Study Strategies To Help College Students with ADD or ADHD
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a brain-based disorder that is typically diagnosed in early childhood, but the latest statistics show a lifetime prevalence of 8.3%. 1 While the average age of onset for ADHD is 7, studies show that up to 60% of those kids will exhibit symptoms into adulthood.2 Kids don’t “outgrow” ADHD. With this in mind, it’s crucial to help adolescents develop study skills to help manage their symptoms at the college level.
ADHD is characterized by a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity that interferes with function or development.
Symptoms of Inattention:
fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes
difficulty sustaining attention in tasks (even during play)
often does not seem to listen
does not follow through on instructions or complete tasks
difficulty organizing tasks and activities
avoids or dislikes tasks that require sustained mental effort
loses things necessary for tasks or activities
easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
forgetful in daily activities.
Symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity:
fidgets, taps, squirms
gets up frequently when the expectation is to remain seated
runs or climbs in situations when it is inappropriate
unable to play quietly
often on the go
blurts out answers before question is completed
difficulty waiting turns
interrupts or intrudes on others.
For older adolescents and adults, hyperactivity might manifest as restlessness and wearing other people out, while impulsivity can refer to hasty actions without forethought. Instead of running and climbing, for example, college students are more likely to get up and pace frequently. Symptoms of impulsivity can translate to difficulty managing money and making academic (ex: dropping a class) or personal decisions without thinking them through.
Though not considered a clinical condition, research shows that “hyperfocus” occurs in college students and adults with ADHD.4 Hyperfocus causes students to zero in on one particular thing. On the positive side, hyperfocusing can help students block out extraneous stimuli and accomplish a task. On the downside, students can get lost in video games or TV shows and have difficulty switching their attention to more pressing tasks.
Studying can prove challenging for college students with ADHD. Three of the greatest challenges for students with ADHD are sitting still, sustaining attention, and organization. The good news is that there are several strategies college students can use to cope with their ADHD and be successful in the classroom.
Use technology to get organized.
Smartphones come loaded with organizational tools. Beyond that, there are numerous apps on the market to assist with organization.
At the beginning of each semester, put important dates (assignments, quizzes, tests, final exams) in your calendar and set two alerts for each date. This will help you stay on top of assignments.
Set alarms to make sure you make it to your classes on time. Distraction can cause ADHD to get caught up in one thing and forget about another. Using alarms will help you get to places on time and manage your study time in between classes.
Once you get to class or begin studying, however, set that device to airplane mode to avoid intrusive text messages or other updates.
Embrace the to-do list.
Difficulty with organization can lead to difficulty with prioritizing. Keep a notebook specifically for tracking assignments and making lists of the tasks necessary to complete each assignment.
Begin by making a list of every assignment you need to complete during the week. Organize them by due date. Next, break down each assignment into steps. For example, if a paper requires research you’ll want to begin by finding sources. This might require a trip to the library. Writing down each step helps you formulate a plan.
Break down study sessions into manageable chunks.
The thought of studying for hours or completing all assignments in one sitting can be overwhelming. Schedule study periods (add those to the calendar!) and set a timer to avoid burning out or losing focus.
Be sure to factor in frequent breaks to get outside or engage in another activity to release stress, but set another timer to make sure that you return to your studies.
Figure out what distracts you.
Some people with ADHD prefer a silent study environment, while others enjoy white noise in the background. The best way to figure out the best environment for you is to figure out what triggers the most distraction for you.
If you find yourself looking through every book in your room or reorganizing your closet each frequently, your dorm room or apartment is probably not the best environment for studying. If whispers or the sound of pages turning catch your attention when you need to focus, you might not do well in the library. Write down your biggest distractions so that you can find an environment that works for you.
Find out what services your school offers.
Many schools offer academic support through tutoring and other learning accommodations. Your academic advisor is a great place to start, but be sure to check in with each of your professors during office hours to share your concerns and seek help.
Get regular exercise.
Thirty minutes of exercise a day, four to five days a week, sharpens focus and improves executive functioning. 5 Be sure to block out time each day for exercise and stick to it.
Have a place for everything.
If you find that you often misplace things, creating specific organizational routines can help. Hang your key on a hook beside your dorm room door, for example. Buy one folder to hold your class syllabi so that you don’t have to spend time searching before you begin studying.
Creating systems that work for (and make sense to) you will help you stay on top of your academic assignments and your personal needs.
Katie Hurley, LCSW