Every student knows the benefits of working hard at school.
Good, effective study time will help you learn more, achieve more and get the most out of your education. But self-discipline is a skill that doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and procrastination can creep up on the best of us.
Luckily, there are a number of things you can do to minimise distraction and stay motivated, and we’ve collected them all together in one handy list.
Whether you’ve got an upcoming test or just want to get the most out of this school year, these simple steps will have you studying like a pro.
1. Choose Subjects You’re Interested In
Wanting to learn about what you're studying is half the battle.
When it comes to choosing your A-level and GCSE options, make sure you pick subjects you’re genuinely interested in. You’ll be so much more motivated to put in the work and therefore more likely to succeed.
Feeling the pressure to pick subjects you think you should be doing? Choosing the subjects you’ll need for your future career is, of course, important, but it’s all about finding a balance. There are plenty of compulsory modules that aren’t for everyone, but supplementing these with subjects you’re passionate about will make all the difference.
Let’s say you’re hoping to become a clinical psychologist but love reading and playing the guitar. There’s nothing to stop you taking psychology or biology A-level - to fulfil university entry requirements - alongside English and music.
Studying what you love will make school so much more enjoyable.
2. Create a Distraction-Free Study Environment
Finding an appropriate place to study is key.
Ideally, you want somewhere that can become your designated study space: a quiet, comfortable spot where you won’t be easily distracted. If that’s difficult to find in your house, try staying after school to work, or go to a local library. You could even try a coffee shop if you’re not distracted by outside noise.
When you’ve found the place, try the following tips to make it the ultimate study zone.
Make your study space somewhere you actually want to be
If you can, try and make your designated study zone a space that you’ll actually enjoy spending time. Somewhere clean and warm with a suitable table or desk and a comfy chair is ideal. Make sure it’s equipped with everything you need, too. There’s nothing worse than sitting down for a good study session and having to get up every 5 minutes to fetch notes, laptop chargers and stationary from all over the house.
Make it a phone-free zone
Leave your mobile phone outside. We know it’s hard, but phones and other gadgets provide endless unwanted distractions, and you’re not superhuman! If it’s there, you’ll be picking it up every few minutes. Leave the phone somewhere else and reward yourself with a bit of mindless scrolling when you’re done studying for the day.
Clean your workspace
A tidy desk is a tidy mind! If you’re working in a study or similar, make sure you clean your desk when you’re done for the day. Organise your books and papers, plug your laptop in to charge and take dirty mugs and dishes you’ve used throughout the day to the kitchen to wash up. Coming to a clean workspace every morning will set you up for a good, productive day.
Mix it up!
If you’re the kind of person who gets restless easily, there’s no harm in mixing up your work space. If you find you’re spending hours staring at the same paragraph, it might be worth moving to a different spot so you don’t feel as stuck. Just make sure it’s somewhere you’ll be able to stay focused.
3. Consider What Motivates You
Take some time to think about what motivates you.
Getting good grades? Getting into your dream university? Knowing you got as much out of your education as you could? Making your family proud?
Finding ways to consistently remind yourself of your long term goals can really help you stay motivated. You can start by trying the following:
- Write a list of the reasons you want to study and what you want to achieve. Spend 5 minutes at the beginning of each day looking over it.
- Picture yourself accomplishing all your study goals. Really try to imagine what it will feel like, and the opportunities that will open up for you as a result. Focus on these feelings before you start studying each day.
- Write a daily study journal. Entries don’t have to be long, you could try writing down 3 things that went well that day as a means of positively reflecting on your progress. Read over your entries regularly to remind yourself how far you’ve come and how well you’re doing. Studying takes hard work and discipline - take the time to be proud of yourself! (Alternatively, if you’re feeling stressed, you could use a journal to offload anxieties at the end of each study session. Research shows that writing regularly in a journal can help identify and process negative emotions.)
