Study tips for people with ADHD

Understanding that neurotypical study tips might not work for everyone

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a person lies slumped behind a pile of books
A few tips to try if you have ADHD. PHOTO: Pixabay / Pexels

By: Meera Eragoda, Features Editor

While everyone who experiences ADHD will experience it differently, this non-exhaustive list will hopefully provide some new tips to try. As always with lists of study tips, try it out, if it doesn’t work, that’s OK. Take what serves you and leave the rest. 

ADHD brains tend to require a different approach than a neurotypical brain does, as they aren’t motivated in the same way by importance or rewards. ADHD’ers understand they can just give themselves a reward whenever they want. Instead of working within a rigid set of rules, they have to be able to game the system to introduce novelty and accountability, while reframing how rewards work.

    Diagnosis/General Tips

  1. Join the weekly Experience ADHD support group offered by Centre for Accessible Learning, Student Experience Initiative, and SFU Health & Counselling. While I have not been yet, this group was created to provide support and connect with other students with ADHD. Some of the topics they cover include diagnosis, tips for navigating ADHD, self-advocacy, and intersectional identities.

    Routine
  2. Counterintuitively, a routine is one of the most important things for someone with ADHD to get into. And ADHD makes it very difficult to get into a routine. The best way to hack it is to find a routine that does not seem like a routine. If I do the same thing in the same place at the same time every single day, I lose the novelty that my brain needs. So I rotate among my favourite coffee shops to keep things interesting for myself, even though the routine of going to a coffee shop does not change. If coffee shops don’t work for you, you can try whatever spaces work for you. Just remember to give yourself enough time to find the perfect spots and get used to them.
  3. Get going in the morning (or whatever time makes you most productive). Setting alarms is a good way to do this. However, executive dysfunction means all your brain sees sometimes is the numerous steps you have to take even for something simple. For me, pulling out my phone, opening my alarm app, and typing in my alarm can become too much of a hurdle. Though not everyone is comfortable with Google Home, they have made it so much easier to set alarms by just speaking a command out loud. This is especially helpful if you tend to get distracted and are always running late. 
  4. Plan ahead and make time to plan. This means figuring out a list of things to do. This sometimes requires writing down the steps to your various routines and placing them where you can see them. It means dedicating certain places to certain things (like your keys and wallet) so you don’t misplace them. Planning can also be fun because it can be a productive way to procrastinate a little and you can integrate fun stationary into the process to give you a serotonin boost.
  5. Start slow and remember, progress is not linear, so  be a bit forgiving of yourself. When you’re building in routines, try building things one at a time and give yourself a few weeks to get one habit down before adding another.
  6. Remember to feed yourself regularly, drink enough water, get enough sleep, and move your body in whatever way you can. One of the things with ADHD is sometimes forgetting the basics, which is why setting timers, planning, and getting into routines becomes incredibly important.

    Accountability

  7. I find it difficult to see priorities in the same way other people do, which sometimes means it’s difficult to get things in on time. One of the ways I work around this is by having coworking buddies and meeting them early enough to start getting things done earlier. One important thing about this is since most of my coworking buddies are also friends, we set strict rules about non-talking time. Another thing that works for me is going to coffee shops by myself. I cannot work at home because I will get distracted by everything in my house and coffee shops are a nice distraction-free environment, especially when paired with headphones. 
  8. If your ADHD is also paired with perfectionism, practice getting a terrible draft on paper, just to have something there. After that, go back and edit but having something down on paper will make your life much easier.
  9. Many ADHD’ers may relate to sitting down right before a paper is due or right before an exam and then hyperfocusing to get it done. If this has gotten you good grades, you have trained your brain to know that you don’t actually need to set aside a whole day to study. While you want to make sure you’re not cutting it too close, starting closer to a deadline might actually be the best motivator for your brain. Whenever I try to leave myself plenty of days to do an assignment in, I still never end up actually getting it done until the last minute. That being said, try and do prep work, like research, beforehand so all you have left to do is to just do the assignment.

    Alternatively, if this is not your experience or you’re studying for an exam, finding a way to split up your study sessions into multiple days of shorter sessions may be more effective. This way, it doesn’t seem as daunting to sit down to a whole day session but just two hours. This will require planning ahead and finding accountability tools but will leave you feeling less drained.

  10. Work with your tendency to procrastinate but also do not get in the habit of asking for extensions because if you get them, that will train your brain that there are no consequences to your actions.

    Novelty

  11. Pair your studies with rewards. So most study tips ask you to give yourself a reward after you complete a task. This does not work for me because I know I can just give myself a reward anytime and I can’t trick my brain into waiting. The best way to get around this is to pair your study session with a reward or to get a reward in preparation for your study session. So getting a coffee you like and then sitting down to work or using nice stationary and pens for your notes (or customizing your desktop wallpaper, apps, and theme). This helps associate study time with something positive, making it more appealing.
  12. Another aspect of novelty is to do things more creatively. Try and make your study sessions into games to see how much you can get done — like trying to do it within a certain amount of time or doing tasks out of order.