Focusing enough to get your homework or studying done can be incredibly difficult, especially if you have ADHD. There are so many distractions, tasks, and little interest in some classes that it’s challenging to accomplish what you need to do. Unless you’ve got a task that you’re really interested in or curious about, doing homework can be frustrating and challenging to finish, no matter how hard you try.
The following lists of ADHD study tips and tricks are various ways that you can try to focus your attention better and get your work done more efficiently. They are strategies for stopping your brain from wandering so that you can study, do homework, or do any other task you might have. These ADHD strategies cover different subjects and styles with the intent of helping you find just the right techniques.
Every person with ADHD is different, so these tips might not all work for you. But try out a few different methods and craft your action plan. You may even find that the suggestions from different categories apply to you, so read them all and find what works best.
What We Review
Where to Start? General ADHD Tips for Middle and High School Students
- Answer your own questions. One great way to study is by putting together a study guide for yourself. Some teachers will create study guides for tests, so look out for those and utilize them if they help you. If you don’t have those available to you, though, making your own isn’t too difficult. Textbooks will often have review questions at the end of each chapter, and you can create a list of items from class or from your teachers that will help you study. Add up all the questions into a study guide and when you’re ready to review, go through each one. (That might seem like a lot, but the more you answer, the more prepared you’ll be!) These should all be questions aimed at the content that you will be quizzed on, so once you’ve put the list together, ask your teacher if there will be anything else on the test that the questions you have won’t answer. Make sure to write complete answers, too. Maybe include some photos or diagrams if that helps!
- Write, type, and speak it out. Go through all of your study questions the first time and type the answers out. Then go through it again and speak your answers. Then go through it a third time and hand-write all the answers. The process you follow doesn’t have to be exactly like this, but typing, speaking, and writing can be instrumental. As a result, this repetition will hopefully help you remember the material better and challenge you to test the different ways your brain processes the question (out loud versus in writing). Reciting the answer out loud might help you catch it before the thought drifts away, but if you feel weird talking to yourself while studying, have a friend read the question to you. Then they can tell you what you got right or wrong about it.
- Overlearn the material. Overlearning involves studying all the small bits: the definitions, questions, diagrams, and procedures. One way you can practice this ADHD study tip is by putting together a list of all the terms or processes you will be tested on and begin studying every little part. Break down every word so that you know what it means, how it is applicable, and how it works. This process sounds exhausting, and it is. However, doing this can help you retain the information so that on your test (and in life), you’ll be a pro on anything you learned in class.
- Become the teacher. Teach someone you know about the material you’ve learned in class. Whether it’s your parent, friend, classmate, boyfriend/girlfriend, or someone you just met, pretend that they know nothing about the subject and that you’re an expert. Then, start small. Teach them a few terms and then see if they need any clarification. Their questions not only will help them understand better but will also challenge you to think differently about the content and to realize anything you may have forgotten. You can then go back to your notes, review the bits you forgot, and re-teach that part to your student.
- Personalize your study environment. There are a lot of distractions out there, and these can make it especially hard to focus on homework if you’re a person with ADHD. Start by finding a room where nothing else is going on. You might find it more difficult to study if you’re in a busy place or surrounded by friends/family, so find a private place like a study room, quiet library room, or bedroom. Once you’ve decided on your study space, make it more peaceful. It’s impossible to “just not listen” to noises outside your room, and you never know what kinds of things may be going on either. Get some noise-canceling headphones to create a more quiet environment and to try to focus your mind more on just your studying.
Specific Tips for College Students with ADHD:
- Use as many senses as possible. The more senses you activate while studying something, the more your mind will retain and integrate the information. If you have an especially tricky definition, see how many different ways you can look at it. For example, let’s say you’re studying a chemical compound. Start by writing out what it is. Draw it. Then say it out loud a couple of times. Try to think of an acronym to help you remember it like L.E.M.O.N. As you think of the acronym, think about the taste and smell of lemon. If you have a lemon easily accessible, you could even hold it and smell it while you study the compound. By activating all of your senses, you’ll have that compound down in no time.
