University of Wisconsin–Madison
Student studying

Use these 4 simple techniques to study more effectively for midterms

image of a distracted female studentResearch informs us that an increasingly digital lifestyle has decreased our attention span to 8 seconds. Research also shows that the less our minds wander, the happier we are. Check out these handy apps to help keep you focused, happy, and successful as you prepare for your midterms.

1. Self-Control
You begin studying with the best intentions, reviewing course material on Canvas or Learn@UW, but before you know it the same device you need for your studies has provided you with endless distraction. Self-Control may be the app you need. You set it for a defined amount of time and your browser will act as though it’s offline during that time. If you need some sites for research or studying, you can add them to a whitelist of allowed sites. Beware: once you enable the app, you can’t stop it, no matter how many times you restart your computer. Self-Control is for Macs only. If you use a PC or an iPad or iPhone, try Freedom, a similar app. Many similar apps are available on Android, too.

2. FocusBooster
FocusBooster challenges you to focus on one task for 25 minutes and then give yourself a 5-minute break. Once you list out your tasks in the app, it will track the time you spend on each one as you work through the list. When 25 minutes are up, an alarm sounds and you get a break. It’s an easy way to split your studying into manageable chunks of time without getting overwhelmed. For Macs and PCs only. Check out for similar apps for your device.

3. StayFocusd

StayFocusd, an extension for Google’s Chrome browser, works in the opposite way of #1. It gives you the chance to set a period of time that you CAN use the Internet to indulge in your favorite sites. If you still want to give yourself time for Twitter, Facebook, and other fun sites, but don’t trust yourself to limit your time on your own, this app will help. For Firefox users, LeechBlock performs a similar function. For Macs and PCs.

4. Time Out
Marathon study sessions are not the most effective way to prepare for midterms. For optimal focus and material retention, you need to take regular breaks to relax, let the material sink in, and refresh yourself. Time Out is a Mac OS application that runs in the background while you work. At time intervals that you choose, it fades in and reminds you to take a 5-10 minute break. If you’re on a roll writing a paper and want to keep up the momentum, you can have it remind you to take one-minute “micro-breaks” too.