Study Tips to Increase Focus and Retain Information

Would you like to get the most out of your study time? Wouldn’t it be great to be able to focus so you can retain more of your course content? You’re in luck: I have some tips and tricks for how to increase concentration and hang on to your learning. And even better news: there are a wealth of resources available to you as a West Coast University student that can help!

Feynman Technique for Memory Retention

There is a method for studying and understanding content that is proven to be very effective in helping you learn. That method is called the Feynman Learning Technique, named after Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman. There are several steps to the Feynman Technique:

Step 1: Study First read or watch the lecture of a published study to learn its content.

Step 2: Explain As if you’re the one teaching it, explain the content and concept thoroughly and simply. Use specific examples to ensure you can apply the concept.

Step 3: Identify Now review your explanation for any gaps or parts that need further clarification. Revisit your materials and fill the gaps.

Step 4: Simplify Reread your explanation. Replace technical language or jargon with simple language that explains the content clearly and concisely.

The Feynman Technique will take time, but time is well spent. You’ll find you’ve better learning retention.

Exercise Your Body to Improve Your Mind

Work out your body. It’ll improve your brain function, too.

My next tip, working out, may surprise you, since we usually think of exercise as for the body and not the mind. In fact, exercise modifies your brain’s structure and function so that it’s in tip-top shape. Research has consistently shown that regular exercise can help you with concentration and memory formation (Radek et al. 2001, Fernandes et al. 2017, Mandolesi et al. 2018).

In addition to working out your body, exercise your mind to support good study habits. Meditation is linked to an increase in cognitive function and working memory (Mrazek et al. 2013, Basso et al. 2019). If you’re a beginner, check out the many resources available to you as a West Coast University online-distance-education student on LinkedIn Learning. There are a great number of courses and videos that can give you practice and help you hone your meditative skills.

Sleep and Memory Improvement

After all that working out, you’re going to be ready for a nap. Great news, my next tip is to sleep! Memories are consolidated during sleep. This means that to keep something in your memory, you need to sleep after you have learned it so that the connections in your brain are strengthened. So, if you want to remember what you’ve learned — no pulling an all-nighter, you need to spend some time resting after you have studied.

Smell and Memory

Have you ever caught a whiff of a smell and had it trigger a very specific memory? The part of your brain that processes smells is very close to the part of your brain that is responsible for memory, and scientists think that may be responsible for the link between scent and memory (Hamer 2019). Since scents can be linked with memories, and you could try studying with a particular scent in a diffuser or on a tissue and then bringing that same scent into situations where you would need that recall (like an exam). According to Neumann et al. (2020) there also seems to be a link to sleeping with scents you study with, so it could be the scent association, or it could be the sleeping but combining them may give you more of a boost.

Additional Methods

Those are some of the methods that have the most scientific support, but if you want to try something where the jury is still out, you can try chewing gum (Scholey 2004, Thakur and Saxena 2019), eating more berries (Miller and Shukitt-Hale 2012, Whyte et al. 2019), or getting an extra dose of caffeine (Borota et al. 2014).

Do you have a study technique that I haven’t mentioned? Share it with us and with your fellow students in the comments. I would love to know what has worked for you. Or if you find success with one of these tips, share that too!

Basso JC, McHale A, Ende V, Oberlin DJ, Suzuki WA. 2019. Brief, daily meditation enhances attention, memory, mood, and emotional regulation in non-experienced meditators. Behavioural Brain Research. 356:208–220. doi:10.1016/j.bbr.2018.08.023.

Borota D, Murray E, Keceli G, Chang A, Watabe JM, Ly M, Toscano JP, Yassa MA. 2014. Post-study caffeine administration enhances memory consolidation in humans. Nature neuroscience. 17(2):201–3. doi:10.1038/nn.3623. [accessed 2019 Nov 9]. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24413697.

Fernandes J, Arida RM, Gomez-Pinilla F. 2017. Physical exercise as an epigenetic modulator of brain plasticity and cognition. Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews. 80:443–456. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.06.012. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28666827.

Hamer A. 2019 Aug 1. Here’s Why Smells Trigger Such Vivid Memories. Discovery. [accessed 2022 Jan 18]. www.discovery.com/science/Why-Smells-Trigger-Such-Vivid-Memories.

Mandolesi L, Polverino A, Montuori S, Foti F, Ferraioli G, Sorrentino P, Sorrentino G. 2018. Effects of Physical Exercise on Cognitive Functioning and Wellbeing: Biological and Psychological Benefits. Frontiers in Psychology. 9(9). doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00509. www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00509/full.

Mrazek MD, Franklin MS, Phillips DT, Baird B, Schooler JW. 2013. Mindfulness Training Improves Working Memory Capacity and GRE Performance While Reducing Mind Wandering. Psychological Science. 24(5):776–781. doi:10.1177/0956797612459659.

Neumann F, Oberhauser V, Kornmeier J. 2020. How odor cues help to optimize learning during sleep in a real life-setting. Scientific Reports. 10(1):1227. doi:10.1038/s41598-020-57613-7. [accessed 2021 Nov 12]. www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-57613-7.

Radák Z, Kaneko T, Tahara S, Nakamoto H, Pucsok J, Sasvári M, Nyakas C, Goto S. 2001. Regular exercise improves cognitive function and decreases oxidative damage in rat brain. Neurochemistry International. 38(1):17–23. doi:10.1016/s0197-0186(00)00063-2.

Scholey A. 2004. Chewing gum and cognitive performance: a case of a functional food with function but no food? Appetite. 43(2):215–216. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2004.07.004.

Thakur M, Saxena V. 2019. The effects of chewing gum on memory and concentration. International Journal of Scientific Research and Engineering Development. 2(5):77–82. [accessed 2022 Jan 26]. www.ijsred.com

Whyte AR, Cheng N, Butler LT, Lamport DJ, Williams CM. 2019. Flavonoid-Rich Mixed Berries Maintain and Improve Cognitive Function Over a 6 h Period in Young Healthy Adults. Nutrients. 11(11):2685. doi:10.3390/nu11112685.

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