When my grades came crashing down in college, I developed a study strategy that helped me earn straight A’s.
As a speech-language pathologist, I specialize in working with children with autism. I have also worked with many children with ADHD. In fact, my own diagnosis of ADHD is what led me to my current field.
Looking back, I had gotten through 18 years of my life as an A student. However, I do remember receiving a few “satisfactory” (S’s) on my report cards in elementary school. I was “too social” and “chatty” with my peers.
Those S’s also came with referrals from teachers, recommending that my mother have me tested for ADHD. My mom spoke with and took me to several specialists, but they all said I was fine, since I was successful in school.
That came to an end when I started college. I went from being a straight-A student to receiving a 2.4 GPA my first semester. I felt like a failure. I was devastated and couldn’t understand why I got C’s on tests, while classmates, who borrowed my notes, got A’s. I also couldn’t understand why I knew the answers to 13 of the 15 questions I got wrong, two weeks after the test, when I had not studied the material since before the exam. Something had to give!
I assumed I had test anxiety. I was wrong. I was tested and diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 19. I was told that I was highly distractible and was a good candidate for Ritalin. Now I knew why I could hear a pin drop in a quiet room and have trouble refocusing. It drove me crazy.
I started taking Ritalin to help with note-taking in my classes and for taking exams. At the same time, I researched Ritalin. I wrote three papers on the use and abuse of Ritalin for my English class, which earned me one of my first A’s in college. Woohoo!
I was so intrigued by my ADHD diagnosis that I started volunteering to work with children with ADHD and autism. I fell in love with this these kids and wound up majoring in speech-language pathology.
With the help of Ritalin and my new study habits, I brought my GPA up from a 2.4 in the fall of my freshman year to a 3.8 that spring and then a 4.0 GPA for every semester thereafter, all the way through the end of graduate school.
I now own a successful private practice providing speech-language pathology and occupational therapy in the Washington, D.C., metro area. One of the things I tell clients is that the prep work I did in high school did not prepare me for how to study in college. I had to teach myself strategies to help myself succeed.
Here are my “CORE” strategies to help ADHD students succeed in college:
- C: Chunk it. Study in 30-minute intervals. Set timers and be conscious of how long you are studying for. Studying for 30 minutes straight followed by a 5-10 minute break before restarting will benefit you more than studying for longer periods of time.
- O: One week before the exam. Starting early helps to alleviate anxiety that comes from waiting until the last minute. Procrastination is a problem for ADHDers, so plan ahead to avoid scrambling the night before a big exam or presentation.
- R: Repetition. Re-write your notes. I wrote them once on lined paper and a second time on notecards. The more you study the same material, the more it will stick. By the time the exam comes around, you will be a pro, ready to conquer the exam questions.
- E: Explain What You’re Studying. This may sound silly, but I studied my note cards and pretended to teach the material (out loud while looking in the mirror) as if I were the professor giving the class. Doing this helped me to see if I could explain the information well enough to teach it to others. If I could, I clearly had retained and mastered the material. If I couldn’t, it was time to study more. I did this in the mirror, so I had two visuals in my mind come test day: my notecard, which I had looked at repeatedly, and myself “teaching” the class.
I wish someone had taught me how to study like this in high school. At least I figured it out before it was “too late.” I hope you can use these tips yourself or share them with the student in your life who will benefit from them!
This post first appeared on ADDitudemag.com on Wednesday, December 2, 2015. See it here.