For those of us with ADHD, studying can present its own range of unique challenges. 

According to the charity ADHD UK, there are around 2.6 million people in the UK who have been officially diagnosed with ADHD.

Staggeringly, there are estimated to be around 2 million more people who have the condition but remain undiagnosed. 

If you’re one of those people – if you have ADHD, or you think you might – this blog is for you. Below, we explore how ADHD affects your study process and outline some of the most productive ADHD study tips.

What is ADHD?

ADHD stands for ‘attention deficit hyperactivity disorder’. It’s a type of neurodiversity that affects around 3 to 4% of the adult population in the UK. It can affect the way that you behave, sometimes making it difficult for you to concentrate or making you feel restless or impulsive. It’s usually diagnosed in childhood but many cases go unnoticed so it’s often recognised when you’re an adult too. 

For years, when it came to the world of work, forms of neurodiversity like ADHD, Autism and Aspergers Syndrome were seen as medical problems – as things that needed to be solved and addressed. Some people even lost their jobs because of the lack of awareness about neurodiversity as a whole. Nowadays, thankfully, thinking has moved on and neurodiversity in the workplace is seen as a healthy reflection of the different ways that cognition (the way we think) – works in different people. 

In fact, the general trend is moving towards workplaces recognising the unique skills, perspective and traits that people with neurodiversity can bring to their work rather than treating them as something that is a problem. 


A smiling woman studying in front of a laptop

What challenges can ADHD create when studying?

Whilst ADHD is normal and exists as part of a spectrum of neurodiversity in populations, we would be lying if we didn’t say that some of its unique traits can present challenges when it comes to trying to study.

We want to stress right here, that with the right arrangements in place, ADHD doesn’t need to hold you back when it comes to studying. In fact, some types of online learning that exist at the moment might actually play to some of the unique strengths that ADHD gives you. That said, here are a few of the most common challenges that you might find you face if you have ADHD and you’re trying to study: 

You can get easily distracted

One of the most common things that people with ADHD find they struggle with is keeping their attention focused on one task, and completing it. With ADHD, you’re more likely to want to flit between lots of different tasks instead of focusing just on one. Whilst this approach can help you tackle more material in a short space of time, it can be an unsustainable study approach sometimes, increasing the risks of burnout and of not hitting deadlines. 

You can find it hard to complete tasks

A distinctive feature of ADHD is the fact that you’ll often find it easy to take on multiple tasks at a time but you’ll struggle to complete any of them. When it comes to studying, this obviously presents a bit of a problem because you’ll have time sensitive tasks that need to be completed by a particular time like coursework or exam revision for example. You might also end up procrastinating and leaving all of your work to be completed at the last minute – something most of us with ADHD are familiar with. 

You can find it hard to organise

Some aspects of organising can also be a bit of a challenge if you have ADHD and you’re trying to study – whether that’s organising your thoughts, information or just your time. Studying calls for quite a high level of organisation skills, dictating everything from the schedule that you use to prioritise your study through to what you’re learning and how you record and revise information.

Finding the process of organisation really difficult, and discovering that it’s impacting the quality of your work is one of the key hallmarks of ADHD. 

ADHD study tips

1. Use different learning methods

As this blog by the Attention Deficit Disorder Association points out, ADHD is a condition that thrives on stimulation. You can feel easily distracted because your brain craves a higher level of stimulation when you’re completing tasks than neurotypical people. If you don’t get this, you’re likely to become bored and distracted.

ADDA suggests a novel way to turn this need for stimulation into a distinct advantage – play into it by using multiple active learning methods!

Instead of relying on just one way to learn and work through study material, ADDA suggests that you use several different learning formats in one session to help you maintain your interest and focus. Choosing active learning activities (where you take an active role in your own learning by thinking, questioning and challenging information) rather than passive learning ones (where you just absorb information and pay attention) can help maintain your focus for longer. 

There are a variety of active learning methods that you could use to help you maintain your focus when studying. Some of the most effective are things like:

  • Mindmapping – where you chart the links between different types of information related to a subject
  • Spaced repetition using flashcards – trying to ‘cram’ a lot of small subjects in a short space of time
  • Innovative notetaking – taking notes in a way that keeps you focused, like colour-coding etc
  • Practicing past exam questions – thinking about how to tackle upcoming exams by looking at previous ones and devising a strategy

The article by ADDA goes into these types of learning styles in much more detail than we can here, so check that out if you’re looking for more guidance. 

