ADHD in Higher Education — Part II
Welcome back to the second part of our look at ADHD in higher education. In Part I, we examined the difficulties those of us with ADHD often experience at school, including adjustments that the school, college or university can make to allow ADHDers to succeed. We also took a look at tools and techniques we can use to make the challenges of higher education a little easier for us. If you haven't read it yet, take a look here!
This time, we'll be diving deeper into a major area of higher education — exams. We'll be looking at ways in which we can make our studies work for us, whilst avoiding overwhelm and allowing plenty of time for ourselves. Let's get started!
Revising for Exams
Studying for exams — particularly during higher education — can seem extremely daunting. But if you get a good plan in place, you can get effective revision done without feeling overwhelmed.
Make a Timetable
Starting as soon as possible, draw up a revision timetable. This will stop you getting overwhelmed, or not knowing where to start. Talk to your teachers and parents to help you devise an effective plan.
I started revising for my GCSE exams ten weeks before they were due to happen. This sounds extreme, but the major advantage of starting so early was that I had plenty of time to get everything done. I wasn't spending every waking moment either in school or at home revising.
Properly-planned rest periods will actually make your study more effective. This is because you need time to recover from the effort of revision and allow the information to sink in properly, much like physical exercise needs recovery time to avoid injury and strengthen the muscles.
Starting so early enabled me to do a little bit of every subject each week, changing it up daily to keep things interesting. On Mondays I would revise science and English, Tuesdays I would take maths (alone, since it was my worst subject so it took a lot of effort), Wednesdays were for geography and German, and so on. I was also able to keep weekends mostly free — I revised on Saturday mornings, but always finished by lunchtime.
Break it Down
It's important to break study down into chunks, too. Sitting down for three hours to study isn't just no fun at all, it's actually a really inefficient way of revising. Research shows that studying is much more effective when it's broken down into shorter sessions.
In other words, those three hours are going to be much more effective if you do six 30 minute sessions with breaks in between, rather than three hours all at once.
Use the Pomodoro Technique
This is a great method of studying in small but frequent amounts. Set a timer for 25 minutes as you start work, and take a five minute break when the timer goes off. Repeat three more times, then take a 30 minute break (or stop if it's a school night, as two hours is plenty).
Use Active Learning
You might be surprised to learn that simply sitting and reading the textbooks for hours on end is probably going to do you no good at all. It's the most common way people tend to study for exams, but it's actually the least efficient — it's like trying to learn to play football by watching your coach play.
Avoid highlighting or underlining text, re-reading, or rote memorisation. Instead, engage yourself in active study by writing, drawing, speaking and listening as well as just reading.
Draw spider diagrams to connect things — like an important event in history with all the information you need to remember about it branching off — and stick them on your wall.
Read important information aloud, record yourself and listen to the notes later.
Summarise and Condense
Our brains work by making connections, and often a memory "jog" is enough to help us remember a lot of surrounding information. If you're able to summarise and condense large chunks of content into a few key points, remembering just those will help you recall and fill in the rest.
Make brightly-coloured diagrams or tables containing important information, and write out key equations or formulas you need to remember using colourful chunky pens, then stick them to your wall.
Research shows that practice exams are the number one way to study. When I was preparing for my GCSE exams, I went to my teachers and asked for as many mock exam papers from previous years as they could give me.
Luckily, each of my teachers were able to provide five or six papers from the previous several years. At intervals throughout my studies, I sat under exam conditions — no interruptions, no talking, no breaks, exactly as it would be in the real thing. We put a clock on the wall to time the exam, and my dad even sat as the exam invigilator!
The result of this was that I knew exactly the format of the exams before I had to do them for real. I learned how to pace myself so I didn't fall behind or rush through, and understood the sorts of questions they were likely to ask. The real thing seems far less daunting when you've practiced lots of times.
It's easy to put a lot of pressure on ourselves when it comes to education, and of course, it is a very important part of our lives. We're always hearing how vital it is to get good grades, pass our exams, try hard, and be successful. These things are all true, and education is important.
But it's not everything.
If you try your best but get a bad grade anyway, it's frustrating and disappointing, but it's not the end of the world. It's normal to find some things harder than others, or go through times when everything seems hard. Things won't always be easy, and you won't always get good results even when you try your hardest.
It's comforting to remember that these things happen to everyone sometimes, all throughout our lives. You're not alone.
When I was 16 and we'd just finished our GCSE exams, I was thrilled to find that I'd got all the grades I needed. But I distinctly remember one girl crying in the corner because although she'd tried her hardest, she hadn't managed to achieve the grades she wanted. "No college will take me!" She cried on my shoulder as I hugged her, "My future is over!"
What happened to that girl? She took an apprenticeship for the next two years, and ended up owning her own business before she was 25! Even though she didn't end up doing what she had originally wanted to do, she found something else that she really liked and got very good at it, too.
My biology teacher once taught me that life has a funny habit of throwing in challenges you didn't expect, and suddenly your life takes a dramatic turn. Sometimes those turns seem catastrophic — such as getting bad grades at school — but later on turn out to be the difficult start to a new, positive chapter in our lives — like taking an apprenticeship instead of going to college and then starting your own company.
So try your hardest, do your best, but understand that school isn't everything. Of course a good education will help in many ways, but you can always make a success of yourself if you're willing to adapt, eager to learn, and stay open to new opportunities — skills that the resilient and enthusiastic ADHDer tend to be very good at.