If you are struggling with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) at university, take a look at these top study tips for students from the Centre for ADHD Awareness in Canada.
1) Register to your strengths
Take time to research the modules that you are considering, meet your tutors, determine the average class size and read through each syllabus. Organise your course load so that you can tackle difficult classes one term at a time.
If you haven’t already had your strengths and weaknesses evaluated as part of the diagnostic process, visit the student support service at your university and ask for an assessment. There’s an idea of ADHD being linked to poor academic performance but this often isn’t true, you may simply require different support or focuses than some of your peers.
2) Stay on top of your treatment
ADHD is not a static condition and may change over time. Regular reassessments with your doctor or psychologist will help you determine if your symptoms are changing and if you need to adjust your treatment plan.
3) Get up and get started
Make sure you start your day on time. Set two alarms to go off in sequence – with one across the room so you have to get out of bed to turn it off. Know how long each morning task takes you (getting dressed and eating breakfast) and set reminder alarms so you know when it’s time to move on.
Know your weaknesses – if you are not good at estimating time, try some practice runs before the first day to develop a time log, and then add some time as a contingency. One way to test your time management skills is to create a time estimate of all routines and activities within your schedule (including travel time), and then compare this to your actual time log.
4) A place for everything
Clutter in your workspace makes it tough to stay focused. Keep this area tidy and always put items back where you found them.
Some university students with ADHD find it useful to create a ‘Launching Pad’ near their exit door for the things they need before they leave (bag, keys and mobile). Using hooks for coats, keys, purse, bag, laptop case, etc. will make this more convenient. The more convenient and visual the organising strategy is, the more likely you are to actually use it in the long term.
If you work best with visual reminders, find a way to organise things so that they are aesthetically pleasing but still within sight. If you need things in drawers, they should be clear containers so that you can see the things within.
5) Get organised
Being organised is key to staying on top of projects or studying for exams. To assist with executive functioning in this area, dedicate one folder for each class, using dividers to create sub-sections for different topics. Keep your notebook or loose-leaf paper in your folder. Carry a three-hole punch with you so that you can file papers away as soon as they are given to you. This will help avoid losing papers.
Many university or college students with ADHD choose to use folders with outside zips and pockets so papers and other materials have a place.
Try to only keep things in your folder that are relevant to the next exam or project. File that projects papers into a box file at home in a colour-coded fashion by subject and tab-labeled by topic or chapter. You can revisit these files as and when you need to, but you won’t be carrying them around each day.
6) Plan plan plan
Time management is extremely important for people with ADHD. Use an caladner in the cloud or on your Smartphone to organise your schedule and keep track of classes, projects, and exams. Divide long projects into manageable parts with sub-deadlines, then put them into your calendar and stick to them.
Plan time for each of your daily ‘to do’s’, including breaks and time for meals. Copy your daily ‘to-do’s’ (brief list, 3-5 maximum) on a sticky note and put it on your door, mirror, car dashboard or purse.
Again, practice runs timing yourself are very helpful in deciding on the amount of time required. Set electronic reminders in case you lose track of time. Bring it with you wherever you go so you can instantly add or change items. A project notebook or agenda is also useful if you can’t afford an electronic organizer. The key is to constantly carry it with you.
Monitor your ability to stay focused on the lecture or other class activities. One way to avoid distractions is to sit as close to the front as possible. If you have trouble listening and taking notes at the same time, audiotape the lecture and/or arrange for a note-taker.
7) Learn how to learn
It sounds obvious, but figuring out how and in what environment you learn best can really make a difference. Doodling in margins can actually help you recall information from a lecture. Use stars, arrows, underlining, or other visual cues in your notes if the tutor seems to stress a particular statement. Read out loud or while standing up to keep you focused and less likely to drift.
Pretend you are teaching the information to someone else or actually try to explain the information to someone else when studying to help embed it into your memory and increase your comprehension of the material. If being alone is too boring, form a study group or find a more stimulating location. You may have to leave your home environment to cut down on distractions.
8) Access support
A documented diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is considered a disability in the post-secondary system. This means that you can access specific support. This could include:
A special needs advisor who can assist with time management
Additional time for projects and exams
Access to tutors’ or other student’s notes
Being able to record lectures
Possibly alternative testing
Get your documentation to the appropriate office, well before your course begins, and get connected to an advisor. You may never have to use the support available, but if a problem does come up, you will already have the support structure in place.
9) Be your own advocate
Become knowledgeable about your disability and confident in and adept at describing it to others. When you are researching universities (or graduate jobs), review policies and resources for students (or employees) with disabilities. There is no need to be ashamed of being different or asking for help.
Get involved with university activities that will provide a healthy support system and help develop effective social skills.
10) Don’t forget to play
Physical and social activities make for a balanced lifestyle and add to any learning experience. Make sure to allow time for sports or outings – taking your mind off study and releasing any pent-up energy.
Physical exercise has also been shown to help with brain functioning. A daily exercise routine can help you to stay more focused throughout the day. Many universities offer a recreation centre or gym as part of your tuition and host a variety of activities. There are also many student-led groups on most campuses that tend to be free or nearly so, so you may review with the student life section of your university’s website.
This article was first published by the Centre for ADHD Awareness in Canada
Quotes are taken from AADD-UK – University and College Issues