Study Strategies Revealed for ADHD Students
How do high energy ADHDers make it through the rigors of college & graduate school?
A few years back, I was speaking at a conference on ADHD put on by ADDISS in London and met a psychiatrist who specialized in the condition. She was one of the most high-energy “eccentric” people I’d ever met, and I wondered how she’d made it through the rigors of graduate school when it appeared she had such a tough time sitting still for even ten minutes.
She told Louise and me that when she was in medical school she’d buy two copies of every textbook. One was to take to class, but the other was to tear pages from. Whatever she was struggling to learn on any particular day, she’d tear out that page, highlight the important parts, and then stick it on the wall by her bed or on the mirror in her bathroom.
When I was soliciting “Hunter Success Stories” I was delighted to get similar stories from others who’d discovered their own unique ways to study tough subjects.
Bill is a high school student in New York City:
I learned this trick from my dad. When he was in school, back in the old days, the schools just gave you books, and you could keep them. Or maybe his parents had to buy them, he doesn’t remember.
Anyway, what he did was use a highlighter pen on the pages to mark the things that were important. He said that the opening few paragraphs and the closing few paragraphs of each chapter usually had summaries of what would be important.
Also, on each page you could usually find a few “nuggets” or things that needed to be highlighted. When you study, you just look at the highlighted stuff: it saves a lot of time and makes it much easier.
I highlight things during class as the teacher is lecturing, as well as when I’m studying.
In our school, you have to return the books at the end of the year, and you’re not allowed to mark them up. But my dad really believed in this system, because it worked for him, and he’s as ADHD as I am.
He said that paying for some extra schoolbooks was a heck of a lot cheaper than paying for a shrink or special ed or drugs, and he went into the school and told that to the principal and my counselor. They agreed that if this would keep me out of special ed, so I wouldn’t need an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan), it would be a good thing even from their point of view. They let him buy a set of books for me that I could mark up and not have to turn in at the end of the year.
A couple of other students saw me doing that and made a stink about not being able to mark up their books. The school decided that anybody could buy the books if they wanted them, but would have to pay for them in advance like my dad did. Now there are about five kids in my physics class who use highlighters like I do. We’re all ADHD, and we’re all doing much better.
Dan is a freshman at a southern university:
The way that my ADHD kicks my butt is with my long-term memory. I can read something, know what I read and tell you all about it, and then the next day it’s as if I never read it at all.
But I learned a strategy to get around this from a teacher I had for American Literature in high school. She required us to summarize everything we read, at the time we read it.
We couldn’t wait until later, and we couldn’t use Cliff Notes. She wanted us to read it and write the summary for the particular pages in the book the same night. It was ok if the summaries were only a sentence or two long, because it was proof for her that we’d actually read those pages.
For me, though, it turned out to be something much more important. I discovered that if I write down a summary of something I’ve just learned or read, I remember it better later.
I don’t even have to read my summary (although sometimes I do, and it’s nice to have them available). The act of writing it down, for me, makes it stick in my head.
So now when I’m studying or in class, whenever I learn something new, I ask myself how I can summarize it in a few sentences, and then write it down.
It takes a little bit of time, and when I’m reading something long it takes a lot more time, but it’s worth it. I don’t forget things now. Somehow, that two-step process of thinking about something hard enough to figure out how to summarize it, and then writing it down, kicks it into the back of my head where I keep memories permanently.