- Give yourself time. Never try to fit in all your studying the day before an exam. Doing so will just confuse and probably stress you out more. Allow yourself plenty of time to prepare for each test. Get a planner or calendar and write down when each assignment is due and when each test is. Next, you can create an action plan each week for studying to break up all the content and help yourself be prepared long-term for the test.
- Take classes you’re interested in. Studying for a class that you have a genuine curiosity about will make the process easier. It’s so much harder focusing when you find a subject boring, and since you’re in college, you have a bit more flexibility with signing up for classes you’ll enjoy. Make sure to register for a couple of courses each semester that target your interests and passions and also help you meet your graduate requirements. Every time you settle down to study, you might actually be excited to learn about the content, and that’ll put you one step ahead of your other, less-interesting classes.
- Color coding for days. Since you’ll have to buy a lot of your textbooks, make them colorful! You might not always see headings and subheadings easily, so as you read each chapter, highlight different sections, key terms, or essential concepts. When you look back, you’ll not only be able to find the information more efficiently but also might be able to remember the points more based on their color. Bonus if you choose to try out this ADHD study tip: when you’re writing out review questions and answers, color-code them in connection to the sections in the book. If you highlighted all your critical terms in green, write them out with a green pen, too!
- Listen to your study guides. If sitting down, close reading, and writing doesn’t help you to study, try listening. Compile all of the information you need to understand for your class in an easy-to-read format like a list or a bunch of paragraphs. Make sure you have complete sentences and thorough explanations. Then, copy and paste it into a text-to-speech software and listen! If it’s hard for you to sit and concentrate, feel free to do something else like walk around the room, mess around with a fidget tool, or play a video game (as long as that doesn’t take away too much from listening). Here’s a great, free online text to speech option.
- Hit the gym. Or don’t. Working out right before studying gets your synapses lined up and firing correctly. This means that when you get back to your room and try to do homework, your brain will be more ready to focus, and you might have an easier time concentrating right off the bat. However, you don’t even have to go to the gym to naturally be more focused. An hour or so after waking up in the morning or after a nap is the brain’s peak performance time. So try going to sleep for a bit and waking up ready to get some work done. You might find your mind is more ready-to-go than your body, but hopefully, you’ll be able to focus quicker.
- Record the lecture. This ADHD study tip is here to help you if your professor talks too fast for you to hand-write all of the notes. If that’s your case, record the speech so that you can listen back on it later. Not only will you be able to take more thorough notes, but you can pause at any time to think through the material the professor covered. Make sure to ask your professor first if it’s okay to record them, though! Also, sitting close to the front in class restricts your field of vision to just the profession, projected, and whiteboard, so you’ll be less tempted to watch your classmates or other distractions.
- Put the electronics away. While you might use your phone or computer for taking notes, they can be big distractions. When you need to study, though, they will make it difficult for you to focus on homework, so it’ll be better for your concentration to turn your electronics off and put them away (at least for the assignments you don’t need a computer for). Hand-writing the notes and studying quietly without distractions will be so much better for retaining the information.
What About Homework and Other Assignments?
- Find your space. Create a designated “homework headquarters” where you can get your work done. Make sure it’s out of the way of other people and someplace comfortable where you feel like you can try to focus. If you find a suitable space, but it’s boring, make it your own! Add some color or vibrancy to make it someplace where you’re more excited to study and able to concentrate.Ask yourself what you can change about that place to make it more fun. What helps you focus? Make the space more like that. For instance, light a candle, put motivational quotes on the wall, or change out boring folders for colorful, exciting ones. If you like studying on the couch, bring a pillow and blanket, or if you like studying outside, bring a plant and open the window.
- Make daily, realistic goals. Estimate how long it will take you to finish an assignment based on what it is and how long it usually takes you to do your homework. Then make a plan for how long you want to study and what you hope to accomplish in that time. Don’t do something that’s going to be impossible, like studying for a big test in only 30 minutes. However, don’t do anything so easy you won’t learn. Give yourself a real challenge. You can set multiple, smaller goals and then work toward them one at a time or choose one bigger goal and give yourself a more extended amount of time. After you complete each one, cross it off and take a break. It will feel nice to check off that goal, and taking a break is your reward for doing so.
