General Education

7 Study Tips for College Students With ADHD

7 Study Tips for College Students With ADHD
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Tracey Goodwin and Holly Oberacker profile
Tracey Goodwin and Holly Oberacker August 26, 2019

Shoot for progress instead of perfection.

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The daily grind high school is over, and you're transitioning into college life. You may be fueled by excitement as you register for classes, in awe of 10 a.m. start times and the opportunity to have Fridays off. While your wealth of free time may seem liberating, the reality of __your college schedule can pose a considerable challenge to your ADHD brain.

Unlike the structure of high school, you won't have anyone monitoring your sleep or screen time. No one will keep an eye on what you eat, who you spend time with, and of course: your study habits. 

ADHD is often misunderstood as a disorder that makes it difficult for people with the condition to pay attention to anything, but it is quite the opposite. The ADHD brain has a surplus of attention and tends to pay attention to everything at once. While this is a remarkable trait, problems can arise when an exam is around the corner, and you need to pay attention to the notes you took in class or a study guide.   

7 Effective Study Techniques for Students with ADHD  

When you stop and think about all of the things our brains pay attention to in just five minutes, it's impressive. Think of the air, temperature, light, and sounds currently surrounding you. With ADHD, those everyday details become amplified, which makes focusing incredibly tricky.  

In addition to attention, many of the skills needed to create effective studying habits may seem unattainable to students with ADHD. This makes it critical to understand your brain—and develop strategies for using it to your advantage in college. In time, you'll find they'll serve your study sessions well.

1. Know what it means to multitask

Bounce on a yoga ball, chew gum, use a fidget spinner, or pacing within a designated area while reciting vocab words or running through a presentation. If the action you choose takes away from your study time, you're not multitasking, but switching tasks.

Sending emails while reviewing a study guide? Bad idea. Listening to a podcast while prepping for a midterm? Even worse.

Whatever your activity, be sure it doesn't use the same part of your brain as the part that's focused on learning. 

2. Plan ahead 

Know in advance where you'll study, what time, the subjects you'll be working on, and whether you'll be studying alone or with others. Since the ADHD brain tends to get caught up in the present moment, creating last-minute plans will likely infringe on study time—or worse, prevent you from studying at all.     

3. Give your brain a break

It's no secret that students remember more when they take breaks instead of studying straight through an extended period.  Downtime enables students' brains to review information and material, even when they don't know they're processing it. Research from the University of Southern California suggests that the brain systems activated by a wandering mind are essential to cognitive abilities like reading comprehension and divergent thinking. 

4. Make to-do lists your thing

Create a list of the study-related tasks you need to complete and then color-code or number your tasks in the order they should be done. It's so easy for the ADHD brain to overlook loose ends or forget to follow through on responsibilities. This pitfall can be incredibly overwhelming for students and make them feel that when they get too busy, they have to rush from one activity to the next.

Keeping a to-do list will make every step of a study session feel clearly outlined and more importantly, manageable. In turn, you'll feel more grounded—and welcome the sense of progress and accomplishment that comes with crossing items off your list.  

5. Organize like you mean it

You can't study if you can't locate the materials you need. Use binders or folders for worksheets, notes, and assigned reading—avoid untidy piles of papers at all costs. If you prefer digital content, create files for each course. Give every document a title and always be consistent with naming, regardless of how low-energy or uninterested you might be.

Moments of forgetfulness and disorganization can have negative consequences for students with ADHD. By changing up your approach to organization, you'll have more time, feel more relaxed, and think more clearly. 

6. Revisit recent lessons

Going over what you learned in class helps anchor new learning. Make a habit of reflecting on a lecture as you walk across campus. Spend ten minutes looking over your notes while waiting for a class to start. Flip through flashcards before sitting down to lunch. But don't leave it today's lessons; review what you learned three days or even a week ago. This consistent repetition will help your brain store the information much more effectively.

7. Repeat

For the ADHD brain, a routine isn't exactly easy to regulate. It can feel monotonous, especially for a condition that flourishes in the new and novel. But indeed, a routine can be life-changing and provide some of the structure that college life may lack. Create a system for reminders by setting alarms on your phone or posting brightly-colored sticky notes where you won't miss them.

Start your mornings with tasks that are small and doable, so you can feel a sense of accomplishment to carry through your days. Ask a friend to check in on you mid-day to ensure you stay committed to your goals. Tweak habits as you continue to find what works best for you. And most importantly, be patient with yourself. A new approach to studying isn't about being perfect, but creating progress you can feel good about. And sure, the uptick in your test scores won't hurt either.  

In closing...

Lastly, don't forget to utilize your strengths in college. If you are a great communicator, make it a goal to develop strong relationships with your professors by speaking up in class and visiting their office hours. If you've got a knack for creativity, draw pictures that represent new vocabulary words, theories, or other course specifics to visualize what you're learning. If you love playing the guitar, use listening to a favorite album, or practicing a new song to reward yourself once you've wrapped up a successful study period. 

By establishing a routine, seeking feedback, and working towards results, you'll create a mindset geared for success—and the newfound confidence that comes with it. And remember, working through challenges is when real learning happens. You can do it. 

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