Study Tips for adults with ADHD / ADD


ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.  ADD stands for Attention Deficit Disorder.


People with attention deficit can –

  • Overlook the fine detail in what they are learning
  • Forget information
  • Find it hard to focus
  • Find it hard to prioritise the task they need to complete

People who also have hyperactivity  can find it hard to sit still for long.


They are cognitive disorders which affect a person’s ability to –

  • Listen
  • Focus
  • And in the case of ADHD, sit still

Cognition is the way that we think. So, ADD and ADHD is a cognitive disorder, meaning that the way an individual thinks can be different to a neurotypical individual. 


This can mean that people with ADHD and ADD can find it hard to –

  • Study for longer periods of time
  • Struggle to submit assignments on time
  • Find it hard to pay attention to lectures
  • Struggle to focus on reading course notes for long periods

They can struggle to study at times. Some people with ADD or ADHD may believe that they do not have the skills to study or that they are not able to study. This is simply not true. It is about finding the right strategies to help people with ADD and ADHD to study in a way that suits them.


Case Study

James has always done well at school, college and university, but he finds it hard to sit down and study. He leaves his work until the last minute, which causes him stress and irritation, but he finds it hard to change this.

He is very sporty, playing football, rugby and volleyball, as well as boxing.

At university, he attends volleyball training five days a week and played two matches a week.  He also attended boxing training twice a week.  He goes to the gym daily. 


He developed  by himself , techniques to help him to study . The main method he used was to study for 50 minutes at a time, then go out for a jog or walk or some form of exercise. 


This is actually known as the Pomodoro Technique. 


By doing this, he realises he only has to study for 50 minutes at a time and can burn off exercise energy afterwards.

At 23, James is diagnosed with ADHD.

He realises that his constant need for sport and exercise has been a way to try to control his ADHD. He has used exercise to get rid of excess energy.

Realising this has been helpful and made him look at the way in which he studies further. 


Not everyone wants to do sport so much, but there are other methods to help people with ADHD and ADD to focus on their studies.


Study Tips for People with ADHD and ADD

James has developed techniques for enabling him to successfully study.  They work for him, but there may be other techniques that can work for a person with ADHD and ADD.

Remember these are tips. Some will work for you, some won’t.


Pay attention to how you study, the best way for you to study, then stick to it. Everyone is different.


Let’s look at some of the tips now –


Your Study Environment

  • Find a quiet place to study that you use for studying only. For example, a desk, a room, the library. This helps you to focus on the study and reinforce studying behaviour.
  • As well as considering where to study, think about the environment in which you study. Some people like absolute quiet, others like the white noise. For example, sitting in a coffee shop where other people talking can be a hum of white noise. Some people find this helps studying, others find it really irritating. Some people like studying with music on, others don’t. Find out what works best for you.
  • Try to keep your desk or study area clear and tidy. This avoids distractions.
  • Organise your notes and books well.
  • Tidy your desk or study area at the end of every study period.

Study Alone?

  • Pay attention to your studying. Do you find it better to study alone or with others around you? Or do you like both? For example, you might like to study with other people for an hour or so, but prefer sometimes to also study alone when you really need to concentrate.

When to Study

  • Plan for when you are going to study. For example, look at your day or week ahead and see when you can study.
  • Consider what is the best time for you. Are you an early bird or a night owl? Do you like having a regular routine or do you prefer to study when suits you? We are all different.
  • Try to develop a regular routine. You may find it easier to study for short bursts, for example, 40 minutes or 50 minutes. How much you need to study will depend on the course you are taking and how it is organised, so if 50 minutes a day is not enough, plan how you will fit this in. For example, study 50 minutes, take a break, study another 50 minutes, take a break. Or aim to study 50 minutes in the morning, 50 minutes later on in the day etc. It really does depend on you and what works for you. If you are not sure, try different lengths of time and work out when you lose focus. 
  • Try to develop a regular routine. Aim to study at the same time of day or on the same days. This won’t work for everyone. For example, people who work shifts might find it hard to stick to the same times. But try to plan each week when and where you will study and stick to it as much as possible.
  • If you are studying whilst you work  

Maintaining Focus

  • Don’t study when you have lost focus.  If you are sitting there, daydreaming or looking at your phone or doing something else other than your studying, you have most likely lost focus on what you are studying. What is the point of sitting in a library, for example, studying for two hours, when you have actually only focussed for 40 minutes? So, pay attention to your behaviour and focus. When you realise you lose focus, perhaps stop studying for a while, take a break, then go back to it.
  • Take regular breaks when you are studying. If you are attending classes or lectures, for example, take a break between each class. If you are studying at home or by distance learning, take a break after set periods, for example, 40 or 50 minutes.

