Published on ADDitudeMag.com
Keys to Academic Success for ADHD College Students
Learning how to get organized, study hard, and stay ahead academically is as essential as reading Shakespeare for ADHD college students.
By Michael Sandler
College Is a Whole New World
Even if you sailed smoothly through high school, don’t be surprised to encounter choppy seas at college. Now it’s up to you to impose the structure, discipline, accountability, and organization needed for academic success. At the same time, you’re nose-to-nose with an ADDer’s biggest challenges: term papers and final exams. Follow these tips to help you stay the course.
Register for Classes Carefully
Selecting courses well is critical for ADHD students. Be sure to take advantage of early registration if offered by the Disabilities Office. Review the syllabus of each course and evaluate whether the reading and writing assignments are possible, given the rest of your course load. Make use of the drop/add periods by dropping a class that's not working for you. Register for more classes than you intend to take so you can drop without rearranging your schedule.
Balance Your Classes
Consider your class schedule as a whole. If you have trouble paying
attention in large lecture classes, balance them out with smaller classes with
more discussions. Find out how each class will be graded – is it based on test
scores, essays, group projects? Try to pick those that play to your strengths. If
you have trouble with reading, math, or languages, don't take them all in the same semester.
Meet and Talk With Professors
Before classes begin, talk with professors about the
challenges you may face. Even if you are working with the campus
disabilities office, let them know about any accommodations you might need. Meet with them again before major tests and
papers. Doing so will help you stay on track, study the right material, and
manage long-term projects.
Get your books before classes begin. Look for copies of
your syllabi online, and use them to schedule study and work time for the
semester. Make a master calendar of all your tests and assignment due dates,
and include social events (such as football games) as well. Professors don’t always remind students
of deadlines, so make sure you keep an eye on what’s coming up.
Start Out Strong
In many classes, the first assignment may not be due for
weeks or even months. It’s tempting to blow off the first few weeks of the term
and assume you’ll catch up later. It never happens. Professors will ratchet up
the workload, and, during midterms and finals, you’ll likely have several big
papers or tests to prepare for at once. Get a solid grasp of the basics at the beginning
of the semester, and you’ll be on solid footing later on.
Arrive Early, Stay Late
Plan to get to class a few minutes early, to give yourself
time to transition before class begins. Often the most important points
or housekeeping details (such as an upcoming test) are announced during the
first few minutes of class. After class, stick around for a few minutes to clarify anything you’re unsure of, and listen in as the professor answers other students’ questions.
Schedule study blocks of no more than two hours at a time—anything longer, and you’ll see diminishing returns. Estimate the amount of
time you think you can stay focused on schoolwork – maybe it’s an hour, or
maybe it’s 10 minutes. It will vary depending on your state of mind. Set a
timer for that interval, and try to stay on task until it rings. Then take a
two- to five-minute break. Tackle the hardest subjects first, while you’re
Figure Out WHERE to Study
Think about when and where you study best. In your room at
night? In the library in the morning? In a busy coffee shop? Do you retain more
by reading, or by listening to an audio recording? Does your concentration improve
if you exercise first? Is your phone a helpful study aid, or a distraction? It
may take time to figure out what works best for you, but knowing your study strengths will help you make the most of your time.
Ask for Help
Colleges usually provide a range of support services, but unlike in high school, you're responsible for making your disability known and requesting accommodations. Don’t wait until you’re in academic jeopardy to look for
help. Visit the Disabilities Services office, and get the name of a person to contact for help. Discuss support options and come up with a plan before school starts.
Find Your Passion
Most college students do better when they take classes they
care about. For ADHD students, it’s essential. ADDers lose motivation if they
can’t find classes that excite them. If you’re not entirely sure where your
passions lie (and many young adults don’t), consider taking a skills or
interest assessment. Most college career services centers offer assessments or evaluations.
Use Tech to Keep on Track
Have trouble getting to class on time? Use the Wake N Shake and I Can't Wake Up! apps for your smartphone. Do you lose important items? Find One, Find All can help you locate them. Can't keep up with note-taking? Use a Sky Wifi Smartpen, which not only writes but records everything you write and hear.
Make a Cheat Sheet
When studying math or science formulas, make a “cheat sheet”
of all the formulas. During the test, write down the formulas first, before you
can forget them. You may want to memorize and write down a sample problem as
well, to help you remember the steps.
Make It a Game
For multiple-choice tests, use flashcards. Write down all the questions you can think of, framed in several different ways. Write down the answers on the other side. Quiz yourself, or get some classmates together and make a game out of it.
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