Ways to Improve Concentration and Focus While Studying for Exams

Posted on March 12 2020

Student studies in library.

Do you need to do better on tests in high school? Well, here’s what you need to know:


Tinker. Dabble. Doodle. Try.

Does that sound like nonsense from Alice in Wonderland? Well, in fact, these words are the secret to developing better focus, according to Harvard University professor Srini Pillay, an expert in helping people develop focus – but developing unfocus.

OK, that’s really crazy, right? Stick with us. We’ve adapted Pillay’s insightful advice for high school students who want to improve their concentration and focus for test-taking in four easy steps! 


Flex your bicep. OK, great. Now hold it there. Keep holding it! Don’t let it go! 

It’s hard, right? 

Well, maintaining focus is like flexing a muscle. You can only do it for so long before you need a break. 

Tinkering is a kind of break that relaxes your brain while also preparing your mind for a period of focus to come. Tinkering basically means “try something out that you don’t usually do.”

After a period of 25 minutes of studying, take five minutes to tinker at something. Then get back to work. You’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to focus when you return to your studies again.  


Dabbling is another way to give yourself a period of “unfocus.” Dabbling is a little like tinkering, only it’s something you actually do on a regular basis and you enjoy doing. 

You might dabble in skateboarding. Or in computer programming. Or in gardening. 

The only rule is it has to be something you enjoy and you can do while your mind wanders. This keeps your brain engaged in a way that prepares you to refocus once again when the time comes.

Did you take a five-minute tinker break 30 minutes ago? OK, now take a dabble break. Go do something you love. In fact, reward yourself with 10 minutes this time! 

And then… you guessed it… get back to work! (And take note of how much easier it is to focus!) 


Almost everybody doodles — usually on paper. Doodling is usually defined as aimless drawing, but you can doodle in other ways, too. 

Humming can be a form of doodling. Whistling, too. You can doodle with clay. You can doodle with a piece of wire. The important thing is you are giving yourself something aimless and artistic to do while you study — this can help engage the left and eight sides of your brain. 

If, between periods of tinkering and dabbling, you find yourself having trouble focusing, take a few seconds to doodle. Doodle a little every few minutes, if you’d like, just for a few seconds at a time. You’ll release a little energy and find you are able to dedicate more attentiveness to your studies. 



OK, so now you know the difference between tinkering, dabbling, and doodling. So what’s next? 

Well, you have to actually try to study. Make a plan for studying that includes five-minute breaks for tinkering every half-hour and 10-minute breaks for doodling every hour. And have something to doodle on throughout. 


When you adopt the “tinker, dabble, doodle, try” strategy to your studying schedule, you’re almost certain to find that your ability to focus and concentrate on school work will improve.

Want to know more about the science behind these strategies? Here’s Dr. Pillay’s website.

Give it a try, and let us know how it goes! 


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