- Surround yourself with visual reminders. If you’re struggling to stay motivated, try decorating your study space with visual reminders of what you want to achieve: photos of the career you want to go into, for example. Hoping to get into a particular university? Set a picture of the campus as your phone background. Remind yourself of the things you’ve already achieved and the people who are rooting for you, too. Got an acceptance letter from an apprenticeship scheme, university or internship? Print it out and stick it above your desk! Got a ‘good luck in your exams’ card from your grandparents? Keep it beside your laptop.
Aim to have no more than 5 tasks on any daily to-do list. Keeping it a manageable size means you’re much more likely to get everything done.
4. Study Efficiently
Ever heard the phrase ‘work smarter, not harder’?
Studying hard doesn’t always mean putting loads of extra hours in. If you work more efficiently, you’ll get a lot more done in the time you have and feel more motivated to keep going.
Here are some things you can do to maximise your study time.
Find Your Learning Style
Everyone’s study habits are different.
Figuring out how you learn is a good way to determine which study methods will work best for you.
If you find you retain information best by listening to it, for example, you might benefit from recording yourself reading your notes and then listening back to them. If you like to visualise things, making index cards with pictures and diagrams could be useful.
Experiment with different ways of working until you find what suits you. If you lose interest easily, try alternating between several different methods to keep each study session fresh and engaging.
It’s also worth thinking about where (more on this later) and when you work best. Consider when you’re most productive and work around your commitments: school, extracurriculars, mealtimes, household chores, etc.
If you’re a morning person, set your alarm for a reasonable time on the weekends so you can get a few hours’ work under your belt. More of a night owl? Put aside some time after dinner each night.
Make Smart To Do Lists
A good to-do list can help you organise what you need to get done and make you feel more in control of your workload.
But, much like revision timetables, there’s no point spending time drawing one up if you’re not going to stick to it. Whether you’re an app convert or still love the act of manually crossing off a task, there’s an art to writing an efficient to-do list.
Try these simple steps to get started.
1. Think about your long-term goals
Take a step back and think about what you’re trying to achieve. For example: you want to get the AAA grades needed to get into your top choice university. Then let these aims dictate the tasks you need to get done.
Decide which are your 3 most important tasks to get done each day. Write those at the top of your to-do list. Then write less important tasks beneath, in order of importance. Work through your top 3 first, and don’t move onto other tasks until you’ve done them.
3. Don’t make it too long!
When you sit down at the start of each study session and you’re feeling optimistic about what a productive day you’re going to have, it can be tempting to write down every little thing you want to achieve. But all this does is ensure you won’t get everything ticked off.
Aim to have no more than 5 tasks on any daily to-do list. Keeping it a manageable size means you’re much more likely to get everything done, helping you feel accomplished and satisfied at the end of each day, rather than demoralised and overwhelmed.
Practise Good Time Management
Using your time wisely can really revolutionise your study schedule.
The first step is getting into a daily routine, particularly during study leave. Try to start and finish at the same time every day, with regular breaks and lunch times.
Make sure you set achievable goals for yourself at the beginning of each study session and plan how long it will take you to achieve them.
The pomodoro technique can be a useful tool here. Set a timer for 25 minutes and focus on one particular task for that time, then take a 5 minute break. Make sure you leave your desk and do something completely different for that time, then come back and work on the task for another 25 minutes, repeating this until it’s done, with a longer break after about 4 of these cycles.
Breaking down your assignments into small chunks can really help make your workload more manageable.
For more advice on how to manage your time effectively, check out our blog: 6 Essential Time Management Skills Every Student Needs, where you’ll find all the tips and tricks you’ll need.
The Art of Taking Breaks
Research shows that taking regular breaks when studying can help improve productivity and concentration.
Even if you feel like you’re on a roll, focus will naturally decrease after several hours of continuous work, and you’ll find you're less able to retain information.
How often you should take your breaks - and for how long - is up to interpretation.
Some people swear by the pomodoro method, whilst others prefer to work a bit longer before taking some time out. According to a study conducted by productivity app DeskTime, some of the most productive people did 52 minutes of focused work before taking a 17 minute break.
Experiment with different methods until you find what’s right for you, but aim for a short break at least once an hour, with a longer break at lunch time.
