Exam Study Tips

For Students With ADHD

Overcome challenges by figuring out what study techniques work best for you.. Photo © Microsoft

If you have ADHD you probably spend more time and effort studying for exams than the student without ADHD. Unfortunately, for many students with ADHD all that effort spent preparing and readying for those exams sometimes ends up producing less than stellar results. The grade on the exam may then be nearly as frustrating as dealing with the “study harder” feedback from those who don’t understand how hard you have worked.

Just reading and remembering the material, figuring out what topics are most important to study, organizing yourself, keeping on track and consciously refocusing on the task at hand – all these basics that other students may do without second thought can be more challenging for someone with ADHD.

Finding the best way to study, understand and absorb information is an individualized process, but here are some general tips that may help you on your next exam.

Exam Study Tips

  • Ask the teacher for specific information about what topic areas will be covered on the exam. Ask specifically which chapters or readings will be covered. Or will the lectures be the primary source for the exam? Or a combination? If a review sheet has been provided, ask the teacher for help in prioritizing areas to study. If you don’t have a review sheet, pull together handouts, old quizzes, assignments on the topic, and the class syllabus. Bring these with you when you meet with the teacher to get help in prioritizing areas of study for the test.
  • If you have been able to identify a student in the class who is organized, good at note taking and a generally kind and open person, partner up with her, ask if she would be willing to share a copy of her study guide and class notes to help you prepare for the exam.
  • Ask the teacher about the format of the exam. What type of questions should you expect? Will it be multiple choice? Essay? Sets of problems to solve? Will you need to memorize facts or apply them? Define terms or compare and contrast? Argue and support points? This will give you more information about how to study.
  • Once you get down to the actual study time, you’ll need to figure out what strategies work best for you. For many students with ADHD, getting started and staying focused while studying is a big part of the equation. Start by breaking down study items into manageable chunks so it doesn’t feel so overwhelming. Get help doing this if you need it. Set up an exam study schedule. Some people do better getting the harder, less known areas of study out of the way first. Others feel more motivated when they are able to get the easier or more interesting aspects completed first.
  • Once the studying begins, be sure to structure in regular study breaks where you can get up and walk around – or even do jumping jacks. Don’t be afraid to use a timer. Set it to go off after 30 minutes of studying (or whatever amount of time works best for you), then take a break. Some students find that a small reward after a period of study helps.
  • Try to find a study area that is free from distractions. You may work best with a fidget item in your hand, listening to music, chewing gum, or moving around while you study. Find techniques that work for you. Be sure to also talk with your doctor if you are finding that maintaining focus is a struggle that is consistently interfering with your learning.
  • Think about your learning style and what will match up with the material you need to learn. Simple flash cards made from index cards are often helpful when you need to memorize terms, definitions or theories. Outlines are helpful in preparing for essay exams. You might even use a more visual strategy by drawing out diagrams and pictures to help in learning. Some people learn best by talking out the concepts. Some prefer writing or hearing the material again and again. Mnemonics are another useful tool in remembering difficult-to-remember information.
  • Study groups, when they are organized and focused, can often improve learning. If larger groups are uncomfortable, you might find that studying with a friend helps you stay on track. “Teaching” the material to another student can also aid in learning. You may also want to explore the possibility of a tutor to help you organize your thoughts, prioritize study topics, and help keep you focused.
  • Though cramming the night before may help in remembering specific facts, try to avoid the all nighters especially the night before an exam. If possible, prepare your book bag (making sure you have any necessary items such as pencils, paper, id, energy bar, water, etc.), set it by the door the night before the exam and get a good night’s rest. Regular exercise and good nutrition are always additional benefits in managing ADHD symptoms, as well.
  • Don’t forget to explore accommodations that may be available to you throughout the school year.
  • One you get the exam back set up a time to meet with your teacher to review your results. Try to sort out where any breakdown occurred. Ask for feedback on how you might have responded more comprehensively on essay sections and for any other recommendations your teacher may have to help. Advocating for yourself in this way not only helps give you more information about what you can do to better your performance on the next test, it also lets your teacher know you are invested and motivated to learn.


Jonathan Mooney and David Cole. Learning Outside the Lines. Simon & Schuster. 2000

Michael Sandler. College Confidence with ADD. Sourcebooks 2008

Stephanie Sarkis, PhD. Making the Grade with ADD: A Student’s Guide to Succeeding in College with Attention Deficit Disorder. New Harbinger 2008

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