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How to make boring subjects, interesting

Stuart Pedley-Smith
By Stuart Pedley-Smith, Kaplan Head of Learning LinkedIn
Stuart Pedley Smith - Kaplan's Head of Learning

When we think something’s ‘boring’ we struggle to engage with it.

With accountancy, as with any study subject, some areas are perceived as more ‘interesting’ than others.

But what if we could blur the lines between boring and interesting? Surely that would lead to improved learning & exam performance.

Why do we get bored?

Firstly, let’s define what boredom is.

For many of us who are familiar with the feeling - a definition may feel vague. Here’s the dictionary description:

“The feeling of being bored by something tedious”

Not helpful. If we dig deeper we find:

“The aversive experience of wanting, but being unable to engage in satisfying activity”

Or put another way, what you’re doing isn’t interesting enough to prevent your mind from wandering.

The brain is always searching for dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter that helps control your reward and pleasure centres. This suggests the ‘boring’ task is not delivering enough dopamine for you to continue.

Evidence shows that people with low levels of dopamine production get bored easily, and they continually look for new and more stimulating activities. This so called “trait boredom” has been linked to dropping out of school, higher levels of anxiety, gambling and alcohol/drug abuse.

The opposite of boredom is engagement

When it comes to learning, we should look to change ‘boredom’ by becoming more engaged.

One way of thinking about engagement is that it’s what you see when someone is motivated. There is evidence* to show that engaged students are more likely to do well in exams and aspire to higher education.

So, what can I do?

  • Recognise when you’re feeling bored. This is the first step, because if you don’t know you’re bored it’s easy to conclude that you dislike the subject: ‘It’s not my fault, the subject’s boring’.
  • Your subject needs to be meaningful. Students often say, “I will never use what I have to learn”. The truth is you simply don’t know. I thought I’d never need to understand the Capital Asset Pricing Model** - little did I know, I’d actually teach it.
  • Be curious. Keep thinking, “that’s interesting”. Nothing is inherently boring, it’s only the way you’re looking at it. Curiosity is a state of mind.
    The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.

    Ellen Parr
  • Make it fun or turn it into a game. There’s no doubt that during your studies there’ll be a need for repetitive learning tasks  - which will be boring. But if you break it up into bite-size chunks and turn it into a rewarding game - e.g. ‘If I learn 4 definitions by 6pm I can finish for the day’ - you’ll be amazed how much easier it can be.
  • Find people who’re engaged with something and ask what they see. Why do they find it interesting? This might be necessary if your teacher fails to bring the subject to life. Interest and engagement are contagious.
  • ‘It’s too easy / it’s too hard’. Your boredom might come about because what you’re learning is basic. If that’s the case, ask for more advanced work.  And if it’s too hard, speak to your teacher, they will be able to help. This is an example of taking control.

Often boredom strikes when you feel there’s nothing you can do, sitting waiting for a train that has been delayed. By taking some form of control e.g. checking alternative routes home, the boredom will pass.

Don’t entirely write off boredom!

There’s one small but important point on boredom. The feeling isn’t completely without it’s uses, and this TED talk illustrates that perfectly.

It shows how boredom can lead to your most brilliant ideas. The talk argues that because the brain is searching for stimulation when bored, it can lead to increased creativity and great ideas.

So yes, reframing boring as interesting is a good method to increase engagement, but it is not without it’s benefits.

Stuart Pedley Smith is Kaplan Financial’s Head of Learning. For any learning subjects you may wish to read content about, email us on content.marketing@kaplan.co.uk

*Wang & Eccles, 2012a
**A formula used in Financial Management to calculate shareholder returns

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