Once you’ve worked out your break schedule you can use it to help motivate yourself. Try to get whatever task you’re working on done in time for your break, then reward yourself by doing something you enjoy.
Make sure you step away from your study area and try to avoid screens; studies show that relaxing by scrolling on your phone can actually reduce mental efficiency, and it’s important to give your eyes a break!
Why not try listening to a podcast, playing an instrument, talking to a friend or playing with a pet? You could even do something as simple as taking a shower or tidying your room. If it’s lunchtime, treat yourself by cooking something tasty!
Though you’re probably tired of hearing it, fresh air and exercise are among the most effective ways you can clear your mind and blow off steam. A walk, run, bike ride, yoga class, gym session or HIIT video can help increase blood flow to the brain, boost your mood and even increase concentration.
Getting outside for some fresh air and a change of scene is just good practice. Try to take at least one walk, ideally before you start working as well as during the day. You’ll thank yourself when you come back feeling motivated and refreshed.
5. Study With Other People
If you really struggle to discipline yourself when you are alone, it’s worth exploring different group study options.
Find Formal Study Groups
Is there a homework or study group run by a teacher you could sign up for, or a subject-specific club that could help you stay motivated and get that extra work done?
It can be good to know that you have a bit of time every week dedicated to studying in a more controlled, distraction-free setting. You could also look into online classes or tutoring.
Study with Friends
Forming a casual study group or staying with friends in the library after school is a great way to make schoolwork feel like less of a chore.
You could try testing each other, or racing to find answers to revision questions.
You may also find that planning a study session with other people (who are then counting on you to turn up) keeps you accountable and stops you putting off the work you have to do.
Just make sure you choose the right people to meet up with; study groups are useless if you only end up distracting each other!
Breaking down tasks into much smaller chunks can help prevent you from becoming overwhelmed and giving up.
6. Kick That Procrastination Habit!
This one is easier said than done.
Procrastination (putting off the things you need to do) is a universal experience. Even the most dedicated students will experience it sometimes.
If you’re struggling to get down to work, there are several things you can try:
Consider why you’re procrastinating
Finding the root of the issue is key to figuring out how to deal with it. Take some time to consider why you’re finding it difficult to get started. Some possible causes of procrastination include:
- Avoidance - often, it can be as simple as not wanting to do what you have to do. Studying can feel laborious at times. Simple time management techniques (like breaking down tasks into small chunks), studying with other people and getting support from family members can help.
- Fear of Failure - fear (that you’re not going to do well, or that you’re not going to get everything done) is a powerful and debilitating emotion. Try confiding in a teacher you trust if you’re experiencing this.
- Trouble Focusing - Lots of people find it difficult to concentrate; if you’re one of them, you’re not alone. Sometimes, there’s a medical explanation. Speak to a teacher, family member or medical professional if you think you may have ADHD. If not, finding a study environment with minimal distractions will help with this. Listening to certain kinds of music (classical, for example, or electronic music without lyrics) can also be useful.
- Feeling Overwhelmed by the Pressure to Succeed - often, the pressure to achieve ‘success’ can feel intense, whether it’s a result of familial expectations or comparing yourself to your peers on social media. Meditation can be a useful tool in managing anxiety (keep reading for useful meditation resources or take a look at our blog for more tips on stress management).
- Mental Health - depression, anxiety and other common mental health conditions can massively affect your ability to concentrate. If you’re dealing with negative emotions by yourself, remember that professional support is available. Reaching out to your GP is the first step.
It may sound annoyingly obvious, but it really is as simple as just starting.
Try the 3 second rule. Once you’ve thought of a task you need to do, start within 3 seconds. Just put down your phone, get up off the sofa, sit at your desk and start writing. Just write whatever comes to mind without worrying whether it’s good. You’ll find it 10 times easier to keep going once you’ve written that first line.
Break down tasks into manageable chunks
Breaking down tasks into much smaller chunks can help prevent you from becoming overwhelmed and giving up.
Got a 3,000 word essay to write? First, just focus on the planning, then the introduction. Try not to let yourself think about the enormity of the task as a whole, but chip away at it bit by bit by working on it in bite-size pieces.
