Q: “My Teen Doesn’t Know How to Study!”

Q: “My 15-year-old daughter is doing well enough in school, but it’s always by the skin of her teeth. I know her ADHD is getting in her way. Tests surprise her. She doesn’t seem to know how to prepare or study. What solutions have helped other teens prepare for exams?”— PlanningMom

Hi PlanningMom:

Studying for exams is a juggling act, especially when it needs to happen alongside a student’s daily assignments and activities. It’s easy for students to drop a ball. This is why planning is essential for productivity and time management. I teach my student-coaching clients how to study by creating a plan using the following seven steps.

Building an ADHD Study Plan: 7 Steps

Step #1: Create a Calendar

I always start my study planning sessions using 8 1/2 X 11 unlined paper or my preprinted Study Planning Guide, which you can download for free on my website. Using paper allows you to easily see the whole picture immediately.

Working backward from the exam day, I have students create a two-week calendar if the exam is scheduled for the beginning of the second week. If the exam is toward the end of the week and they’re only planning for one exam, a one-week calendar beginning on the weekend may be all they need.

Next, I have students add the exam date and mark off any days or times they cannot study — Saturday afternoon, Tuesday after school, etc. This allows them to visualize available blocks of time and anything that might get in their way of studying. Finally, I tell students to enter the days and times of study groups or review sessions on the calendar.

[Free Download: Learning Tools that Improve Productivity]

Step #2: Define What Topics Will Be Covered

I caution students to be careful with this next step. Referencing an exam as “Study for ancient history test” or “Study for Mesopotamia exam” is too vague and can cause overwhelm or task avoidance.

Instead, students should break studying into manageable parts and hone in on specific topics. I have students answer this question: What topics will be covered on the exam?

The answer may look like this:

  • The seven gods
  • System of government
  • Religious system
  • Inventions
  • Cultural influences on other empires

See the difference?

Students can then assign each specific topic to a study block.

Bonus tip: Students unsure about what will be covered on an exam should head back to the syllabus, textbook chapters, or old homework for clarification and confirmation.

Step #3: Take Stock of Study Tools

Students often miss this step. Study tools, especially non-boring ones, are essential to a successful study plan. (Read more about study tools and how to incorporate different modalities or experiences into the study practice in the ADDitude article “Q: Why Does My Son Meltdown When It’s Time to Study?”

[Free Download: What Are Your Teen’s Weakest Executive Functions?]

Students can take stock of their study tools by asking three questions:

  1. What tools will I use?
  2. What tools do I already have?
  3. What tools do I need to create?

The answers may include:

  1. What tools will I use? (Flashcards, YouTube videos, attending study groups, review sessions, etc.)
  2. What tools do I already have? (Old homework, teacher’s study guide, etc.)
  3. What do I need to create? (Flashcards, outline, etc.)

Step #4: Determine the Time Needed to Study

This step takes practice to perfect because there are many factors for students to consider, such as:

  • Do I feel confident in the material?
  • Do I need to create many new study tools?
  • Is this exam cumulative? Will it cover material from the beginning of the year?
  • Did I finish all the reading required for the exam?

Step #5: Assign Subject Blocks to Specific Days

There are a few rules of thumb to follow when assigning blocks of time to a study schedule:

  1. Start studying at least three to four days before an exam. Doing so gives students extra padding if the unexpected rears its ugly head. What happens if there’s no time to study on Tuesday, but Monday is wide open? This also allows students the flexibility to make necessary adjustments. Study time can be doubled on Monday if Tuesday is jam-packed, or students can begin studying on Sunday, for example.
  2. Only schedule study blocks for 45 minutes to one hour. Students’ brains need a much-needed break after focusing for that length of time.

Bonus tip: A study group or teacher-led review session counts as a study block.

Step #6: Assign Specific Tasks to Each Block

The calendar might look something like this if the test is on Friday.

  • Monday: Create flashcards.
  • Tuesday: Review old homework and quizzes. Answer textbook questions. Redo old homework.
  • Wednesday: Watch YouTube videos. Review study guide. Attend the 4 p.m. study group.
  • Thursday: Take the practice exam. Review all material.

Bonus tip: On the first day of a study plan, set up and create any needed study tools. My student-coaching clients find that separating the setup from the actual studying prevents procrastination and eliminates the difficulty of “getting started.”

Step #7: Transfer the Study Plan to Planners or Electronic Calendar

This is a crucial last step! Students must have easy access to their study plans to see when, where, and how they will study. Make sure to add study plans to paper planners, phone calendars, tablets, etc.

Good luck!

How to Study: Next Steps

ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

Submit your questions to the ADHD Family Coach here!

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