Academic success requires focus; focus entails combatting e-distractions.

Combating e-Distractions

So I won’t start in with how online distractions are worse than any others.  Before computers, people doodled or otherwise drifted off while trying to study.  (That said, if you know that having a machine in front of you renders you incapable of listening to your professor, don’t bring it to class.  And, embrace it when a professor tells you “No electronics” or limits their use in class.)

I will say that because most of us study online, at least to some extent, we have to reduce or at least control, e–distractions.  It is tough!  You must go onto that website for study materials –and sometimes to listen to lectures.  It is so easy to pop open another window and just check for a minute.  That very same machine that houses our learning lures us away from studying.

Unless you have positive peer pressure or support online, most social media will not move you toward exam success.  At best, it is a distraction.  Sometimes the effects of what you read online are blatantly destructive. You freak out when blowhards say they have been studying 16 hours that day, implying you are a loser if you have not put in as many hours.  (You are not a loser, by the way.  Burnout is very real, as is the concept of “diminishing returns.”)   Some people share too generously, for example pouring out their anxiety. You likely have enough of your own! You don’t need to hear about everyone else’s.  And, social media is a haven for misinformation. (Uh, does that need any further explanation.  As Monty Python would say, “Say no more.”)

We all need study breaks.  And, of course, exercising, sleeping, and taking time to prepare and eat nutritious foods are among the most effective study breaks.

But, what if you just want to wander online a bit.  Is that so bad?  No.   Go head, let yourself a little, but a) control how much time you spend on breaks, and b) make sure your break involves a helpful  e-distraction.  For example:

-Favorite some reliable sites.  For law students taking the bar exam, that might be your state bar website and the NCBE’s website (  Now, I realize that does not sound quite as relaxing as say an episode of the Simpson’s.  But, when you are studying for the bar exam, trust me, looking at anything but your bar review stuff is a break.  And, you want to see the latest info that is posted, review what you can and cannot bring into the exam, etc.

-Watch some educational video(s) on your subjects.  This gives you a “break” from your assigned materials, but keep you focused on and immersed in the world you need to master for your exam(s). The Khan Academy for example has free reliable videos on hundreds of subjects. There are Ted Talks that may dovetail with what you are studying.  And, there are numerous professors and schools who have recorded videos on nearly everything under the sun.

-View a mindfulness, yoga, meditation, or motivational video.  OK, I am from California and I know to some of you this sounds goofy.  But, I believe to my core that the attitude with which you approach your studies affects your outcomes.  (And, given that I’ve helped thousands of students to pass bar exams nationwide, I’m a pretty reliable source on that.)  The more calm and confident you are, the better you are likely to perform on exams.  

-When you absolutely need it, or, better still, as a reward for a good day’s studying, watch something funny that will take you out of your world.   (If you aren’t familiar with Monty Python reference above, check out one of those skits online.)

Now, I am not saying with respect to electronics, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.  I am saying, let’s all be realistic.  Our phones, tablets, and laptops are here to stay.  Banning them generally is like, well –how did Prohibition work out?

But we must control our machines; our machines must not control us.  Saying you didn’t have time to study because you were too busy on social media is not a valid excuse to deprive yourself of the success you deserve.  (Studying is not punishment.  It’s a gift.  And, you are depriving yourself of the opportunity to learn when you make up ridiculous excuses for now having time to study.)

You cannot click your heels or sprinkle magic dust on your laptop or books and expect the information you need to embed itself in your mind.  Studying requires active learning.  But, even the most effective active learner can allow for a few passive study breaks now and then!




Author: Sara J. Berman

Sara J. Berman, a graduate of the UCLA School of Law, is a Professor of Law and Assistant Dean at the Touro Law Center. She formerly served as a Director at the Washington DC-based Center for Legal Education Excellence.

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