Focused Study Sessions

Focused Study Session. Image credit: Katie Kirkland, design strategist,

Your brain learns best in short, focused increments. Set yourself up for success by implementing focused study sessions multiple times per week.  

PLAN (1-2 min)

Block out distractions: Silence your phone; pause app notifications; close out email and social media programs. 

Set a specific goal for your study session. Are you working homework problems today? Reading the textbook for comprehension? Teaching the material?

STUDY (30-50 min)

Use effective learning strategies to fully engage with the material. No matter the specific approach you employ, always strive to think critically about the material: ask “Why”, “How” and “What If ” questions.

Learn the fundamentals:

  • Read the textbook for comprehension by paraphrasing each paragraph as you go. Write explanations of the course concepts in your own words. 
  • Rework examples from class or the textbook WITHOUT looking at the solution. Work to identify specific problem types and the logic behind each step in the solution. 
  • Review, annotate, and elaborate on your class notes. Identify any gaps in your understanding. Develop questions that you can take to office hours or the course discussion board. 

Practice for independence:

  • Work new problems from the textbook, online homework, or course worksheets WITHOUT looking at the key, your class notes, or solutions to similar problems. Start with problems that address one concept at a time, and build up to more complex problems. 
  • Teach the material to someone: a friend, a family member, even your desk lamp. Listen to yourself describing a concept to your “class”: Does your explanation make sense when you hear it out loud? Can you think of alternative ways to explain it? Make a note of topics you can successfully explain as well as those you need to work on. Bring questions and concerns to office hours or the course discussion board.

BREAK (5-10 min)

Take a brain break. Physically step away from your workstation. Move around your room; do some stretches; take a quick walk outside. Get a snack. Clear your mind.

RECAP (5 min)

Summarize your work and make a plan for your next study session. It is important to actually write your thoughts down so that you can refer to them later. Your brain is not nearly as good at storing information as it is at processing information, so if you have a great question to ask or idea for your next study session, chances are you will forget it unless you write it down. 

  • Note the specific progress you made: “Completed paraphrase of section 6.5 from book”; “Solved three homework problems without any help.”
  • Note any questions that remain or that came up during your session: “Still not sure what the difference is between constant-pressure and constant-volume heat capacities”; “Why isn’t the conjugate base of a weak acid considered a strong base?”
  • Make a list of next steps for a future study session or a visit to office hours


Continue studying? Take a longer break? Switch tasks or subjects?

Information in the Catalyze Your Success program has been adapted from learning strategies presented by the Louisiana State University Center for Academic Success and the book "Teach Students How to Learn" by Saundra Yancy McGuire, Stylus Publishing (2021).