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College Students With ADHD


Updated June 19, 2014

Study Smarter Not Harder

Boredom and working memory are both issues for most people with ADHD. Research shows that multi-modal learning helps people learn and remember. So, rather than trying harder to force the information into your head, get creative. Wright gives these examples of creative ways to study and remember what you studied:
  • As you read highlight the text with different colors
  • Make notes and doodle them
  • Make audio notes with iphones or other recorders and review them as you walk across campus
  • Use mnemonics to create funny ways to remember stuff
  • Try standing up while you read
  • Try reading the assignment aloud to yourself using an expressive (not boring) voice
  • If you can, get the audio version of the book and listen to it while you take notes and/or exercise (a treadmill can help here)
  • Get a study buddy

Not everything works for every person, but do try mixing it up and see what happens. Wright also points out that taking study breaks every couple of hours and getting enough sleep are part of studying smarter, not harder. Sleep impacts learning in two ways. First, sleep deprivation has a negative impact on short term memory, which is what you’re using to learn the material when you study. Second, sleep is needed to move short term memories into long term memory, which is what you’ll be relying on come test time. So be sure to get enough sleep if you want to get the most out of your study time.

Schedule Your Study Time

Many students with ADHD are quite smart. They can often pull a passing grade in high school (or even a good one) just cramming the night before the tests. Odds are that strategy won’t work in college. Wright says a good rule of thumb for college is 2-2.5 hours of study time per week for every unit of course credit. “Basically, you should think of college as a job and plan to spend at least 40 hours a week on classes and class work,” she says. “What works for many students is to actually treat college as a job: for 9 hours a day, five days a week you’re working on school, which means during the day when you’re not in classes you’re somewhere studying or catching a quick bite to eat. Then you get to have the evenings and weekends off. If you like to play sports, you’ll have to make up those study hours spent on sports sometime. As long as you block out the requisite number of hours somewhere in your daily schedule and remember that school is your job, you should be fine.”

Plan Your Time to Keep on Track: Assess and Prioritize

It may sound strange, but it is very important to actively plan time to plan. If you don’t develop this habit, you’ll find yourself always being reactive rather than proactive. Wright suggests doing a high level plan for the week Monday morning, and for the weekend on Friday. Then doing a daily review of that plan over breakfast—possibly adding pertinent details—to make sure you know what’s coming your way that day. When you can assess what you need to do versus all that you could do, then you can prioritize what needs to be done first and take care of it.

Sticking to Your Plan

With ADHD, this is always the hard part. If you like rewards, use them. For instance, you can tell yourself, “I’ll read for 2 hours and then go to the coffee house.” You can negotiate rewards for good grades with your parents. If you’re competitive, use that. Pick some other student in your class whom you want to do better than and go for it. If you know you respond to social pressure, make plans with classmates to study together so you won’t let them down. Make appointments with tutors for the same reason. You may not need tutoring, but you may need structured study time. As these tips illustrate, there are all sorts of ways to help you stick with your plan. Sticking to your plan is also where a coach might come in handy.

ADHD Coaching in College

There is growing evidence, both research and anecdotal, that ADHD coaching can be a vital strategy in helping students learn to plan, prioritize and persist (follow the plan). Coaching helps students develop greater self-determination and direction. It reduces the overwhelm and anxiety many ADHD students feel and increases self confidence and self sufficiency.

What is so powerful about ADHD coaching is that through the process of being coached, students “learn how to coach themselves.” They learn the skills they need to be self sufficient and successful and actually strengthen their executive functioning skills in the process. “If you can develop your executive functioning, you can be more successful in more areas all on your own,” explains Wright. This is the strength ADHD coaching brings into an individual’s life.

Another bonus – because many coaches work on the phone, you can "take your coach with you" wherever you go. Unfortunately, it is surprisingly easy for students with ADHD to fall behind quickly without even realizing it. Being proactive and getting strategies in place early on to help ensure success is so much more effective than trying to dig out of a hole or correct failing grades. Consider getting started with an ADHD coach to help make the transition to college life a happy, successful and productive one.


Sarah D. Wright, MS, ACT. Edge Foundation. Email correspondence/interview. August 17 and 21, 2009.

Chris A. Zeigler Dendy, MS. “ADHD, Executive Function and School Success.” Attention Magazine. February 2008

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