College Student’s Problem Not Lack of Concentration

Students must go from being taught to learning and thinking on their own.

Dear Dr. Fournier:

I’m in college at the University of Rhode Island. I’m majoring in psychology and I didn’t do as well on recent mid-term exams as I did on all my exams during my first two years in college.

For some reason, I can’t seem to concentrate and I’m really stressed out about this. As a result, my grades are suffering and I’m frustrated. I’m also worried about upcoming final exams for this semester.

I can’t afford to do poorly as I’m now taking mostly courses in my major, which requires that I be focused on the material. I’m afraid this will affect my ability to get into a good graduate school program. I don’t understand why this is happening now and why I can’t seem to control it. What do you think the problem is?

Gina S.

Kingston, RI

Dr. Yvonne Fournier
Dr. Yvonne Fournier

Dear Gina:

Gina, going to college requires a student to find out what it takes to pass certain courses. To be successful, you need only to ask a few questions:

e What will the test cover?

e How long should my term paper be?

e Does the professor have an outline I should follow?

But to truly experience education, you must move beyond rote directions and take ownership of knowledge with individual thinking and creativity. Your success in life often depends not on following directions, but making your own directions and sticking to them.


As a future psychologist, you must be able to assess each individual based on his or her strengths and weaknesses, past life experiences, interpretations and future perspectives.

In other words Gina, you will not follow one set of directions to deal with each client. Therefore, the ability to create your own directions will become an integral part of your professional life.

Making this transition is a scary proposition. For years, you’ve probably done well just going to school and telling teachers or professors the information they wanted to hear. Now, it’s time for you to move from someone who is being taught to someone who is processing information with original thought. Don’t let the fear of this transition paralyze you.


Stop studying as if you are still being schooled and begin to study to be educated.

Here are a few guidelines:

1. Keep track of each time you begin to think, “I wonder if this is what the professor will ask?” Mark each episode with a “T” as a reminder to think for yourself. The fewer times you have to write the “T,” the more you are thinking for yourself.

2. Think with the future in mind, not the past. In order to learn the material, you must believe it will be valuable to your future. Dig deeper and ask, “How will this affect me in my professional or personal life?” It may be better to receive a B or a C in a subject that seems to give less relevance to your life rather than to strive for an A out of servitude.

3. Interact with your studies. As you read, underline or highlight, then stop reading and draw pictures or symbols about what you recall. Go back and see if your picture encompasses the thought, though not necessarily the words, in your reading. If you are reiterating the exact phrasing, you have not made the full transition to independent learning with the long-term goal of developing your own analyses and intuitive conclusions as you listen to others. You may want to hold on to key words and phrases, but the global message should be uniquely yours.

4. After you have processed a good amount of material, ask yourself if you could teach it. If so, teach in front of a mirror and with a recording device such as an iPhone or an iPod or other handheld recording device. Initially, use your notes for teaching until you can continue without them.

5. Set up your own tests and share them with your professors to see where your thoughts are and if they are on different paths from your professors. You will have to decide what you finally believe then decide if you have the tenacity to trust yourself.

6. Brainstorm situations you may encounter in the future and ask yourself how you will deal with them. If you want to fully experience education, you should be able to create one new idea from what you have read or heard and apply it to your life.

If you concentrate only on studying, then the process becomes the end result. If you concentrate on learning, then the process becomes a means to develop new knowledge and to create change, moving education from the past tense into the future.


Have a question about education, education-related issues or your child’s schoolwork or homework? Ask Dr. Fournier and look for her answer in this column. E-mail your question or comment to Dr. Yvonne Fournier at [email protected].

Please visit my website at for more information on how you can help your child become a better student.