A hand holding a pen on top of a notebook

2. Create a rewards system

Have you ever wondered why, as someone with ADHD, you seem to get distracted so easily. It’s down to the unique biology of your brain. 

The human brain thrives on a reward system and using this knowledge to our advantage can really help when it comes to trying to balance ADHD with studying. 

A paper by Robert G. Lewis, Ermanno Florio, Daniela Punzo, and Emiliana Borrelli called ‘The Brain’s Reward System in Health and Disease’ goes into this idea in more detail. The authors define reward as:

“a natural process during which the brain associates diverse stimuli (substances, situations, events, or activities) with a positive or desirable outcome. This results in adjustments of an individual's behavior, ultimately leading them to search for that particular positive stimulus.”

So, what does this mean, in plain English?

Well, it just means that your brain links particular activities or situations with a positive outcome, thanks to the release of a chemical in your brain called dopamine. When you complete an activity or situation that you like, your brain releases this chemical which makes you feel good. This in turn ‘primes’ your brain and unconsciously makes you want to do that same activity, or be in that same situation, again to experience the same thing. People with ADHD have been shown to have lower levels of dopamine in their brains. The lack of dopamine can mean that you are unconsciously always looking for more stimulation, to release more dopamine, making you get distracted more easily. 

You can use this science to your advantage when it comes to studying by creating a rewards system that taps into the way your brain works. First of all, break your study process down into individual goals and work out what type of reward system you’re going to use and how simple or complex they’re going to be. Here are some examples of possible rewards systems that you could use:

  • A points-based system: Think of a range of prizes and assign a points value to them. Think of study tasks and assign a points value to them. Every time you successfully complete a study task, you gain its points which you can ‘spend’ on a prize or save up for a bigger one.
  • Breaks: For every particular period of time that you spend in sustained study (like an hour for example), you reward yourself with a break. 
  • A target completed, a reward: Every time you hit a particular study goal, you gain a predetermined award

3. Set achievable and realistic goals

If you’re trying to complete a project, setting goals and targets can be a practical way to make steady and sustained progress, helping you work towards a deadline. When it comes to studying, goal setting can really help you to cover all of the information that you need, in a short space of time. 

People who are neurotypical often struggle with setting goals. For those with ADHD, the process can be even harder. That’s because achieving goals and targets requires quite sophisticated organisation skills and a sustained focus. There are specific strategies that we can use to help us set and reach our goals though.

A particularly effective method is to use the SMART framework when you’re trying to set goals. This is an acronym that stands for Specific, Achievable, Measurable, Time-limited. It helps you focus your targets and ensures that they are:

Specific: Goals are focused on one specific target (for instance, completing a specific module)

Achievable: Your goals can be achieved – they aren’t ridiculously hard (or easy)

Measureable: They can be measured to keep you accountable

Time-limited: Your goal is limited by time and has to be completed by a particular time

A woman with her head on a desk in front of a laptop

4. Develop a study routine

Routines might be seen as something boring, but they can be a crucial strategy in your toolbox when it comes to studying.

This exceptional article by inflow explores ADHD and how routines can improve your productivity. It goes into the topic in fascinating detail, so it’s well worth a read if you’re looking for more advice. 

Routines ultimately add structure to your study and they’re a useful way to tackle a project in a methodical, strategic and sustainable way. They can also, unfortunately, be hard for people with ADHD to stick to because of the science of dopamine that we’ve explored a bit above. 

That said, studies have shown that the productivity benefits that a good routine can bring are well worth the challenge of sticking to one. To make sticking to a routine easier, integrate it with rewards and a mixture of activities that you find stimulating.

For more advice about creating a routine that you’ll stick to, this blog by Victoria University provides some great tips that you can put into action, and this one, written with ADHD-ers in mind by Unconventional Organisation, is worth a read too. 

Get back on track today!

We hope that this blog has given you a better understanding of what ADHD is and how it can affect your study. We also hope that the main thing you take away from it is the knowledge that ADHD is nothing to be ashamed of. Many of the things that we consider challenges that it creates can be easily turned into unique advantages. We hope some of the tips we’ve included here will help you go some way towards making your study easier! Good luck. 

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