Ask the Experts

Q: “How Can We Hack Study Guides for a Student Who Bores Easily?”

“I explain to my students that the more active they make studying, the more likely they will learn the material and keep their brains engaged in the process. Here is one idea that has worked for them.”

Girl student with ADHD studying outside in nature
Girl student with ADHD studying outside in nature

Q: “My 14-year-old daughter bores easily, especially when she studies. I would like her to use other studying methods, but she really only likes and uses study guides. Do you have any tips for making study guides more fun so she doesn’t burn out?” – StudyMom

Hi StudyMom:

It’s wonderful that your daughter found a study tool that works for her and she likes using. Most students don’t effectively use study tools — or even know they exist. According to research on effective study techniques, more than 83% of students choose to re-read their notes or textbooks.1 However, the survey finds, re-reading is the least effective study method. I find this is especially true for students with ADHD.

As an academic and life coach for students with ADHD and learning disorders, I spend a lot of my time teaching study skills. I explain to my students that the more active they make studying, the more likely they will learn the material and keep their brains engaged in the process. Here is one idea that has worked for them.

The Study Guide Shuffle

So, how can we put energy, fun, and action into the study guide process? By doing what I call “The Study Guide Shuffle.” Have your daughter follow my step-by-step process for taking her teachers’ study guides to the next level.

  1. When handed a study guide in class, either grab extra copies or make copies on your own. If neither is an option, retype the study guide from scratch.
  2. Completely fill out the first copy using your notes, textbooks, and old tests and quizzes. Then review it and put it aside.
  3. Fill out the second copy from memory. Leave blank what you do not know.
  4. Practice what you don’t know and finish the second guide. Repeat until it is completed.
  5. Cut up the third guide into strips of individual questions. Put questions into a box or basket.
  6. Shuffle the box, pick a question, and test yourself again. Continue this step while making three piles: questions you know, questions you don’t know, and questions you are unsure of.

[Read: Make Homework More Engaging — and Boost Your Child’s Confidence, Too]

My students like this method because they find it game-like. I like it because it exposes what they know and what they don’t know. I recommend cutting up the questions so students do not rely on a false sense of security when studying the material in order.

Let me explain. Let’s say your daughter is studying the periodic table by reviewing the elements in the order they are shown on the chart. She might know all the properties of oxygen and neon but not fluorine. In other words, she knows number one and number three, but she is unsure of number two. When that scenario presents itself, a student will often move on because in their mind knowing one and three means they probably know two.

So, to truly know what you do or don’t understand, we need to mix it up. Start in the middle. Jump around. Break up the order.

Another bonus to The Study Guide Shuffle method is that it gives students permission to put aside the things they know. My students tell me that the sheer volume of what they need to study can push them into paralysis. Eliminating what they already know lightens their load so they only need to focus on the areas giving them trouble. I just ask them to review everything the night before an exam.

I invite you to check out our Study Skills Videos, where we cover everything from effective note-taking and developing killer study tools to planning for exams.

Good Luck!

Study Skills: Next Steps

ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

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View Article Sources

1 Roediger, H. L., Agarwal, P. K., McDaniel, M. A., & McDermott, K. B. (2011). Test-enhanced learning in the classroom: long-term improvements from quizzing. Journal of experimental psychology. Applied17(4), 382–395.

2 Comments & Reviews

  1. Other suggestions: Draw a Mind Map of the concepts in the unit, showing how they relate to each other. Create a song, poem, or dance to help memorize a list. Have some brief break activities available to help break up a long study session. (Examples: some quick calesthenics, music practice for one song or exercise only. Rule out anything that might engage hyperfocus, though.) In chemistry, it is NOT productive to learn the properties of each element separately, the way you suggest. (Any teacher who denies the kids access to the periodic table during a test is criminal!) Learn the properties like you learned the colors of the rainbow, one shading into the next.

  2. Also, instead of memorizing dozens of formulas for different things, figure out how you can easily remember one or two and actually DERIVE (figure out) the others from the ones you know. For example, for converting Farenheit to Celsius (or vice versa), all you need to know is the boiling and freezing temperatures for water. From that, you can figure out how many Fareheit degrees make one Celsius degree, and vice versa. (Thanks to my college physics teacher for that one!)

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