How to Study with ADHD

By Jeff Copper, MBA, PCC, PCAC, CPCC, ACG – July 31, 2023

Those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder typically procrastinate when something is unclear. Are you clear on your specific, methodical process of studying? As an ADHD and attention coach, I find that the more you understand your process with specificity, the higher the probability you will study and be successful.

The point is that you need to understand the way you digest information. You have to plan for it, study for it, and set those things up. I think you’ll find it’s a lot easier to go about the process of studying when you know how you do it.

If you’re interested in learning more, watch my video, “Studying with ADHD,” for my insights and some case studies that may be helpful to you.


Welcome everybody to this edition of Attention Talk Video. I’m your host, ADHD and attention coach Jeff Copper. Today I would like to talk about procrastination and studying and the learning process.

It’s fascinating to me over the years, in coaching hundreds of people on the learning process, how few people have any idea how they process and learn information. I find that most of them have a step-by-step methodology that works for them, but they’re not clear about it and since they’re not clear they just kind of wander around just waiting for things to happen.
Give you a couple examples. I think that self-observation is a little bit of a challenge because we’re not really trained to do that, but I want to give you an idea of maybe what some of this looks like a little bit so that you can begin to observe yourself and understand how you study.

Just recently I was working with an individual who I’d been working with over a period of time. It was exceptionally clear that they’re what we call a verbal processor, which academically is not a great term, but really means is not to talk, is not to think. They had gone to class and they had taken some notes and I was coaching them. I said, what do you need to do? I said, well, I need to go study this stuff so I understand it. I said, okay, great. Understanding is an outcome. Once you understand it, you’re done, but what’s your process of getting there?

I asked this person this question and we had had lots of conversations about procrastination and the fact that when they were unclear about something, how to get past it. This person recited a whole bunch of, well, I need to sit down and read the study guide, I need to read the book. I’m like, okay, I understand reading it is you’re doing it, but what’s your process of making this stuff happen?

Anyway, finally I said, listen, we’d done this before. It seems to me that if you want to understand it, that you need to go have a conversation with somebody about it and go through it and talk about how it all fits together. This was foreign to this person and thinking about it. They’re in college today. I think that the internet has really, and classrooms have really kind of stymied this, but sometimes the best way and the most efficient way to learn information is a back and forth exchange with somebody where you say, hey, there’s this thing and you describe it and/or describe it in a different way and then you get immediate feedback from the other person that’s either positive or negative that kind of helps you put it into a context that really makes some sense.

Often I’ve had people with ADHD who are learning actually go tutor other people. Which you might think is kind of bizarre because if they don’t understand it how they could they tutor somebody? The idea is they begin to understand it as they’re trying to organize it and explain it to somebody else.

Another individual that wasn’t in college but was studying for a real estate exam, there was two tests they had to take. One was a class test and then there was a state exam and they had studied for the class test and I think they passed with a 75, I think you need a 70 to pass it, but now they got to go onto the state exam and it was supposed to be much harder and you had to get a 75 to pass. The person was procrastinating in studying.

I began to inquire about it and I asked him, well, how do you study and they didn’t know. They said, basically, I kind of need to review my notes and to me that’s overwhelming because they had taken the class and there’s so much there that you don’t really know what to focus on. As I begin to work with the person and ask them questions, what became clear is they just really needed some type of clue to let them know what it is that they weren’t clear on.

In other words, they had digested most of the information, but to do the exam, they really needed to find out the areas of weakness. It really kind of came to going to take some practice exams, finding the problems that they got wrong and going back and studying only that material.

As we began to talk about this process and outline it, it was fascinating to me because a lot of their past, when they reflected back in their college days and other things, that was basically how they studied, was studying with practice tests and working their way backwards. By spelling that methodology out and knowing what happens, a person can then sit down and say, ah, I know what my process is. If you are going to go out and say you’re in a learning environment where in this situation where there’s not practice tests or practice tests that’s easy to find, then you can be go search for those things in a more creative type way because if you can find that type of stuff, then that’s the way that you study.
The point of today’s video really is if you have a ADHD and you’re studying environment, all too often people just think about, I need to study and I need to understand it. Which we understand once you’re done, you’ll have that knowledge, but you need to begin to understand your step-by-step process and begin to focus in on how you can take the class that you’re in and adjust it so that it fits in your study process.

Now, one other tip before we go. There are different processes. Sometimes it’s for memorization and sometimes it’s for compiling and understanding information. Which actually leads me to another point. When I was in college and I needed to memorize information, my process was simple. I would sit on a hammock in front of my house and I would look at my list of things to memorize and I’d say, okay, A, A’s the first thing I remember. And I would look up and I would daydream and people watch. I loved the people watch by the way, as they would go by. Then I’d go, okay, what was it that I, okay, it was A, and I would look, okay, I got A. Then I would go, okay, A and four, A, and then four. Then I would look up and I would daydream and I would people watch.

Then I’d go, okay, what was it, A3? No, that was A4. Okay, A and four. Then I would just daydream for a couple minutes and people watch and go, A4. Yep, A4. Okay, now A4Q, all right. I would go through that process until I got to, if there’s 10 things I need to memorize, probably about eight or nine and I’d get bored and the last two I would memorize when I was walking into the test.

Some people do that with flashcards but again, my point in emphasizing this is begin to understand the way you digest information, plan for it, study for it, or set those things up, And I think that you’ll find that it’s a lot easier to go about the study process when you methodically know how that you do it.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this tip. For more great tips, subscribe to Attention Talk Video by pushing on the button right below this and with that, we hope you’ve enjoyed this episode. Take care.

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