6 Ways to Improve Your Grades When You Have ADHD

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The start of your first semester at university is often filled with hope and anticipation as you start the next chapter in your life. Graduating high school and moving away from home to attend university feels like a rite of passage. However, many students find the excitement quickly fades as they realize how challenging university is when you are living with ADHD. Those challenges are reflected in lower grades than you are used to, and it is easy to feel discouraged, disappointed, and like university isn't for you after all.


Yes, university can be hard when you have ADHD. If you understand why, you can set up effective strategies to improve your grades and do better. 

Why University Is Hard When You Have ADHD

1) There's less structure.

There is less external structure at university than at high school where you were expected to be in class every day for approximately the same amount of time. If you weren’t in class, there were immediate consequences. In university, each day looks different. Some days you might only have 1 class, which makes it hard to motivate yourself to leave your room. 

2) Relationships with teachers are different. 

ADHD students do well in school if they have a close relationship with one or more of their teachers. This relationship provides you with motivation and accountability to do your school work and a supportive person to talk with if you are struggling. When you graduate high school and start university it is much harder to form relationships with your professors.

You are one of a large number of students, which makes getting to know a professor difficult.

3) Your classes are larger. 

If your classes are large and you don’t know the other students or your professor, it is very tempting to skip class. Feeling that no one will miss you if you aren’t there provides no motivation to attend.

Then it becomes a vicious cycle; the more classes you miss, the harder it is to push yourself to attend. 

4) You have less support from home. 

Moving away from home feels exciting because you have your independence and can create your own rules. However, it isn’t until you move away from home that you realize how helpful the framework of family life was. The need to be home by a certain time, having regular meals, getting wake up calls if you oversleep and reminders to hand in an assignment were all contributing factors to your success. Now you are learning how to do those things for yourself, and it can be a steep learning curve.

5) Academic standards are higher. 

When you move from high school to university the academic standard increases and so does the volume of material that you need to know. Many ADHD students never needed to learn how to study before. They were smart enough that they could get good grades by attending class and studying at the last minute for exams. 

6) Time management becomes necessary. 

Attending university might be the first time that you need to manage your time. Time management is a vital skill to success that isn’t taught in school. When you have ADHD, you have extra factors to take into account.

For example, people with ADHD often leave things to the last minute and take action because of a looming deadline. However, in order to get good grades you need to develop planning skills and the ability to take action without a close deadline. 

7) The typical student activities are different. 

Stereotypical student activities include partying, pulling all-nighters, and eating junk food, all of which will make your ADHD symptoms worse. This in turn reduces your ability to focus and concentrate on your school work. 

6 Strategies to Improve your Grades

Understanding why university is difficult helps you to feel that you aren’t a failure.

Your challenges are very real. The good news is that there are some practical actions you can take to improve your grades and university experience. 

1) Visit the center for students with disabilities.

Many students with ADHD feel embarrassed or too proud to ask for help. However, if you aren’t getting the grades you know you are capable of, pay your center a visit. It is there to help you. Once they have seen your ADHD evaluation, the staff will make arrangements for you to have the services they provide. These include taking your exams in a quiet room, having extra time for exams, or getting a notetaker for your classes. If you are offered a service but aren’t sure if it would help you, give it a try first and then decide if it works for you. 

2) Treat your ADHD.

Make treating your ADHD a priority. It can be easy to forget to do this in the excitement of starting university. However, now is the perfect time to start focusing on treating it again. If you take ADHD medication, make sure your prescription is refilled. Eat a clean diet, get daily exercise and practice good sleep habits. 

3) Remember that bigger doesn’t mean better. 

If you are thinking of transferring to a different university, consider smaller universities. They provide a more intimate experience where you can get to know your professors and fellow students. These relationships help to provide the accountability and motivation that you experienced at high school. Alternatively, there are often small programs within a large university that offer a similar experience. 

4) Learn how to study. 

Take notes in class because it helps you to stay alert and attentive to what the professor is saying. When you are doing private study or preparing for an exam, set a kitchen timer and work in 30 minute chunks. This helps you to not feel overwhelmed. When the timer rings, stretch your legs and come back and study for another 30 minutes. 

5) Learn better time management. 

Use a planner to remind you of all your classes, assignment due dates, and when your midterms and finals are. Set goals for yourself and review them every day. Use your daytime planner to plan your day and to develop a sense of the passage of time. Planning creates a sense of urgency, which helps you to complete work, even if the deadline is several weeks away. This is a skill that will help you as a student and for the rest of your life.

6) Let go of shame.

Try not to feel ashamed of the grades that you got in your first year. Keep focusing on the present and the future.

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