How to Train Your Brain to Make Study Time More Effective

Studying is at the core of a medical students everyday life, but staying focused and motivated can be difficult, especially now that so many students are learning with online courses from their dorms or homes. Learning how to focus on the task at hand and avoid distractions is by far one of the best things a medical student can do, and the techniques below can help.

How Your Brain Works

The human brain can focus on any given topic during a study session for about 25 minutes before it starts to find ways to distract itself. Though there are some exceptions – such as when the content you are studying is interesting to you, personally – 25 minutes is a solid average. For the most part, forcing yourself to continue studying when your mind simply cannot focus isn’t productive at all. You aren’t likely to retain more information, and you’re probably just wasting your time. However, thanks to something called brain plasticity, you can train your brain to stay focused for longer periods of time and really make the most out of the time you have to study.

The Pomodoro Method

The world-famous Pomodoro Method for studying has been around for quite some time, and it’s based solely on the notion that most people can only stay truly focused on a task for roughly 25 minutes. The method, which applies not only to studying, but also to other tasks, involves setting a timer for 25 minutes, focusing intently during that time, then setting another timer for a five minute break during which you remove yourself from your desk or study area to stretch, drink water, or listen to a song.

This complete 30-minute interval comprised of 25 minutes of work and five minutes of play is referred to as a “Pomodoro”, and you can use numerous Pomodoros to accomplish the task at hand. You may need four or five of them to finish studying your microbiology chapter, but you may only need one clean your apartment. It can be used for virtually anything.

Extending Your Pomodoros

Once you’ve gotten the knack of using Pomodoros to get through your study sessions, your brain’s ability to adapt (brain plasticity) will allow you make each cycle longer and longer, all without losing focus. After a week of 30-minute Pomodoros, try extending it to 45 minutes with a seven-minute break. If you can stay focused for the full 45 minutes, move to an hour with a ten-minute break. Over time, your brain will learn how to stay focused for longer periods, and you’ll get much more out of your study sessions.

With so many medical students now taking online courses, distractions are everywhere, but there are things you can do to stay focused, and over time, you’ll even learn how to block out those distractions. Aside from using the Pomodoro method, you can also try some exercises recommended by Harvard University to keep your mind fit throughout your med school years and beyond.

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