You’ve heard the saying before: Work smarter, not harder. But how does one accomplish this? When you have a big test coming up in your online MBA program, you need to know the information inside and out. It’d be great to just “be smarter,” already knowing the information. But if you don’t, then you don’t, right? How should someone prepare to ensure they succeed come test day?

The secret to success doesn’t lie in your IQ score. There isn’t some insurmountable obstacle that needs to be overcome. The answer is actually quite basic. If you want to study better, you need to focus better.

Improving Focus

What is your study environment like? Are you someone who encloses yourself off in a quiet part of the library, surrounded by books and free from distractions that could pull you away from your work? Or are you someone who studies where it is convenient, in front of the TV, while watching the kids, or even at work in between conference calls?

Location can have a big impact on your ability to concentrate when you study, but focus goes beyond the environmental factors. There are plenty of ways to improve your focus wherever you are.

Here are a few strategies that can help you focus better:

Work in small increments. Set a timer for 20 minutes and don’t look up from your work until the timer goes off. Any emails, text messages, or phone calls can be easily returned 20 minutes later, so free yourself of their burden and focus on the task at hand.

Make small goals for yourself. If you review all of the content at once, the information you will be tested on may seem overwhelming. Instead, focus on one small concept at a time. This is why course material is typically broken down into objective criteria. Study one idea at a time and understand it. Typically, mastering one concept is instrumental in understanding the other related concepts.

Take time to de-stress. Anxiety and stress can make learning information even more difficult. If you only have 30 minutes to study and are stressed out about the time crunch, it actually makes more sense to spend 3-5 minutes de-stressing before attempting to look at the information. This will prevent you from falling into a loop where you find yourself re-reading the same information over and over without taking anything in.

As a general rule, the best way to improve your focus is to be more mindful with what you want to accomplish. Make goals for yourself and try to be as efficient as possible when you take the time to study.

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