Picture this: it’s Thursday night and that dreadful physics–or whatever class you take–exam awaits you Monday morning. As you begin to study, your roommates decide to play music. No worries. They said only three people would come to your place tonight for a pregame. Five minutes later, the music gets louder and you hear the clinking shot glasses as they kiss the kitchen counter. Okay, still not too bad. Another five minutes pass and now you hear Cardi B’s “WAP” on full blast, an active beer pong tournament and a fervent “Let’s f-cking go!” There are definitely more than three people in your apartment by now. You try persevering through the cacophony happening outside your door, but you can’t focus. Now, what can you possibly do?
Read on to find out how to study for a test when distractions approach you from left to right.
Go to a place that suits your study needs
If you need to focus and find yourself in a noisy environment, try to leave. Perhaps you can move to a quieter room in your house or check out the amenities where you live. Many dorms and college apartments provide study rooms. Nevertheless, sometimes all you need are a few like-minded companions. “I’m friends with nerds so I would just go to another apartment if I needed to study,” Cornell University junior Kyle Castellanos said. “Make friends with people who share your academic goals.” Get out there and find your study buddies.
Also, you can explore spots right on campus. From 24-hour libraries to private study rooms, you’ll surely discover a study niche at your university. On the other hand, off-campus locations—like Starbucks or Panera Bread—suffice for students who need to grind. I mean, who doesn’t like free wi-fi and close proximity to food and fancy coffee? Answer: no one. Also, don’t you dare disregard your county’s public library system! These libraries possess bountiful collections of free resources, such as books, media, archives, services and of course, wi-fi. Research similar places in your college town and see what you can find.
But let’s say you’re stuck in your room and can’t physically escape the disturbances… In that case, check out these tips to combat distractions and stay focused!
Play your own tunes
Headphones can really come in handy, especially if noise keeps interrupting you from studying. Plug in and escape those pesky distractions by listening to the melodies that keep you motivated. You can find great, already-made study playlists on Spotify or Apple Music. Want to simulate coffee shop vibes? Try listening to classical music or instrumental jazz for a laid-back study sesh–whatever floats your boat!
Take advantage of white noise
If music doesn’t do it for you, try listening to peaceful background noise. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research shows that low levels of constant, ambient noise may improve concentration and creativity. In other words, white noise–the sounds of a humming air conditioner or a whirring vacuum cleaner–can help mask the sounds that you don’t want to hear. “Sometimes I turn on a fan or the bathroom vent,” University of Florida junior Alessandra Gazzo said. “I would put on another noise to compete with that noise.” Also, you can look up recordings of nature sounds online. I think we can agree it’s better to listen to a serene spring forest than a bunch of screaming partygoers.
Create sound barriers
Okay, so maybe you prefer silent studying. No worries! Try blocking distracting sounds from entering your study space. This may include stuffing towels under your door or adding acoustic absorption panels to your walls.
Too complicated? Try investing in a good pair of noise-canceling headphones or earplugs. Then again, you can make use of what you already got. “I always keep my AirPods on even when I’m not listening to music just to block out a little bit of noise in general,” Gazzo said. That being said, test your resourcefulness and determine solutions to deter annoying sounds. It may turn out easier than you think!
Don’t be afraid to take a break
College is already stressful. So trust, it’s normal to be frustrated, especially if you need to focus and can’t get in the zone. Instead of pulling out your hairs, pause your studies and take a break! “If I really can’t focus, I’ll go on a walk,” University of Miami sophomore Olivia Carbonero said. “It helps so much when I need a mental break.” Perhaps you can play a game, take a bath or listen to music and jam it out! Countless ways to relax exist and you need to realize that mental breaks certainly help relieve stress in college.
Focus on easy assignments for now
Just a quick tip: If you know you can’t study well in your current environment, then focus on the easy tasks instead of the difficult ones. If your roommates decide to blast Future outside your door, maybe now you shouldn’t tackle that organic chemistry formula or master the logic games section of the LSAT. In other words, try to leave the complicated stuff for when you reach a great study environment. It may seem a bit of a loss for now, but it will save you from the extra stress.
Improve your ability to focus
Did you know you could actually teach your brain to cancel out noise? A study published in Nature concluded that when certain sounds are expected, specific signals in the brain begin to cancel out this noise. Although the experiment used mice, humans possess the same noise-eliminating ability. That being said, you can train your brain to cancel out certain noises–in this case, your annoying roommates or family members–ahead of time to listen for more important sounds, such as those signaling danger or your online lecture. You see, science can teach cool and helpful information.
Furthermore, you can increase your ability to focus by simply living a healthier lifestyle. Make sure you get sufficient sleep, eat clean, exercise regularly and frequently drink water. Adopting such habits maintains your brain’s ability to operate at top efficiency. Fun fact: did you know exercise increases the amount of neurotransmitters in your brain, which–pssst–enhances focus? Just take the stairs people!
Set future expectations
Let’s face it: you need to be straight up with your family or roommates, aka the noisy delinquents. Negotiate times when you need peace and silence in order to study. Moreover, you can coordinate schedules in advance of when you need quiet time for yourself. Take control of your life. After all, it beats screaming at people to shut up.