This will mean giving yourself longer to finish the task than you might normally - so you’ll have to be organised!
Study in short bursts
If you’re really struggling to make yourself study the topics you don’t like (quadratic equations, anyone?), try doing it in short bursts, alternating it with the things you like studying best. You could also try starting the day by doing a quick 30 minutes’ work on a particularly unpleasant project before moving on to other things. Getting it out of the way first will make the rest of the day so much more manageable.
Make studying fun!
If you still lack motivation, why not try making a game out of it?
If you’re exchanging messages with a classmate, add a revision question or fact to the end of every one, set a timer and race against yourself to find the answer to study questions or make a revision quiz with friends. There are also a whole host of online learning tools that can help make learning fun: why not try the geography games on Sporcle, or the GCSE science quizzes on BBC Bitesize?
Why not try pulling together motivational quotes or images that speak to you and making a poster that you can stick above your desk? (Post-it notes work well too!)
Find Motivation Online
You could try watching motivational videos on YouTube, listening to motivational speeches, reading interviews with people who inspire you or professionals from the field you want to go into.
Ask for Help
There’s no shame in asking for help from friends, family, teachers or neighbours.
We’re not always strong enough to overcome chronic procrastination on our own. Confide in a teacher or family member if you’re finding it impossible to get down to work; they may be able to offer advice you hadn’t thought of.
If you’re struggling with a particular subject, ask your teacher if they can go over the areas you don’t understand after school. Tell your family your study plan and get your parents to check up on you if you’re worried about getting distracted.
If your family members work from home, you could try studying alongside them. It can be motivating to be around people who are working (not studying!), and the presence of a disciplinary figure may stop you reaching for your phone.
7. Look After Yourself
When you’re feeling busy, stressed or overworked it’s easy to let basic self-care fall by the wayside.
But it’s actually one of the most important ways you can help yourself as you’re studying. Make sure you’re doing the following things if you want to get the most out of your study time.
Get a good night’s sleep
Sleep is so important for both memory and concentration: the quality of your studies will be vastly reduced by staying up late to cram in last minute work.
Try to go to sleep at the same time each night and dedicate extra time to winding down before bed in periods of intense study. Your mind will likely be whirring with everything you’ve learnt that day and you’ll need longer to switch off.
Meditation can be a useful tool here.
Just 5 minutes spent consciously relaxing and emptying your mind before bed can make it so much easier to drift off, and can improve the quality of your sleep when you do. Apps like Calm, Headspace, Balance and Insight Timer have plenty of free, sleep-specific exercises you can try.
You should also try to limit your screen time an hour before you go to bed. If this isn’t realistic for you, you can at least filter that sleep-disrupting blue light from your laptop and phone screens. You can usually do this in ‘settings’ - check online if you’re not sure how.
Eat a balanced diet
When you’re spending long hours revising it can be tempting to reach for sugary snacks and energy drinks to help you power through (where else are you going to get that dopamine hit?).
Try to stay strong, though.
Sugary snacks will inevitably cause an energy crash later that could mess with your concentration.
Keep healthy snacks on hand to help stave off cravings. Apples, bananas, nuts, oatcakes, brown rice cakes or energy bars are all good options, although look out for bars with lots of added sugar.
At lunchtime, try to choose foods that are high in fibre and protein. Soups that contain lots of vegetables, beans or lentils make a good choice.
Make sure you drink plenty of water.
Staying hydrated is essential to keep your brain functioning at the optimum level. In fact, research has shown that drinking water can improve exam grades!
Keep a water bottle on your desk at all times to encourage you to drink more.
According to The Eatwell Guide, we should be drinking 6-8 cups of liquid a day, but hot drinks do count towards this (good news if you’re an avid tea or coffee drinker!). If you’re looking for a healthier caffeine hit, green tea is a great choice.
Research shows that exercise can actually help boost cognitive performance and energy levels, whilst also releasing mood-enhancing endorphins.
Why not try going for a run or bike ride, or doing some yoga before you start studying?
We hope you now feel equipped to smash those assignments and exams - you’ve got this!