method every now and then is a good way to exercise your mind and get it to focus better.