College of Veterinary Medicine

Counseling & Wellness Services

Self-Help Information: How to Develop Better Concentration When Studying 

Think of concentration improvement as a three-step process:

  1. Learn the causes of poor concentration and decide which apply to you.
  2. Understand what you can do to control these factors.
  3. Make your control habitual. Even if you lapse into old habits of distraction and daydreaming, keep insisting of yourself that you concentrate using these controls until you can routinely concentrate well on your studies for fifty minutes of every hour.
  Learn the Causes Control the Causes
External Causes Environmental distractions: TV, chairs that are too comfortable, snacks, other people, etc. Leave or re-arrange a distracting environment. Go to a library or a classroom when you seriously intend to study.
  Noise: Music with words, conversations Train yourself to study away from others and in silence.
Internal Causes Physical distractions: hunger, drowsiness. Plan to study when you are most alert. Eat a high-protein snack. Do five minutes of light exercise to wake up.
  Boredom, dislike, disinterest Find a reason that satisfies you for taking the class; talk with other students and the professor.
  Anxiety about studies Make sure you know how to study effectively. Put the course in perspective.
  Intimidating study tasks Break up large tasks into achievable subtasks. Do the most intimidating task first. Give yourself rewards for progress.
  Daydreaming Separate daydreams from studying. When your mind starts to wander, write down the interrupting thought and continue studying. Or, recall important points and then turn away from your book and continue to daydream. When you're ready to read again, do so. The trick is not to daydream and read at the same time.
  Personal worries Identify and define the problem and develop a concrete, specific plan to resolve personal worries. Talk with someone who can help: a friend, a counselor, or a specialist.
The following information is from where you can find many useful study aids.


The art or practice of concentration, no matter if studying biology or playing pool, is to focus on the task at hand and eliminate distraction. We all have the ability to concentrate -- sometimes. Think of the times when you were "lost" in something you enjoy. But at other times your mind wanders from one thing to another. Your worries distract you. Outside distractions take you away before you know it. The material is boring, difficult, and/or not interesting to you. These tips may help:

"Here I Study"

  • Get a dedicated space, chair, table, lighting and environment.
  • If you like music in the background, OK, but don't let it be a distraction.
  • Stick to a routine, efficient study schedule.
  • Accommodate your day/nighttime energy levels.
  • Before you begin studying, take a few minutes to summarize a few objectives, gather what you will need, and think of a general strategy of accomplishment.
  • Incentives and Rewards: Create an incentive or reward for successfully completing a task, such as calling a friend, a food treat, a walk, etc.
  • Change topics: Changing the subject you study every one to two hours for variety.
  • Vary your study activities: Alternate reading with more active learning exercises.
  • Ask yourself how you could increase your activity level while studying? Perhaps a group will be best? Creating study questions?
  • Take regular, scheduled breaks that fit you.

Be Here Now

This deceptively simple strategy is probably the most effective. When you notice your thoughts wandering astray, say to yourself, "Be here now," and gently bring your attention back to where you want it.

Worry or Think Time

Research has proven that people who use a worry time find themselves worrying 35 percent less of the time within four weeks. Set aside a specific time each day to think about the things that keep entering your mind and interfering with your concentration. When you become aware of a distracting thought, remind yourself that you have a special time to think about them.

Tallying Your Mental Wanderings

Have a 3 x 5-inch card handy. Draw two lines dividing the card into three sections. Label them "morning," "afternoon," and "evening." Each time your mind wanders make a tally in the appropriate section. Keep a card for each day. As your skills build, you'll see the number of tallies decrease.

Maximize Your Energy Level

When is your energy level at its highest? When are your low energy times? Study your most difficult courses at your high-energy times.


As an exercise before you begin studying, think of those times when concentration is not a problem for you--no matter what situation. Now try to feel or image yourself in that situation. Recapture that experience immediately before your studies by placing yourself in that moment.

Need Additional Help?

Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine Counseling and Wellness Services offer free individual counseling for these and related issues for veterinary students (WSU Veterinary Students ONLY). For more information or to schedule an appointment call or e-mail:

Anne LaFrance, MA, Licensed Mental Health Counselor
(509) 335-4607
135A McCoy Hall

NOTE:  The information contained in these self help documents is not to be used as a substitute for professional care.  Neither the authors, Washington State University nor the College of Veterinary Medicine assume liability for injury incurred by following the information presented in these self-help documents
Last Edited: May 12, 2014 9:26 AM   

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