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Taking control of your mobile phone

In the Oxford Revision Course book ‘Active Study Skills’ we wrote about the distraction of mobile phones. We have updated this here with more information to help students become better at their use of technology. We want our students to turn the addictions they have with phones into active study; it’s better to use our skills on phones/tablets to become better at studying rather than be distracted by them.

Communications regulator Ofcom said UK adults spend an average of eight hours and 41 minutes a day on media devices, compared with the average night's sleep of eight hours and 21 minutes. Okay, so it is only 20 minutes more, but if you are someone who doesn't get much sleep then it could be so much more time and this is an average, so some people are spending way more time than that. A quick check of Instagram or Facebook is never a quick check. You may look at a status, look at some pictures, ‘like’ a picture or two, try and think of something witty to say, read something from a page you liked, share a stupid video that one of your friends shared, etc. All of this is sort of okay but, if you are neglecting what it is you are supposed to be doing, namely study, then this is a poor decision. Every generation has had their own levels of distractions. The books written about time wasting from the past can be as relevant today as they were then. So, if you are reading this book and Instagram and Snapchat have fallen out of fashion like Myspace and bebo did, the point still stands – social media can be overused and distracting from your study.

Don’t be distracted by your mobile phone

It is probably a good idea to deal with using mobile phones when studying now. Lots of students will have their phones beside them when they are studying, some can't even last a whole lesson without looking down at them. The use of twitter, snapchat, WhatsApp and WeChat mean they are constantly within reach.

Just stop. Go cold turkey, or enlist the help of someone to stop you constantly checking your phone.

Ask yourself, how much of this communication is actually important? Don't be afraid of what might happen if you don't answer. Would people really stop liking you? If your friendship is so fragile that you need to constantly be in touch with each other then something somewhere has gone wrong.

Put it on airplane mode, just for the forty minutes that you are studying. Close all the apps. It is only for a short time. The more you get used to this, the better you can use your time in the exam.

People are becoming more addicted to their technology and you will need to exercise control to stop this. You can't be productive and effective if you don't switch it off from time to time. When tutors mark essays or exams, they switch their phones off so that they can focus on the answers and grade them properly. It would be a shame to think that they put more effort in to the marking than the student did into learning the material. When I am at work I would love to do nothing, meet with friends, watch movies and TV shows. The truth is I wouldn't have a job for long. I would be cheating my students and their chances to succeed. So hopefully you realise that your job is to be a student and this simple idea of beginning to take control of the distractions like smartphones is helpful in making you more productive.

I am not saying don't use your smartphones. They are some of the most powerful tools for studying you have at your disposal. You could put the timer on for 20 minutes or use the stopwatch to log your study time. You should then keep a record of when and for how long you’ve been working. There are apps that help you keep track of your time. There’s a list of a few examples of some useful apps at the end of this post (which we’ll try to keep updated).

Your phone may have a screen time use inbuilt (this is the case for iPhones and should be available on Android devices). If not, you can find an app (such as RealizD or OFFTIME to help with this, so that you can monitor how you are using it.

If you fear that you may have a phone addiction, or even an internet addiction then you need to address this as soon as possible. Smartphones used smartly can get you the grades you need; they’re powerful tools to get the top grades, but you have to take control of their use. I wrote a book on study skills in the times between lessons, before lessons and had to consciously take control of my phone use. I wouldn’t say I am perfect, I have just checked it three times whilst writing this, once to talk to an agent about tutors, once to see the time even though it was at the top of the screen and once to answer a tutor concern. Yet when I am marking papers, reading essays or preparing lessons I make sure that my phone is not near me. If you as a student are not doing this then you need to start practising the habit of doing it as soon as possible. That is if you want to get the best grade possible.

Five useful apps to help you reduce mobile use

  • Freedom

  • ZenScreen

  • Moment

  • AntiSocial

  • BreakFree

Five useful study apps

  • XMind – A mindmap app. Mind maps are best done by hand but i’s useful to have them all saved in a digital format.

  • Dragon Anywhere – A dictation tool so that you can speak your ideas and they get turned into versatile note formats.

  • Evernote – good for notes, checklists and schedules.

  • Office Lens – You can use this to take pictures of everything from page text to whiteboard notes, and it will be converted into shareable text.

  • Chegg - A flashcard maker.

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