By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.
One-size-fits-all study tips do not work for students with ADHD. This post offers strategies, advice and study tips for ADHD that are designed with the unique ADHD brain in mind.
Study tips for ADHD – what works
While the following study strategies work for most students with ADHD, you will have to experiment for yourself. Try one or two tips at a time, and then evaluate how they work. Remember, studying is supposed to be hard. If things get hard, it doesn’t mean the study tip isn’t working. It just means that you’re doing it right.
1. Start studying early
Urgency is a primary factor for motivation. That’s why many people with ADHD procrastinate. But people with ADHD can also become overwhelmed quickly and suffer from ADHD paralysis, which is the inability to act, even in the face of urgency. To avoid ADHD paralysis, begin studying for tests at least five days prior to an exam. This also gives you time to use spaced repetition, which is one of the most important study tips EVER – not just for people with ADHD.
2. Create a study plan and study schedule
Structure is essential for students with ADHD. Create a structured study plan like this one that includes what you’re going to study and when. Your study plan should also include time for gathering materials, consolidating notes and creating a study guide. Hey – guess what? I made you something. Here is my free Study Planner Template to help you plan out and organize your next study session. (You can print it or download it to use digitally.)
3. Get clarity
Lack of clarity causes anxiety. Before you study anything, you need to know what you’re studying. This includes knowing what’s on the test. If you don’t know, ask your teacher or use your resources.
4. Study in groups
Studying in groups is a great study tip for ADHD. Studying in groups allows you to listen to others explain the material and lets you test your own understanding by explaining your knowledge to others. Also, studying in groups is more active than studying alone, and active studying is helpful for people with ADHD. Important note: always plan group study sessions after you have first studied by yourself. Here are my top tips for studying in groups.
5. Identify what you don’t know
If you have ADHD, you need to study smarter and not longer. This means you should spend most of your time studying what you don’t know. This sounds obvious, but many people waste time reviewing what they already know, in order to get a false sense of confidence. Don’t do this. First, do a quick run-through of your material to separate what you already know from the rest. Then spend all your study efforts focusing on the hard stuff.
6. Study in short bursts
Keep study sessions between 25 and 50 minutes. The Pomodoro Technique offers a good study ratio for students with ADHD: 25 minutes of focus, followed by 5 minutes of rest. Repeat.
7. Switch up your input sources
If you zone out while studying, switch up your input instead of stopping altogether. For example, if you lose focus during a video, add the video subtitles so you get the information in writing. If you zone out while using Quizlet, switch to paper-based flashcards.
8. Study in the right environment
Our surroundings have a dramatic impact on our emotions and ability to focus. If you have ADHD, you need to be extra mindful about your study space. Use noise-canceling headphones to block auditory distractions and use a chair that lets you sway or swivel. Make sure your desk or tabletop is large enough to accommodate moving around papers, your device, and flashcards. Also, consider these study space ideas for kinesthetic learners.
9. Ride your energy waves
Many people with ADHD have atypical sleeping and energy patterns. While it’s critical that you get enough high-quality sleep (or none of these study tips for ADHD will do any good at all!), try to plan study sessions during higher energy cycles. If you get a burst of good energy at 10:30 PM, study for 30-45 minutes.
10. Time your medication
First, I am not a physician. Now that’s out of the way, if you are currently taking medicine to manage your ADHD, consider timing your medication to align with your study sessions. The more you can focus while you study, the more information you will absorb.
11. Use kinesthetic study methods
Many students with ADHD are kinesthetic learners. This means that you learn by doing. You can find all of my study tips for kinesthetic learners here. But in general, this means using the following study strategies and ideas:
- Self-made flashcards, especially the 3-pile method
- Whiteboards: draw diagrams, write and rewrite concepts, etc.
- Timelines: make timelines of book plots or historical time periods
- Do additional problem sets and practice questions
Study tips for ADHD – what NOT to do
There are many “study” methods that flat-out don’t work, whether you have ADHD or not. Avoid the following at all costs:
- Pulling all-nighters
- Studying for longer than 60 minutes without a break
- Starting your first study session the day before your test
- Reviewing your notes and rereading material as your primary study method. You need to be using active recall.
- Trying to memorize rather than learn (here’s the difference)
- Over relying on caffeine and energy drinks
- Assuming you know the material when you haven’t actually tested yourself during your study sessions using active recall. Again: You MUST use active recall.
More study resources
- If you’re a college student, check out my top 12 study tips just for you. (Yes, when you’re in college, you need to change up your study methods.)
- Here’s my free Study Planner Template to help you plan out and organize your next study session. (It’s totally free. It’s just a pdf that I send to your inbox.)