Have you ever spent an entire day “studying” only to realize that you didn’t actually learn anything (although your room has never been cleaner, and that paperwork you meant to file three months ago is finally done, and your bookshelf is now somehow sorted both alphabetically AND by color…)? If so, you’re likely suffering from distraction overload, and you’re not alone. Next time you’re studying for a test, especially a computer-based standardized test like the DAT, use the following four tips to make your studying more efficient and the rest of your day more enjoyable.
One often-overlooked aspect of studying is the environment where the learning actually occurs. Although studying at home is many students’ first choice, several problems can arise in this environment, chief of which are distractions. At home, many people have easy access to family, roommates, books, television, movies, food, the Internet, chores yet to be completed—the list goes on. Studying can be a mentally draining process, so as time passes these distractions become ever more tempting as escape routes. The moment you lose focus due to one of these distractions you also lose the time it takes to return to the level of concentration you just had (not to mention any time clearly spent not studying!). That means avoiding those kinds of distractions is essential to efficient studying.
Although you may have considerable willpower, there’s no reason to make staying focused harder than it needs to be. Instead of studying at home, head to a library, quiet coffee shop, or similar location whenever possible. This will eliminate many of the usual distractions and also promote efficient studying; instead of studying off and on at home over the course of an entire day, you can stay at the library for three hours of effective studying and enjoy the rest of the day off from studying.
An additional advantage of studying at libraries is that their environments tend to be akin to those of official testing centers. Similar to a library, your testing center will be quiet but not completely silent. Not everyone at the test center will be taking the same test, and not everyone will start at exactly the same time. While you are in the middle of a multiple choice section, other test takers may be entering the testing room to start their tests, taking breaks, typing essays, or quietly talking with their proctors. Practicing in this type of environment (as opposed to in complete silence or while listening to music at home) means you will be less distracted in the actual testing center on Test Day.
If you must study at home, consider ways to prevent distractions. Give copies of your study schedule to family and friends and ask them not to interrupt your study blocks. Complete all the essential tasks you can before studying so they do not become distractions. If the Internet is a distraction for you, consider temporarily disabling your social media accounts or downloading an extension for your Internet browser that blocks certain websites while you are studying. For example, you might install StayFocusd or Nanny for Google Chrome or LeechBlock for Mozilla Firefox. Rather than fighting distractions with willpower alone, remove as many distractions as possible in advance to avoid the problem entirely.
Finally, no matter where you study, make your practice as much like Test Day as possible. Just as required at the testing centers, don’t have snacks or chew gum during your study blocks. Turn off your music, television, and phone. Practice on the computer to simulate the computer-based test environment. When completing practice questions, do your work on scratch paper or noteboard sheets rather than writing directly on any printed materials since you won’t have that option on Test Day. Study at the same time of day as your official test, especially on the same day of the week, to get in the habit of thinking about the test at those times. Because memory is tied to all of your senses, the more test-like you can make your studying environment, the easier it will be on Test Day to recall the information you’re putting in so much work to learn.