I recently received a request for a post on studying with ADHD. And I thought, “Of course! I can’t believe I haven’t written about this before now!”
Studying with ADHD can be a huge challenge. The most recent numbers from the CDC say that the number of children with ADD/ADHD is currently at 11%! (Which is roughly 1 in every 10 students, for us math whizzes of the world).
But we can all be a little fidgety sometimes. And even the most attentive student can stare out the window, lost in a daydream while a professor is reading the PowerPoint presentation word. for. word. So, how can you know if you’re actually studying with ADHD?!
A good rule to remember is that our attention span in minutes is typically our age + 2 (up to 30 minutes). But on the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve also read that ADHD can result in hyper-focus, which makes it extremely challenging to switch your brain “off” and move to a different activity.
Studying with ADHD can make college harder than it has to be. So, if you THINK you might have ADD/ADHD but aren’t sure, the questions below can help you. But, of course, see a professional! (and no, “that girl who writes that study skills blog” doesn’t count.)
- · have a hard time getting organized?
- · procrastinate when given an assignment?
- · have a hard time completing projects?
- · make impulsive decisions?
- · get bored easily?
- · have a hard time reaching goals?
- · get easily distracted?
- · get so wrapped up in what you’re doing that it’s difficult to switch activities?
- · tend to “over do” or compulsively do things?
- · get easily frustrated or impatient?
- · have low self-esteem?
- · need lots of stimulation to stay interested in things?
- · say or do things without thinking?
- · have a hard time following rules and procedures?
- · frequently fidget?
- · feel bouts of depression?
- · worry a lot yet are accident-prone/careless?
- · have a lot of fears yet are a risk-taker?
- · make careless mistakes?
- · have blood relatives who suffer from ADD ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, or substance abuse?
According to ADDitude, if you answered, “yes” to 15+ of these questions, you should contact a doctor to get screened for ADD ADHD. Also, there are literally (and I mean that in a figurative way) TONS of resources online!
So, what can you do? Studying with ADHD requires intentional strategies. Below are the 7 Biggest Problems for ADHD students (according to ADDitude) and a couple of strategies for each:
Problem: Being easily distracted / daydreaming / not paying attention
There are all kinds of apps out there that keep you from getting on this website or that website. Try one of those if you think it would work! Another strategy is putting your phone on airplane mode (I know, I know, the struggle of not feeling connected). You can still use functions like an alarm clock and calculator but it won’t give you the distracting notifications!
Don’t try to study at home. Your room, roommates, pets, etc. can be unnecessary distractions. Go to your campus library because most of them have quiet “study rooms” where you can sit quietly and work. If that isn’t an option, check out those headphones that people wear to the gun range or put on their babies for loud events.
(It looks silly but I’ve totally tried it and it does make a difference!)
Problem: Being Disorganized / forgetting or losing things
Get a planner or use your phone calendar. As soon as you find out about an assignment date, put it into your calendar, then schedule some “warning” dates. The Calendar app lets you choose when you’d like 2 reminders. I like to start warning myself about upcoming due dates at least 2 weeks in advance: 2 weeks, 1 week, 3 days, 2 days, 1 day.
Get a cute container/basket (an excuse to go to Target? Yes, please!) for your school supplies for each class. Every single day, put those same items in those same containers until it becomes a habit (21 days). Try this strategy with keys, sunglasses, cell phone, etc. Habitually check those stations before you leave to keep yourself from forgetting things!
Problem: Procrastinating with assignments
Set aside an “Anti-Procrastination Day”. Make it a real thing. Put it on your calendar. Don’t schedule anything else for this day. Use it to power through those things you’re just struggling to start. Set aside large blocks of time to work on your most dreaded assignments & get started!
Write down a list of EVERYTHING that you must complete- don’t worry about order or priority. Then go back and prioritize each thing on the list. Which things on this list have you been procrastinating the longest? Start them now or get rid of them! Either way, by taking some type of action, you will instantly relieve the stress being caused by procrastinating!
Problem: Failing to complete assignments
If you’re studying with ADHD, you know how challenging it is to finish projects. Set a timer for 30 minutes and refuse to give attention to any other project during that time. Keep a blank piece of paper near you. If a distracting thought won’t leave you alone, write it down, flip over the paper, and vow to take care of it once the timer goes off. Try this system every time you work/study and repeat this 30-minute work time daily.
Some professors like to write a paragraph (or even entire page!) for assignment instructions. Because this can get overwhelming to read, take a highlighter and highlight the actual actionable steps/tasks from wordy directions. Then rewrite the instructions as a list of clear and concise tasks. Then work on each one for 30 minutes a day until the assignment is complete. Your goal: “Incomplete is not an option”.
Problem: Blurting out answers
Write down your answers/comments on a piece of paper before sharing them with the class. Because you have a minute to think about your question, this can help you cut down on impulsive talking/answering in class. And it can also help you refine what it is that you actually want to ask the professor. The more thoughtful your questions and comments are, the more your classmates will benefit from them as well.
Give yourself an “allotment” of times to speak out in class. This works because, if you know that you can only speak five times in class, you’re more likely to make sure that those are quality comments/questions. You can keep tally marks on your paper so you know how many times you have left. If you have more questions or comments, write them down, but share them with your professor after class.
Problem: Sitting through structured activities
In class, try to sit next to people who will be “good influences” on you. So, for example, even though it’s hard, don’t sit by that sorority sister who you know will be on her phone the whole time or that friend who rolls her eyes after every comment made by a classmate. By sitting by less distracting people, you’ll have a less difficult time sitting through class.
Out of class, designate a “work space” and a “work time” to follow consistently every day. This helps because the more routine things are, the easier they are to do. You could try a study lamp (because your brain will get used to working when it’s on). You could also, try to work in the morning, if it’s possible. This works because cognitive functioning skills pique between 9-12 in the morning. And that means it’s easy for everyone to get distracted in the afternoon!
Problem: Being fidgety / impulsive
Connect with each of your professors at the beginning of the semester and share your needs with them because it’s better to let them know on the front end that you are uncontrollably fidgety (rather than them just thinking that you’re uninterested in their class later on in the year). So, as the year goes on, they may be willing to work with you on different assignments.
Because teachers have come up with a million ways to help fidgety kids who are studying with ADHD, there are tons of resources out there! Check out this post and this one and then try some of these ideas in your study area at home! The good part of being an adult (or almost an adult) is being able to identify what you need AND being able to go out and get it. And Make sure to keep your study area clean and away from a window!
Of course, I’m certainly no expert. If you have some better strategies or advice, please share it below! 😀