I'm an adult student with ADD. Can anyone recommend tips to help me remember things for tests?


Jules Csillag, learning specialist & speech-language pathologist

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Great question! There are 4 major steps involved in studying, and many of them intersect with executive functions. Executive functions tend to be areas that individuals with ADD have difficulty, and they're crucial for successful studying.

Below are the 4 major steps involved in studying, and the best ways to go about them:

1. ORGANIZE Organization of materials and time can both be difficult for people with ADD or ADHD. Nobody learns well when they cram, so be sure that you begin studying for a test as soon as you know about it, and reserve pockets of time to study for it every day between now & test (even if it's just 20 minutes a day). Be sure to write "study" in your calendar or planner. Begin studying even if you haven't learned all of the material. The more time you have to review, the more you'll remember (since repetition & rehearsal helps memory).

Organization of materials is also crucial: make sure you have all of the handouts, materials, texts, etc. that you have used in the unit or course.

2. PRIORITIZE Once you've compiled all of your materials, begin to read them over out loud. Use a traffic light system and make 3 piles: red= material that you need lots of help with, yellow= material that you need a little bit of help with, and green= material you already know. One difficulty in studying is that people study everything, but I bet there's material you already know that you don't need to review!

At this point, you may update your study plan since you may realize you need more or less time per day to get through all of the material.

3. SYNTHESIZE One difficulty with memorizing is that there often seems like there is simply too much to memorize. Begin to consolidate or synthesize information: turn 5 pages of notes into 1 page. At this point, also consider your learning style. You may find it helpful to make a chart or other visual (for visual learners) of the information, or you may want to read all of the information you have out loud or make up a song about it (for auditory learners). The very act of writing is kinesthetic, but depending on the subject matter, it may help to make a map, construct a model, walk around, etc.

4. MEMORIZE Once again, time is crucial for this piece to work. No matter how good the strategies, your memory will be overloaded if you do not have enough time to memorize (or if you didn't prioritize and synthesize first).

Step 1: Reduce distractions. Turn off your phone and wifi (unless you need it to access class materials). Tell the people around you not to disturb you. Put on noise-cancelling headphones or use ear plugs, if you've got them. Do not listen to music.

Step 2: One of the reasons it is difficult for people with attentional issues to memorize is that they lose interest quickly. The synthesizing you did already helped you memorize some of the material you learned, but also keep things fresh by: a) studying things in a different order (don't always go Chapter 1-5, unless the material is cumulative); and b) using multiple strategies to study. Dawson & Guare have a "Study Stratetegies Menu" that I've adapted that offers up things like:

  • use mnemonics: a mnemonic is usually a funny acronym, sentence, or image that helps you remember ideas or facts. For example, I know the order of operations thanks to PEMDAS (Parenthese, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction), and I know the scientific hierarchy of taxonomies, thanks to this sentence: King Phil Came Over for Gold and Silver, where the first letter of each word in that sentence corresponds to a level of taxonomy: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Genus, Species.
  • make up a song: you will never forget the periodic table with this handy song
  • create a quizlet to help you with vocabulary and simple concepts
  • created a Venn diagram to compare/contrast 2 ideas
  • write bullet points for short-answer type questions
  • study with a friend
  • have someone quiz you
  • make a map, timeline, or graph (where appropriate)
  • fill in a study guide (if provided)
  • use Cornell Notes (these are helpful during your classes, too, as it will ensure that you are SYNTHESIZING early on, and that helps with MEMORIZING)
  • make up your own questions, and answer them later

The type of questions will influence how you study, so try to find that out in advance, if you can.

For more great tips, check out: The Learning Toolbox.


Dawson, P. & Guare, R. (2009) Smart but Scattered: The Revolutionary “Executive Skills” Approach to Helping Kids Reach their Potential. Guildford Press: New York.

Hallowel, E. & Ratey, J. (2011) Driven to Distraction (Revised): Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder. Anchor Books: New York.

Morin, A. (2013) "5 Ways Kids Use Working Memory to Learn." NCLD.

Jamie Martin, Assistive Technology Consultant for Students and Adults with Dyslexia

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Assistive technology can be useful for children and adults with ADHD - especially when it comes to learning new information and remembering it for quizzes and tests.

First, text-to-speech technology can help people with ADHD read and comprehend new material on a deeper level, leading to better retention when they have to recall it for a test. Text-to-speech with synchronized highlighting is the best option because it will help keep the reader focused on the text as it is being read aloud. Even if a person with ADHD does not have a specific reading difficulty, the multisensory nature of hearing the text while following along with his or her eyes while it is being highlighted can lead to better comprehension. On the desktop, Read&Write Gold and Kurzweil 3000 are examples of this type of technology, while Voice Dream Reader is a great option for the iPad. In addition, Learning Ally has many textbooks available as VOICEtext books, which have human narration paired with synchronized highlighting.

Next, using electronic graphic organizers can help people with ADHD retain information better because of their multisensory nature. Software like Inspiration let's students organize information visually, add supporting images, and use text-to-speech for auditory reinforcement. Inspiration also has several built-in templates that can be used to organize and review information while studying for tests. Those templates include a Venn Diagram, Textbook Notetaking, KWL Organizer, and Cause and Effect Diagram.

Finally, there are a number of options for creating electronic flashcards. They give students the ability to add images and use text-to-speech for multisensory reinforcement. Some even allow for the creation of multiple sides, which lets students include additional information that wouldn't be possible if they were using traditional index cards. Jules Csillag mentioned Quizlet as a great option for electronic flashcards. Other examples are iFlash for Mac users and Flashcards Deluxe on the iPad.

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