Avoiding Distractions While Revising

See also: Revision Skills

One of the hardest aspects of revision can be to avoid distractions. Almost nobody actually enjoys revising, which means that it is very easy to procrastinate and avoid starting work.

Even once you have started, it is easy to get distracted.

Before you know it, two hours will have gone by, and you won’t have done anything except check your emails and social media.

As with many study skills, there is no ‘one size fits all’ to avoiding distractions, or even to revising effectively. This page therefore describes some ways in which you can avoid distractions while revising, and some tips for doing so.

You may also find it useful to look at our page on Minimising Distractions more generally as it contains some useful ideas.

1. Go somewhere conducive to study

Your bedroom or a room in your house may not be conducive to revision. There are likely to be a lot of distractions around, such as technology, your favourite books or music, chores, or even just the kettle and snacks.

You may therefore find it helpful to go somewhere else.

Libraries are the traditional place to go. Many have a rule about silence which is often helpful, because it means you can’t talk on the phone, and you will also have to put your phone onto silent, so you won’t know when a message has arrived.

Some people also like going to a coffee shop or café, because of the access to hot drinks. If you choose one with no wifi then you also avoid the potential to be tempted to go on the internet. Find the right café, and it may even be quiet. You will, however, need to be aware of becoming distracted by watching other people.

2. Remove your access to technology

Your phone or other technology is probably the biggest distraction available. It is easy to spend hours scrolling through social media, checking out funny cat memes, etc.

If you are reading over and learning your notes, switch off your phone or laptop, put it away, or even leave it at home.

It may be hard to believe, but your world will not end if you are without access to your phone for a couple of hours, or even a whole day. If this is a real struggle, you might need to block your access to the internet for a while, perhaps by turning off your router while revising.

3. Study on journeys

One very effective way to do a bit of revision in a short and focused chunk is to use your regular journeys to and from work or college.

Many people now have long commutes; if your journey is around 30 minutes that is a full hour a day of extra revision, which is not to be discarded lightly.

If you are using public transport, you can read or listen to something over headphones. If you are driving, you might listen to a podcast on a particular topic, or practise your recall by listing five points about a particular study subject or planning an exam essay in your head.

The advantage is that distractions are limited—but do make sure that you are not concentrating so hard on your revision that you are unable to drive safely!

4. Make your revision time-limited and take breaks

It is much easier to stay focused if you know that you have a limited period of time in which to work.

It is, therefore, quite a good idea to set yourself a limited time to revise. Even if you have to spend a longer period overall, it can still help to break it down, for example, by giving yourself an hour to revise a particular chapter of a textbook, and then doing a practice exam question on it to test yourself.

It is also helpful to take regular breaks, perhaps every hour or so. Try to leave where you are studying and go and do something else: get a coffee, or have a quick walk round the block.

5. Listen to music—but pick your music carefully

Some people find that listening to music while revising is helpful for their concentration.

However, you may want to choose the music carefully. Song lyrics could be a distraction as you start to sing along, but anything too bland and soothing might send you to sleep.

Building a playlist of what works for you could be a useful ongoing exercise that will help in future years. Some people also recommend white noise in the background.

6. Make your revision interesting

One reason for getting distracted is that your revision is just not that interesting.

Doing different activities can help. For example, if you are tired of your notes, it may be worth finding a review article on the subject, or a tutorial or podcast on it, and listening to someone else’s thoughts. It may even give you a new perspective.

Varying your activities can also ensure that you stay focused: reading, writing, drawing mind maps, and listening to podcasts are all activities that can add a little spice to your revision. Involving other people can add a whole new perspective (and see our page on How to Stay Motivated While Studying for more ideas about this).

7. Remind yourself of your end-goal

It is very motivating to think about where your revision will get you.

There are two aspects to this:

  • The negative: fear of ending up in an exam where you do not know enough to answer the questions. Try not to dwell on this too much, or you could get an adrenaline overload, which will make it extremely hard to focus!
  • The positive: where good exam results will get you, or what you hope to do next, depending on your results. Some people may find that good results in themselves are enough of a motivator, and others may need to think about their effects.

Warning!


Thinking too much about your goals can be a distraction in itself. It is motivating, but limit your dreaming to break periods, and simply remind yourself briefly about it if you find your mind straying from your work.

8. Practise mindfulness

Mindfulness may seem more something that you practise by going outside and being aware of the sunshine. It is, however, also a way to bring yourself back to the here-and-now, and helping you to focus on what is important in the moment—in this case, your revision.

See our page on Mindfulness for more about how you can do this.

9. Try to consciously tune out distractions as you notice them

You may find that you are distracted by particular things as they occur—for example, someone else’s behaviour, or a sound outside.

As you notice them, try to think of how you will deal with it.

For example, if it is someone else’s behaviour, then look away. If it is a sound, perhaps put your earphones on and listen to some music instead.

As you get better at dealing with distractions, this will become a more unconscious exercise.

10. Pick your time carefully, and set your revision tasks appropriately

We all have times of day when we can work more effectively. Some people are better in the morning, and others in the evening, for example. Few of us are at our absolutely best after a full day’s studying or work.

Pick your revision time carefully, and be aware of your body clock.

For example, it may be better to get up an hour earlier and revise then, rather than try to study after a day’s work. Overall, your day’s work is unlikely to be significantly worse, but your hour’s revision will be hugely more effective for being the first thing that you do, rather than the last.

You should also be aware of what you will be capable of doing at particular times. Listening to a podcast or watching a video on YouTube might be fine when you are tired. Trying to read over your notes and learn them will probably not be so good.


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