People with ADHD may find homework, assignments, and studying for exams challenging. Luckily, there are techniques you can use to make learning easier.
If you or your child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you may not know where to begin when it comes to studying.
No matter your age or grade, there are some tried-and-true methods and study skills that work well for people with ADHD. Doing them regularly can help you create good habits that will lead to improved grades and less overall stress.
Before we list our top 10 study tips, we want to remind you that sleep is also a very important part of studying, especially if you have ADHD.
Research has found that the more sleep problems a person with ADHD has, the harder it is for them to remember things.
So, try to get good rest every night, and especially before a big test.
Moreover, if you follow these tips, a late-night cram session won’t be as important.
Here are some effective methods people with ADHD can use to manage challenges at school.
1. Do a body check
“I always start with the body check,” says ADHD coach and tutor Kit Savage. “You don’t need to have a dedicated environment to study, like your bedroom or the kitchen table. It just needs to be an environment where you’re comfortable and feel safe.”
“Once you’ve found your spot, do a body scan,” Savage suggests. “Literally go through your body and ask yourself: Am I hungry? Am I thirsty? Do I need to use the bathroom? What am I going to need for my body?”
You can’t study well if your body isn’t well nourished and comfortable.
2. Do a mind check
Next, do a mind check. That means check in on your feelings. Are you mad, angry, happy, or sad? If you’re feeling strong emotions, address them.
“Write out your emotions or chat with someone like your parent or a tutor,” Savage recommends. “Whatever is on your mind has to come out before you start your studying. Now is not the time to fix the problem. It’s just time to get it out.”
After you’ve expressed what’s on your mind, consider doing a few minutes of deep breathing exercises to release the rest of your tension, Savage suggests.
Your mind and body check will probably take about 10 minutes.
3. Be honest about what scares you
Whether you’re studying for a test, writing a paper, or going through your homework assignments, there’s likely one thing about the work ahead that seems to be the scariest.
The best way to tackle that? Say it out loud.
“What’s your worst fear right now?” Savage asks. “Are you afraid you’re never going to finish that long-term project because you’re so far behind? Are you afraid you’re going to fail because you just don’t understand the subject? Write it down.”
That fear is preventing you from getting started. But, once you’ve expressed it out loud or in writing, you’re no longer blocked by your fear, and you can get started.
4. Get organized
Make a plan. Start by looking at everything you have to do and make sure you have all the necessary materials.
Then, take out a piece of paper and make a chart with three columns:
- In the first column, write down what you need to do.
- In the second column, estimate how much time it will take you to do it. Consider allotting yourself a little more time than you might actually need for each task.
- Leave the third column blank for now — it will be for the actual amount of time it takes.
Then, figure out the order of the tasks you want to do, writing numbers beside each task.
5. Do an easy task first
“If you’re struggling to get started, you need to be successful right away because it’ll motivate you,” Savage says. “So, do any easy project at the beginning of your study session. I call it taking the win.”
6. Reread your assignments
“You can’t start unless you understand the expectations of the assignment. That’s huge,” Savage says. “Often, people with ADHD just dive in. But you need to know what’s expected of you — what you need to know, what you need to write, etc.”
“Then, once you know the expectations of the assignment, you can figure out how to achieve them,” Savage adds.
Before you get started, consider making a list of all the criteria you need to meet, such as word count, number of pages, number of references required, and so on.
You can refer to this list as you’re doing the assignment and check off these criteria as you complete them.
7. Begin as soon as you know about the assignment or test
Folks with ADHD may tend to wait until the last minute. But starting earlier can save you a lot of stress and improve your grades overall.
Studying over time will help you remember the information in the long term. This is especially important for subjects like math or science, where your knowledge builds on what you’ve previously learned.
“Work backward,” Savage recommends. “Look at when you’ll have your test or when your assignment is due, and plan to do a little each day. Make sure you include time to review everything before an exam, or write and edit your paper.”
8. Know yourself and what will work best for you
Everyone works differently, and it may take some time to get to know how you work best. Consider taking notes on what works for you and what doesn’t.
You might find it helpful to ask yourself questions like:
- Can you hyperfocus on anything you do, or does it have to be something you’re interested in?
- Do you work better if you begin as soon as you get home from school?
- Do you need a 30-minute break to relax before you begin?
- Does exercising help you focus?
- Can you focus better after dinner or late at night?
- Do you get easily distracted by your phone or other screens? If so, consider removing them while you study.
- Do you need to get the thing you fear most out of the way after an easy win? That is, does it help you to do the easiest task first so you feel good about it, then tackle the task you’re dreading?
- Do you study better when you save it for last?
- How have you overcome writer’s block in the past?
For example, do you find it hard to start writing essays? Many people do! However, there’s no rule saying you must write your introductory paragraph first — and that can be the hardest part.
In fact, many people write their intro and conclusion after they’ve written the rest of the essay.
So, if it’s easier for you to write the supporting paragraphs and then write the introduction, do it that way.
You might also find it easier to start by freewriting with no expectations at all. You might be surprised by what comes out.
9. Repetition, repetition, repetition
“Studying is about performance, so repetition is key,” Savage says. “Many people with ADHD [may have issues with] working memory, which means you can’t easily retain what you’ve learned. So, take notes in class, read the chapter more than once, and review everything over and over again.”
“I like the three times rule: Make sure you go over everything at least three times, even if it’s a subject you’re good at,” Savage says.
10. Request appropriate accommodations
In this context, “accommodations” means any methods your teachers or school use to accommodate your needs, such as setting you up in a private room for an exam or providing more time.
For example, if you have trouble remembering math formulas, consider asking your teacher to provide them for you during the test, suggests Savage.
“Accommodations aren’t giving you an advantage — it’s leveling the playing field,” Savage explains. “Tests should measure your ability, not your disability.”
“If you don’t have those accommodations, then all you’re testing is your disability,” Savage says.
11. Reward yourself
Each time you check a task off your list, write down how long it took, and then reward yourself.
“I like immediate rewards and long-term reinforcement,” Savage says. “The immediate reward can be a quick dance party, a walk around the block, texting a friend — whatever you’d like. But it should be a short break, just a few minutes.”
If your child with ADHD is in elementary school, you can help them study by sitting with them and encouraging good study habits.
Go through each step together. Guide them when they’re younger, and gradually allow them to show you how they can do the steps themselves.
Once they reach middle school, let them do this on their own. Create a checklist for them if they need it, but don’t hover.
“By middle school, it becomes a power struggle between parents and students if you try to sit with them,” Savage advises.
“Instead, be their guide,” Savage says. “Ask them if they’ve met with the teacher, but try not to get involved unless it’s necessary.”
“They need to learn how to fix their own problems. If they don’t, they’ll have a very difficult time when they’re on their own in college,” Savage says.
You can learn more tips for succeeding in college with ADHD here.
Along the way, reward your child as their grades begin to improve. Celebrate the small victories, too, such as completing an assignment and turning it in on time.
Developing good study habits is about much more than just sitting down with a book. It requires careful planning and assessing your body and mind before you begin.
Good preparation for your study session can take up to 30 minutes before you even crack a book open — and that’s OK.
Once you’re fully prepared, you’ll be able to confidently work through even challenging tasks.
So, what are you waiting for? Go find a comfortable spot, do your body and mind check, get organized, make a plan, and start studying!