These are study tips I share with patients who have ADHD and trouble with planning, organizing and staying on top of tasks. And these same suggestions would be beneficial for most students and learning styles.
Review Before Bed
Studies show that you remember more when you take 10 to 15 minutes just before you go to sleep to review what you studied or learned earlier in the day. This doesn’t mean that students should do all their studying at bedtime, but reviewing what they have studied allows students to process the information as he or she sleeps (consolidation of short term memory into long-term).
Space out studying over time. A small window of study, daily, leads to greater encoding of information. Those who cram often report great difficulty bringing the information to mind when they need to retrieve it.
Exercise Sharpens Focus
Thirty minutes of aerobic exercise a day, four to five days a week, improves focus and executive functioning skills, especially in students with attention issues. If you are a student athlete, try to study after an event. Consider studying right after practice, too. Although any aerobic exercise will do the job, the most helpful exercises for students with distractibility are dance, yoga, and tai chi, all of which require students to focus on their body AND their mind.
Meditation can help sharpen focus and clear brain fog when distracted. Several meditation apps are available, including headspace, Calm, and Buddhify (these are available for iPhone and android).
Most people need to sleep eight to nine hours a night to retain (consolidate) memories, but teenagers and young adults need more. Thirty-minute afternoon naps can help. Be sure these siestas aren’t any longer than 30 minutes, since extended naps can interfere with sleep cycles at night.
Taking a break helps all learn more, especially those with ADHD. Studies show that students remember more when they take breaks between study sessions instead of studying straight through for an extended period. Having downtime enables a student’s brain to review information and material, even when she doesn’t know she’s processing it. Use your smartphone to set a timer for 30 or 45 minutes. During these breaks, do something active, such as walk around the house, stretch, or go outside.
Sip a Sugary Drink
A drink that contains some sugar helps homework performance. Sugary drinks provide glucose, which is the primary source of fuel to the brain. If you’re low on glucose, you won’t be able to focus or perform well.
Sipping Gatorade or apple juice slowly delivers glucose, without overloading your system with sugar. Sodas and other drinks with high levels of sugar (up to 10 teaspoons) provide too much glucose, which results in a sugar crash later, impairing memory and clouding thinking. So a slow release of glucose can bring improved focus and mood.
Smartphones are built with every organizational tool imaginable. At the beginning of the semester, put all the important dates into your calendar and use the alerts to remind you in advance. Set recurring alarms to wake you up or remind you to go to class. Use memo reminders, calendars, and lists to remember deadlines for assignments and exams.
ADD students have the unique ability to hyper-focus. As such, you run the risk of finding yourself so caught up in a task that you completely miss your 2 o’clock class. Set alarms for everything! Also, when studying, put your phone in airplane mode to minimize distractions like emails, texts, or social media pushes.
Identify what distracts you
As Socrates echoed, “Know thyself.” Does your mind wander in utter silence? If so, avoid the library. For some students, a quiet room with the occasional sound, like coughing, page turning, or whispers is more distracting than a noisy environment where they can tune everything out. If this is you, find a restaurant, café, or coffee shop that has Wifi and study there.
Do you need utter silence? Find a private study room in the library. If you have a hard time sitting still, a private study room will allow you to pace while you study without feeling like other people are looking at you.
Do you find yourself remembering other tasks, like mailing a letter or taking laundry out of the dryer? The key is to figure out what distracts you and avoid those environments. It may be a trial and error process, but keep trying different settings while evaluating your productivity.
Studies show that the distracted brain has a difficult time prioritizing. Sit down and make a list of everything that needs to get done. Don’t worry about the order. Go over your list a second time and number the tasks in order of importance.
If you have a large assignment, write out all the steps. This will help divide the task up into manageable chunks so that you are not overloaded with everything all at once. This will help you set realistic goals for yourself.
Write down stray thoughts
Our natural instinct is to find an escape route from unpleasant tasks. Menial things, like thinking about returning an email, checking text messages, or wondering what your dog is doing at home, pop into our minds and it is a temptation to do them “real quick” so that we don’t forget. Don’t fall into the trap.
Write down the fleeting, distracting thoughts. The brain is programmed to keep things that we don’t want to forget in the forefront of our mind, which crowds out the information you are trying to learn. These thoughts can easily bounce around, distracting you from the task at hand.
Any stray idea that you feel the need to address, just write it down. Get it all out. It’ll clear your mind so that you can concentrate on your work; if it’s written down, it won’t have to stay on your mind!
Get-up-and-move. This is a particular problem for those with distraction—sitting still can be hard. When studying, find a place where you don’t feel self-conscious moving around. Repetitive movements, like pacing back and forth or rocking in a chair can help you to concentrate and better retain information.
If you are attending classes in person, talk to your professor at the beginning of the semester and explain that you might need to stand at the back of the room occasionally. However, avoid doing anything that will overtly distract the other students, like tapping your pencil or sitting in a squeaky chair if you have keep changing position.
When given something to do, complete it immediately if it all possible, rather than putting it down to do later. Follow the Ohio principle: Only Handle It Once. Avoid the stress of paper shuffling.
Tension and stress undermine the memory process especially in terms of recall. If you find yourself tense up or get panicked when you first sit down with an exam or assignment, close the book, take a few deep breaths and calm your nerves. Use positive self talk like, “I studied well for this test, I will know at least some of the answers.”
Make it multi-sensory.
The more senses incorporated during the learning process, the more deeply the memory is encoded. Hearing and seeing the information is always better than just one or the other. Hearing, seeing, and having a tactile experience with the information is even better.
Translate information into your own words. This is a great one to do when looking through notes, studying for a test, or reading a book. Talk to yourself, or tell the info to a friend or family member.
The more you repeat the information, the better the consolidation, and the more efficient the storing and retrieving. One of the best ways to do this is by making flash cards. The following programs help individuals create flashcards on line: Quizlet, StudyBlue, and FlashCardMachine.
Visualization strategies are extremely effective in remembering information. When listening to a story, make a movie in your head to play out that story. If trying to associate one person or concept with someone or something else, make up an image that places these two things together.
This is particularly important when studying. To avoid overload, study one section at a time so that you can consolidate that information before adding more information. When taking a reading comprehension test, stop after reading each paragraph to scan the questions and see which ones you can answer based on the paragraph you just read.