Be Ahead of the Game

  • Do not wait until the last minute to do your work. Say your deadline is the 8th August, why not set yourself a personal deadline of the 1st August to submit your work, then you are less likely to be late or stressed at the last minute.
  • Prioritise your work. If you have a deadline for more than one piece of work, prioritise what needs to be done and when. Stick to your plan.
  • Allow extra time for editing your work. If you try to finish your work a bit earlier than the deadline, this gives you time to edit and review your work – to produce a better piece of work than if you rush it at the last minute.

Making Notes

  • Rewrite your notes if necessary. After doing some course work or attending a lecture, if you realise that you haven’t got enough detail in your notes, review and rewrite them.
  • Highlight important parts of your notes.
  • Leave a margin on your notes so if you need to add extra detail, there is space.
  • Tell your tutor you have ADHD or ADD and ask for copies of notes or presentations or ask for suggested reading to get more detail in your notes.
  • Test yourself on what you have learned. Have you understood it properly? Make up exam questions for yourself.
  • If you find something difficult, try explaining it to someone else. You probably understand more than you realise.
  • Try active reading techniques – read the chapter or heading, skim the section, then review the main points. As suggested, highlight them.

Let’s review some of the tips here, specifically in reference to procrastination and time management.


Avoiding Procrastination

Procrastination is putting things off.   Most of us do it at some time or another, but it can be stressful.  The more we put things off, the more our “to do” list can build, so procrastination is something to avoid if possible.

  • Develop your plan and stick to it as much as possible.
  • Don’t put things off if possible. Try to do them earlier than planned or at least on the day you plan to do them.
  • If something looks difficult or tough, do it first. When David was a child, he hated eating vegetables. He always ate them first, so that the “bad” things were out of the way. Take the same path with your studying. Do the things that look harder first. Get them over and done with.
  • If you can pick a topic for a report, project or assignment, pick something that interests you.
  • Find out what motivates and interests you. If you are studying a subject and finding it hard to focus, it could also be because you are not interested in the subject. Think whether this is the case.
  • Study before you take a break.
  • Reward yourself during the day with your break, perhaps a cup of tea, a biscuit, a short walk, a few minutes on social media, whatever reinforces your learning.
  • Set yourself a time limit for your break. It should be 10 – 15 minutes. Set yourself an alarm for stopping studying and ending your break.
  • Don’t leave the TV on when studying, it can be easily distracting.

Time Management Skills

Time management is, simply put, managing our time effectively.

  • At the start of each day, look at what you need to do. Plan what is most important and work through your list.
  • If you only have a set period of time to study, think what you really need to do that day. For example, at the start of each day, Mel will make a list of her tasks.  If she only has an hour to study, for example, she will see which one needs to be done first and stick to that. 
  • Aim to finish your “to do” list each day, but be realistic. We cannot always do everything. So, think how much time you have and what you can realistically do in that time. If you finish all of your tasks, you can always add more on to the end if you want to.
  • You might find it useful to plan these on an electronic planner or calendar.
  • Allow more time for reading and editing notes.
  • As suggested above, aim to complete work earlier than it is due.

To Do Lists

To Do lists are something to carefully consider. If you have lots of things to do, or think you should do, it can be overwhelming. It can start to feel like a pile of things you never actually do.  Obviously, we need to know what studying or work we need to complete, but need is the important word here.

Look at the list of work you want to complete and think how much of it you actually need to do.

You might have ten things on your list, but what if you actually only need to do two! The other eight will cause stress and worry because you can feel as though you are failing.


If you do need to plan for future tasks, why not use other methods. For example –

  • Write them in your diary so that they are off your “to do” list for the time being.
  • Enter them into your electronic calendar on your computer or phone.


Remember tiredness can affect our concentration and focus, so make sure you get enough sleep. If you have the following symptoms –

  • Frequently yawning
  • Irritability
  • Excessive sleepiness

It is likely that you are not getting enough sleep.

Try to –

  • Stick to the same bedtime every night. It’s not always possible, but as much as you can. Many electronic devices and phones can now be used as reminders for when to go to sleep.
  • Try not to nap in the day, this can make it harder to sleep at night.
  • Eat your last meal earlier on in the day. It can be hard to sleep if we are digesting a heavy meal.
  • Do not try to study all night to catch up. Plan your time effectively to avoid the all-nighter. All that will happen with an all-nighter is that you will be overly tired, find it hard to pay attention and focus, so it has the opposite effect to what is planned – doing your work.

The Right Way for YOU

Remember, we are all different, so some of these techniques will work for you, some of them won’t.

If you are not sure, spend the next week studying as you would normally and pay attention to what works, and what doesn’t.

For example -

  • If you tend to get up early to study but find you can’t focus, perhaps you should study at another time.
  • If you tend to study for three or four hours at a time but find you loose focus, why not try the Pomodoro technique?
  • If you can’t focus at home in silence, why not try studying with friends, or in a coffee shop or library?

But remember, some things you are already doing may work for you. So don’t stop the things that DO work, just try to find different methods for the things that don’t work.




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