Have you had the experience of sitting in the classroom but not paying attention at all? Have you tried walking out the classroom without knowing what is being taught at all during class?
Or, have you tried really hard paying attention for the first 10 minutes, then start to zone out and give up listening?
If that is you, you will need to know the following brain hacks.
The book Brain Rules (Updated and Expanded): 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School (which is an incredible book and it’s my absolute favorite book) has an entire chapter that covers the topic attention. Having noticed that a lot of students are having problems with staying focused in class, I figured this chapter would be a great inspiration and guidance to help you know how you can better pay attention.
As a result, I have summarized three important brain rules about attention that explains why you cannot focus for a long time. Then, I go ahead and talk about 3 hacks that would help you to conquer these brain rules so that you can better focus in class.
In this post, I would also talk about how you can prepare for class (so that you can better pay attention). Along with it, I have created a Class Preparation Worksheet for you, so make sure to download that before you go!
This post covers:
- 3 important brain rules on attention covered in the book Brain Rules.
- 3 solutions and hacks to these rules so that you can better focus in class
- 6 steps to class preparation + a printable worksheet!
- Ways to block off distractions
- Tips to actively learn and engage in class
3 Brain Rules on Attention that You Need to Know
Understanding yourself and how your brain works is crucial for you to make use of it well. Because of that, it is always useful to understand how your brain focus and in what situation will it fail to pay attention. Here, I have summarized three rules on how your brain focus on doing certain things, which would be helpful for you to understand why you can’t pay attention in class.
1. Your Brain Doesn’t Pay Attention to Details
Rule #1: The brain doesn’t pay attention to the details if you don’t know the gist and meaning of the information
Rule: According to Brain Rules, the brain tends to pay more attention to the gist of the information rather than to the peripheral details. If you want to pay attention to the information, you will need to start with an organized core idea and concept before going into the detailed information.
Because of that, we tend to zone out in class when we do not understand the core idea. We find it very difficult to catch up and focus to listen to the details of the information.
Solution: Preview your materials before hand. Get an idea of all the important concepts and big ideas of your topic before going to lecture. This way, you are going to have an understanding of the core concepts. When the teacher goes into the detail, you are less likely to feel lost and more likely to pay attention because you have an organized and hierarchical framework of the information in your mind. This helps you pay attention better in class, and also helps you to learn the information effectively.
For how to prepare for classes so that you can focus better and get the most out of the class, see Why and How Should You Prepare for Lectures?.
Make sure to also read the entire post for the 6 steps to prepare for class + Class Preparation Worksheet!
2. Your Brain Can’t Multitask
Rule #2: The brain is a sequential processor, and it cannot pay attention to two things at the same time.
Rule: Once you switch tasks, the brain needs to disengage from your original task before you can act on your second tasks. When you get back to your original task, another switch of attention is required. Because of that, when we multi-task, we need almost double amount of time than people who focus solely on one task. Multitask is said to reduce productivity and increase mistake.
Solution: The solution? Don’t multitask during class. By that I mean not just stop surfing the internet and online shopping, but block off all the distractions. Read the hacks below to find out how you can do so!
3. The 10-Minute Rule
Rule #3: We tend to lose focus and stop paying attention after 10 minutes.
Rule: In the book, the author John Medina has talked about how he realized that, in his lectures, students start to look at the clock when 10 minutes of the lecture time has past. It is said that we normally focus for around 10 minutes in class before we start to have a low attention rate.
Solution: The author has proposed a way to change the structure of the presentation so to retain the audience’s focus. But as students, we of course have no way to change to format of the class. So what can we do?
Medina tells us that having a hook at every 10-minute interval is necessary. The hook has to trigger an emotion and be relevant. While we can’t make your teacher’s presentation interesting, we can, however, take the time to think about the class content and reflect on the information. By thinking about the information, we can generate our own thoughts and ideas on the topic. This gives us questions and ideas in our mind, which triggers emotion and relevancy.
Similarly, by engaging in class and raise questions, you are also triggering your emotion and extending your attention span. This helps you to focus better in class. You are also likely to be more attentive in class in order to look for questions to ask.
So How Can I Stay Focused in Class?
Having gone through the three important brain rules on attention, here is a summarized action points for you to do when you are in class so that you can better pay attention during the long (and boring) lectures and classes.
Hack #1: Do your class preparation and have an understanding of the important concepts
As I said, doing class preparation is the key to overcome the fact that your brain can’t focus on details before grasping the core concepts of the topic. Imagine your brain works like a mind map. It starts with the central core idea, and then it branches out to the details of the topic. If your central core part is missing, the brain can’t construct the mind map by just having the details. Because of that, here is what you have to do.
Steps for Class Preparation
- Download the Class Preparation Printable in the ST Resource Library.
- Find the outline of the class or topic. This is usually included in your textbook or lecture outline.
- After knowing the framework of the class, look into the content and find out the key ideas and information. Jot notes of things that you find important.
- Annotate your textbook and materials as you read. Mark and underline important content.
- Conduct research if you find a topic intriguing. Doing a background research can enhance your understanding and allow you to have a stronger foundation as you go to your class.
- Prepare questions to ask in class and note them down. Also write down things that you do not understand at the moment so that you can better pay attention in class whether the teacher talks about them.
Hack #2: Block off all the distractions and focus only on listening to the lecture
Your brain can’t multitask no matter how hard you try, as mentioned above. Here are some things you can do to remove all the distractions.
Things you can do to remove all the distractions
- Turn off all your notifications including your email and phone. Don’t let these notifications interrupt your brain.
- Put your note-taking application on full screen. If possible, turn off the wifi.
- If turning off your wifi is not possible, try the application SelfControl.
- You can also take notes using pen and notebook so that you won’t be distracted by your computer.
Hack #3: Engage in class and think actively
Because of the 10-minute rule, it is very difficult for you to just listen to the teacher for the entire time. This is not beneficial to your learning as well, since that means that you are not actively listening and analyzing the information as you sit in the lecture hall. In order to actively learn in lectures, here are what you should do.
Ways to actively learn in class
- As you listen to your lecturer, take notes effectively.
- Don’t just blindly copy everything, think about the content and reflect on them.
- Generate your own ideas and questions as you listen to your teacher.
- Raise your hands if you have a question so to engage in class.
- Discuss the class content with your friends during breaks.
It’s Your Turn Now!
That’s all for today’s post on staying focused in lectures! To summarize everything above, here are a few key takeaways:
- Your brain doesn’t pay attention to details without knowing the core concepts of the topic. To conquer that, make sure to follow the 6 steps of class preparation by using the Class Preparation Worksheet.
- Your brain can’t multitask. You need to block off all distractions and notifications.
- Because of the 10 minute rule, it is important for you to stay engaged and actively learn during class.
Remember to download the Class Preparation Worksheet before you go! I hope you have a great semester and can make use of your class time to get the most from it!
Let me know if you prepare for class beforehand, and what you do during the preparation time!