Exam Study Tips for Students With ADHD

ADHD student checking exam results
I love Images. Getty Images

Studying for exams can be a very stressful experience when you have ADHD. You might find you spend much more time studying for exams than other students, yet your grades do not reflect your effort. This can leave you feeling disappointed, frustrated and demotivated.

4 Challenging Areas Are...

  • Deciding what topics are most important to study
  • Studying for the exam in the weeks leading before the exam (rather than waiting to the last minute)
  • Being able to sit down and focus on studying
  • Reading and remembering the material

Here are some ADHD friendly tips to help you study for your exams. 

1) At the Beginning of The Semester

Connect With Your Teacher

Preparing for exams starts early!  At the beginning of the semester or school year, make a point of introducing yourself to your teacher.  A positive, communicative relationship with your teacher or professor can make a big difference, especially if they are knowledgeable about learning issues that can be associated with ADHD. If not, share with them what areas are more difficult for you and the strategies you are using to help with learning. This lets your teacher know you are being proactive and are invested in doing well in class. It also corrects any misperceptions the teacher may have as sometimes ADHD behavior,can look like you are not motivated or interested, such as  arriving a few minutes late for class, gazing out of the window or missing a deadline.


Class Notes

Taking notes in class can be hard when you have ADHD. If you are eligible for student accommodations, you might be given a scribe.  This is when the office of student disabilities arranges for a student in your class to give you a copy of their notes. However, if you do not get this accommodation formally,  why not  identify a student in the class who is organized and good at note taking, and ask if they would be willing to share notes.

Getting the class notes is an important part of preparing for exams.

2) Approximately 1 month Before The Exam


As an exam date moves closer, ask your teacher for specific information about what topic areas will be covered on the exam. 

For example:

Which chapters or readings will be in the exam?

Will the lectures be the primary source for the exam? 

If your teacher has given out a review sheet, ask for their help so you can prioritize areas to study.

If you don’t have a review sheet, gather 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.


Ask the teacher about the format of the exam and what type of questions should you expect. Will it be multiple choice,essay or sets of problems to solve? Will you need to memorize facts or apply them? Will you need to define terms,  compare and contrast or argue and support points? This will give you more information about how to study.


Some students skip the planning phase because they want to use their time to study. However, planning takes a relatively short amount of time, and it will help to you avoid all-nighters and anxiety the exam day approaches.

During your planning time, break down the material you need to study  into manageable chunks so it doesn’t feel so overwhelming. Get help doing this if you need it, perhaps a friend, tutor,  teacher, coach or parent. Set up an exam study schedule. 

Decide what you will study first. 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.

For many students with ADHD, getting started and staying focused while studying is a big part of the equation. Planning when you are going to study and what you will study in that time helps reduce procrastination and aids focus.

How to Study

When it is time to study, work in short blocks of time and then take a mini break. For example, set a timer to go off after 30 minutes of studying (or whatever amount of time works best for you) and then take a break. During your breaks, get up and walk around – or even do some jumping jacks, then study again for another 30 minutes. Some students find that a small reward after a period of study helps to motivate them to study.


Find a study area that helps you to focus. For some people that is a place that is free from distractions. Other students find they can concentrate best in a busy area, such as the library or a coffee shop. Other people like to vary their location.

Learning Strategies

Think about your learning style and how to  match it 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. 
  • Other ideas that can help you retain information include:
  • Drawing diagrams and pictures 
  • Explaining the concepts to a friend 
  • Writing or hearing the material again and again 
  • Using mnemonics for difficult-to-remember information

Study Groups

There are pros and cons to studying in groups. When they are organized and focused, they 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.

3) The Night Before Exam Day.

  • Pack your book bag with all your necessary items such as pencils, paper, id, energy bar, water, and anything else you’ll need and set it by the door.
  • Instead of staying up all night studying, go to bed and get some sleep.

4) Day of The Exam

  • Eat some protein for breakfast.
  • Arrive at the exam room a little early so that you will  feel calm and organized.
  • Good luck!

5) After The Exam

Once you get the exam back, arrange a time to meet with your teacher to review your results. 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 improve your performance on the next test, it also lets your teacher know you are invested and motivated to learn.


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

Continue Reading