A Christian College of the Liberal Arts & Sciences

Breaks & Attention Spans


Ask yourself what kind of things you do to give yourself a break from studying.  Do you talk on the phone, visit a friend, watch TV, IM or e-mail someone, play a computer/video game, eat, or take a nap?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you are not actually taking a healthy break from studying.  Instead, you are being distracted.  All of those things listed above are distractions, not breaks.  Please read on to discover what a productive break should actually be.

Mini-break: This type of break should only last 2 – 3 minutes and is used when you have been reading.  You will engage in an activity that uses a different part of your brain than you were just using.  The best activity is to stop reading and to turn back to the first question you wrote in your notes.  Then take 2 – 3 minutes to quiz yourself with those questions.  This activity will renew your attention span, because it requires you to use different parts of your brain than the reading and writing that you just did.

Real break: This type or break should last approximately 15 minutes.  Now you need to engage in an activity that will SHOCK as many of your senses (taste, touch, sight, hearing, smell) as possible.  For instance, if you are studying in a warm place, expose yourself to a cold temperature.  Put a piece of really hot or sour candy in your mouth (fireballs, Sour Patch Kids, etc.).

Attention Spans

Learning begins with a timeframe called our attention span.  This is the block of time in which we are alert.  During our attention span, we are able to concentrate and be thoughtful and deliberate as we focus on the information and task in front of us.  It is a time of mental ACTION and if used well, results in more information being understood and stored in long-term memory.

The length of our attention span can vary through the day and depending upon the task.  When tired, our attention span is shorter.  It also shortens when we are bored, confused, or frustrated with a task.  You will notice your attention span is much longer for the tasks you enjoy and shorter for those you don’t.  As you learn to manage your academic time, remember to plan smaller study units (10 – 30 minutes) for difficult or boring assignments, and longer units of time (30 – 50 minutes) for assignments you enjoy or that actively engage you in the learning process.

Do not block hours of study time without taking breaks.  You are doing more harm than good if you force yourself to continue reading or learning after your attention span is gone.  Engage in a break, as listed above, in order to rejuvenate your attention span.