5 secrets to studying better with ADHD

Studying for exams can be a very daunting and stressful experience when you have ADHD. You may spend much more time studying for exams than your friends, yet your grades do not reflect your efforts. This can leave you feeling disappointed, irritated, and disheartened. 

Luckily, there are ADHD friendly tips and techniques to help learning and studying easier.  

What is ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – or ADHD – is the term given to a common behavioural condition that is defined by problems with attention, hyperactivity or impulsiveness that are extreme for a given age. The illness is most common in children; however, up to 50 per cent of people affected will continue to have symptoms throughout their lives.

Check out the latest UQ Contact Magazine article ‘Embracing adult life with ADHD’

Getting creative can really help! 

ADHD is associated with ‘short-term’ or working memory problems. This makes it difficult to hold information in mind for long enough to do something with it. So, rather than trying to remember all your study materials in your head, try using some creative strategies. Not everything works for everyone, so experiment with a few and find what works best for you. 

  • Use movement to keep you alert (e.g., stand up, take a short walk).
  • Remove distractions from your workspace (e.g., turn off phone alerts).
  • Highlight important text with different-coloured pens.
  • Take notes or create mind-maps with the most relevant information.
  • Recording notes as voice memos to listen to as you walk across campus.
  • Create reminders for tasks you need to achieve.
  • Try reading an assignment aloud to yourself.
  • Try working with a study buddy with good study habits.

Planning is key

Actively plan time to plan! This is a useful habit to get into as it will train you to be proactive rather than reactive with your study. Planning a weekly schedule which includes time for study, work, fun, and other activities can help you get into a routine and keep on track. Refer to your schedule regularly so you know what’s coming up. Be clear on what you ‘need’ to do (e.g., exam, work) versus what you would ‘like’, or ‘hope’ to do. Remember to make time for self-care to avoid burnout.

Check out the article ‘How to avoid and deal with university burnout’.

Don’t wait until you 'feel like' doing something

Whether you realize it or not, when you avoid something and put it off for later i.e., procrastinate, you are essentially letting your immediate desires to do something interesting or fun, get in the way of doing what you need to do. It goes without saying that everyone procrastinates at times, but for people with ADHD, procrastination can be a particularly challenging obstacle. If you have ADHD, you may find it difficult to start studying for an exam or hard to start a new assignment, or to even stay on track once you’ve started. Remember that procrastinating isn’t the same thing as laziness or lack of intelligence. It’s simply a challenge that you’re doing your best to overcome.

Here are a few tips to help you manage procrastination:

  • Set a deadline. This will help you manage your time and get things done on time. 
  • Do one thing at a time. Rather than tackling multiple tasks simultaneously, do one task at a time. This can help focus your concentration.
  • Study during short periods of focused time. Set a timer for three 30-minute sessions of focused work with short breaks in between. Choose a regular time of the day when you are most alert for focused work.
  • Set small, achievable, and realistic goals. When you achieve multiple small goals that you set for yourself you will feel motivated to continue. Setting large unrealistic goals can be de-motivating. 
  • Break up larger projects. Big projects can feel overwhelming. It can be easier to get work done in small, realistic tasks.
  • Use lists. Try using a time management or list app. These can be helpful for structuring your day’s activities.
  • Take breaks. Do some exercise, stretch, relax, or phone a friend. This will refresh your mind and help you focus better when you return to the task. 
  • Reward yourself. When you complete a task, give yourself a small reward such as a hot bath, or watching an episode of your favourite show on Netflix.

Learn more tips to manage ADHD procrastination

Physical activity can improve study efficiency

Physical activity and exercise aren’t just good for keeping fit and toning muscles. It can help keep your brain in better shape too, which is particularly important during exam periods. When you are physically active or exercise, your brain releases chemicals called neurotransmitters, including dopamine, which help with attention and clear thinking. Physical activity is strongly linked to better academic performance.

Check out article ‘How physical activity can help you manage your health while studying’

Sleep is critical

Sleep is important for both short and long-term memory, so be sure to get enough sleep if you want to get the most out of your study time. Sleep has two key effects on learning. Firstly, the short-term memory (used to learn material when you study) is affected negatively by lack of sleep. Secondly, sleep is necessary for the transition of short-term memories into long-term memories which is what you'll be relying on when it’s time to take the exam.

If you have been affected by the topics covered in this article, find help and resources via:

  • UQ Student Services Counselling Team on 1300 275 870
  • Black Dog Institute
  • Lifeline on 13 11 14
  • Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
  • Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636
  • Headspace on 1800 650 890
Last updated:
1 June 2023