Studying isn’t easy for most students – but it can be especially hard when you have ADHD. Students with ADHD often find it difficult to concentrate and study effectively. However, there are eight effective strategies that address your unique challenges and barriers to academic success.
1. Study effectively with ADHD using spaced practice.
Spaced practice is a learning method based on how we best retain information.
Research shows that students are more likely to remember what they have learned when they visit it over and over again, with a “space” of time in between each review session. Doing this helps your brain move information from short term to long term memory.
Students spend the same overall amount of time studying, but study in smaller chunks of time over several days rather than in one huge block of time. This is especially useful for students with ADHD, as they often have trouble focusing on one thing for long periods.
Coming back to something over and over again is often more manageable and can help break up the apparent monotony of studying.
Related: Here is a complete guide on how to study using spaced practice.
2. Study actively– rereading notes doesn't cut it.
Unfortunately, many students – whether they have ADHD or not– study by rereading or rewriting their notes from class. This is considered passive studying. And it’s the least effective way to study, other than not opening up your books at all.
Active studying means studying in a way that requires you to engage with the material and practice fundamental skills. To study actively, you can:
- create and take your own practice tests based what the exam will cover
- make flashcards and ask someone else to quiz you on them
- chunk together related material by creating charts and graphs
- complete problems from class (or new problems you find in your books or online) on your own, and then check to see if your answers are correct
- try to teach someone else about the material you’re working on
3. Figure out if you should involve someone else while you study.
You might have noticed that many of these active studying methods involve someone else helping you.
Working with someone who can keep you focused can be really helpful if you want to study effectively with ADHD. However, working with someone who also struggles with keeping focused, or someone who is really impatient, can throw you off track even more than when you study alone.
So, figure out whether you prefer having someone to hold you accountable and to help with active studying, or whether some level of quiet and isolation helps you retain focus.
4. Schedule time for breaks.
Spaced practice does cut down the total time of each individual study session.
But even if you’re only studying for one hour at a time, you will study more effectively when you give your brain a little time to rest. This is true for students with and without ADHD.
But many individuals with ADHD don’t have a great sense of the passage of time, so what starts out as a five minute break becomes an abandoned study session.
To keep that from happening, set alarms or have someone call you to remind you when to work and when to break.
Even better, you can use a customizable timer app based on the Pomodoro technique. The Pomodoro technique details the ideal amount of study and break time. Each interval of focus time is called a Pomodoro.
5. Remove as many distractions as possible.
People with ADHD can get distracted by any number of things – what throws you off track?
First identify what distracts your focus. Do get distracted by:
- sounds or conversations going on around you
- complete and total silence
- song lyrics
- making your notes look “pretty” instead of getting through all the information you need to
- thinking of all the other things you need to remember
- social media/random clickbait articles/TV
- a messy desk
- other subjects you need to focus on
What distracts you may help someone else focus. You just need to figure out what helps (and hurts) your ability to keep on track.
Then work to remove those distractions. If your room is too distracting, then find a different room in which to study. Does listening to instrumental music help you focus? Do you need white noise or complete silence when studying?
Carry around post-it notes to write down things you need to remember later. Then all those “later things” can stop taking up so much of your attention now.
Consider doing your work on paper if you can. If you need to be online, install site blockers that temporarily block certain sites that constantly eat up your time (read: YouTube, Netflix, Facebook, etc.) Temporarily block apps on your phone as well.
6. Stimulate multiple senses while you study.
To keep focused on what you’re doing, try to engage with the material by engaging multiple senses.
For example, you can:
- read what you’re writing down out loud
- come up with mnemonic devices you can sing
- discuss math sets with someone around you
- create visual aids
If you really have trouble keeping still, it may be worth it to let yourself pace around the room while trying to read material.
7. Make a plan of action.
With all this information you now have about how to study effectively with ADHD – where and when you should study, who to study with, and how often you need to study, write it all down in a planner. Use a paper one, a digital one, or just make a to-do list if using specific time slots is too stressful.
Give yourself some wiggle room when it comes to timing, just in case it takes you longer to get started than you think.
Share your plans with someone, so you can be held accountable.
8. Know when to ask for help.
Hopefully, with all these study strategies in place, you will flourish in your classes.
But you also need to recognize if you’re falling behind, it may be time to talk to someone about it.
Reach out to your instructor and parent/guardian if you need some extra help. They may be able to help you, or help you find a tutor that understands how to work with students who have ADHD.
You can build successful study habits with ADHD.
You just have to spend a little extra time learning what works for you.