- Keep yourself in check. Find a friend who can hold you accountable for getting your work done. Whether they’re working toward the same homework goals as you or just cheering you on, having them present can motivate you to keep working. Although, if having someone in the same space as you is too distracting, a sticker chart can work just as well. Create a grid with the days of the week and the assignments you have to do for each class. When you finish each one, put a sticker over it to show that it’s done. You’ll feel proud by the end as you look back at your colorful, sticker-filled sheet.
- Break it up. You wouldn’t grab a whole pizza and start eating it from one side, so why do that with your homework? Don’t try to tackle the entire homework assignment at once, but split it up into smaller, more do-able chunks. You can set mini-deadlines for each piece of the job, and it’ll feel less overwhelming in small portions than the task at large.
- Wander while you ponder. Adding movement to your study time releases neurotransmitters that can help you focus on homework and other tasks. So find little ways to do this! Try using a fidget while you do homework, move around the room while you read, or take a dance break during assignments. These can each help you concentrate and stay on target.
- Get a study buddy. Finding a friend or classmate to study with can not only help you stay focused but can also make doing homework more fun. If you and your study buddy are working on the same subject, you can quiz one another and work together on the homework. Or if you’re studying for different classes, that works too! Sometimes just having another person in the room can help you be more able to concentrate. (Just make sure they’re not going to be distracting and trying to do something other than study.)If you don’t have someone to study with, apps like Quizlet, Kahoot, and Quia can be great study buddies on their own and don’t require another person. Although, they can be more exciting if you invite someone to use them with you!
- Reward yourself. Who doesn’t love a snack or study break? Find something you love to do for fun (like watching a video, running around outside, or playing video games), and have that be your reward for doing homework. Every time that you finish an assignment or complete one of your goals, you get to have that reward! (What a great ADHD study tip, right?) But make sure it’s not something accessible at all times. If your video game console is right next to where you’re studying, you might get distracted and begin playing games before you’ve completed your assignment. So finding someone to reward you might be the way to go. Ask your parents, siblings, or friends to hold onto the device until you’ve proven that you reached your goal or project completion. Then play away!
- Design a plan of attack. Sometimes thinking about the work you have to do makes it seem so much more overwhelming than it is. Get a cool planner or notebook and write down everything that you have to do. Once it’s down on paper and not floating around in your brain, you can look at the tasks all laid out and see more easily what precisely you’ll have to complete. (Bonus: every time you finish something, you get to cross it out!)
- Switch between subjects. If you work on just one topic for the whole study session, it can be hard to stay on track. So switch it up. Divide your homework time between different classes so that you work on smaller sections of different subjects. Make sure the content is different enough, though. Studying math for half the time and English for the rest can be good to give your brain a change-of-pace and to stay alert and focused. But studying American history for half the time and European history for the rest will seem like the same old stuff (even if it’s different). It might feel like you never changed subjects at all and might get a bit confusing.If you only need to work on one subject, though, switch it up with breaks so that you’re still getting the mix of content that your brain needs.
- Take a nap, get a snack, or do something else. Respect your rest just as much as your studying. When you have tons of homework to get done, it may feel like taking a nap or playing games is just a waste of time because you should be doing something else. However, that break might be just the thing you need to focus better later. While getting all your assignments done is essential, resting is just as important, so if you’re feeling too distracted, tired, or unmotivated to finish your work, take a break and come back to it later.
The best way that you find to focus on homework and studying could be different than these suggestions. Let go of your expectations and try out different study spaces, memorization techniques, and methods for concentration to find what’s best for you. After all, your ADHD is unique to you, and discovering your most efficient way to study is a process of trial-and-error.
If you still can’t focus well despite trying different study practices, it might be a good idea to consider getting evaluated for learning disabilities. (Dyslexia, for example, is common for people with ADHD.) It’s also a good idea to look into what accommodations your school or workplace can provide or to find your own resources online or through those you know who also have ADHD.
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