Studying with ADHD: strategies for success
Staying focused while studying is a challenge for everyone, but it’s especially hard for those with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).4 min read Published: 1 Feb 2024
Over recent years, the number of college students with an ADHD diagnosis has risen to 1-in-9. In line with this, an increasing awareness and improved clinical diagnosis means there’s more help than ever available for students with ADHD.
If you’re concerned about learning with ADHD, there are a number of strategies, technologies, and study tools that can be used to learn more effectively. But before we explore study strategies, it’s essential to understand why studying with ADHD can be challenging…
Why studying with ADHD is hard
College puts pressure on students to take charge of their learning. Complex lecture timetables, seminars, and course requirements can all cause stress.
The increased academic expectations and social pressures mean some students with ADHD can struggle. This is something we've explored in a previous blog.
ADHD is what’s called a spectrum condition. That means, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, every person will experience different symptoms and face different challenges.
ADHD can cause inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity in individuals, but not everyone will experience all these symptoms.
Psychologists have classed ADHD into categories. The most common type is Inattentive Type (ADHD-I), where people struggle to focus, make frequent mistakes, and ignore conversations. Hyperactive Type (ADHD-HI) causes restlessness and excessive talking. Combined Type (ADHD-C) is the rarest type, blending symptoms from both categories.
It’s important to explore your ADHD and understand how your symptoms can impact your studies. Doing so can help you identify strategies, studies, tools, and techniques that will be most effective for you. It’s also crucial that you seek help.
The first – and most important – thing students should do is to acknowledge that they have ADHD and report it to their college Disability Support Services. It sounds obvious, but studies have shown that 37% of students don’t.
Why? The reasons can vary, but some students may be ashamed to admit they need extra help or believe they won’t get the support they need.
Neither of these things is true. It’s critical to tell your college that you can receive the support and adaptations that you need – something they have a duty to provide. A lack of support can cause feelings of anxiety and depression, all of which can impact educational attainment.
ADHD: How to study for success
If you’ve got ADHD, there are some tried and tested techniques you can use, as well as innovative new technologies to help you achieve your academic potential and enjoy the college experience.
Pick the right college
It all starts by studying somewhere suitable. Some colleges are better than others at understanding and meeting the requirements of students studying with ADHD.
The Attention Deficit Disorder Association has 5 tips for students with ADHD when selecting a suitable college:
1. Search for a college that can provide accommodations and has support groups
2. Check the number of ADHD-LD specialists available to support students
3. Find a college with a large number of registered ADHD students
4. Share your ADHD diagnosis with the appropriate person as soon as you start college
5. Ask your college to make appropriate accommodations that you need
Build a structured study environment
People with ADHD often benefit from an organized place to study and a predictable routine. A 2006 study found that having a dedicated environment for studying that’s free from distractions improved focus and academic performance.
Where you study is up to you. While a separate room is ideal, you may find it easier to study at a desk or a shared space like a library or cafe.
The key is consistency. If you choose to build your own study space, here’s how to make your room better for studying.
Use time management tools
ADHD can affect time perception, which explains why so many people with ADHD struggle to stick to a schedule.
Using planners, digital calendars, and apps specifically designed for ADHD can help students with ADHD manage time and tasks more effectively.
Take regular breaks
Breaking study assignments and tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks effectively maintains focus and reduces feelings of being overwhelmed.
The Pomodoro method, for example, recommends breaking tasks into short, focused intervals, followed by a break.
Learning how to manage your time and establish a study schedule is important for all students. For those with ADHD, it can help you maintain concentration and prevent burnout.
Struggling to take time away? Tech can help! Glean’s Focus Timer function breaks studying into chunks, enabling you to schedule short and focused bursts of activity.
Get audio textbooks
Students with ADHD can find reading a challenge, struggling to remain focused and internalize information. Depending on your course, you can access audiobooks and audio textbooks that enable you to listen to essential course materials.
There are several online resources, including LearningAlly, where you can find academic audiobooks.
Try active learning techniques
Active learning involves summarizing and sharing information to embed it. The principle follows that you improve information retention by summarizing information and sharing it with others.
A 2016 study found that learners who taught others what they’d learned retained more information than those who didn’t. Students could form study groups or collaborate to explore new ideas and concepts, using active learning techniques to improve recall and understanding.
Exercise, eat well, and sleep soundly
Research has established that regular physical activity can improve focus, cognitive function, and information recall. It’s also fun!
Students with ADHD should keep a close eye on their diets and prioritize healthy foods, say scientists. There’s a growing body of evidence that certain foods can affect people with ADHD.
It’s a complex area, and every person is different, but limiting caffeine and alcohol intake while prioritizing a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables is good advice for all of us.
Alongside eating well and exercising, you should also aim to get eight hours of sleep a night. Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule is crucial for cognitive function and focus – and those with ADHD need to be rested and ready to study.
Experiment with mindfulness
Mindfulness techniques like meditation and deep breathing exercises can help to reduce anxiety and improve concentration.
A meta-analysis by scientists Cairncross and Miller in 2020 found that mindfulness–based therapies can have clear benefits for those with ADHD.
Use assistive technologies
Assistive technologies like Glean are transforming the college experience for students with ADHD, where users can record classes and re-listen to them as many times as they like, while labelling or highlighting any important bits to return to.
This means that students with ADHD can react and engage with class content in the moment, rather than trying to take notes and listen to the lecturer at the same time!
Want more study strategies?
Many students with ADHD struggle to study at college, but these tips, tools, and technologies can help anyone to achieve more. If you have ADHD, it’s essential to tell your Disability Support Services. Together, you can explore options and adaptations to ensure you achieve your potential.
You can find more study tips and advice on how to study more effectively in the learning section of our blog.
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