On the Path to Organization: A College Student’s Survival Kit
Going away to college can be scary for any student. The first semester can be the turning point for many: keeping your own schedule, balancing social and academic lives, studying appropriately. In short, becoming a fully functioning, independent adult. For the student with Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder and Executive Dysfunction (ADHD/EF) college can be even more of a challenge. Many students with ADHD/EF have poor planning, time management, organization, and study skills. How will they survive an experience away without mom or dad there to follow after them telling them what to do and when to do it? Learning these executive skills can make the difference between a smooth road and an uphill climb that can lead to academic probation, or worse, dropping out.
So the question is, how does someone with poor Executive Functions skills survive in college? Here are a few tips that will help any college student prepare for and thrive in the college setting.
1. Develop a color block schedule: Start with a master schedule that has the weekdays divided into hour-long blocks. Fill in the “in stone” or permanent, reoccurring activities that happen weekly, such as classes, practices, or work. In the blank spaces add chores, such as laundry or grocery shopping that can happen at varying times or days.
2. Scheduling: Once the in stone items are on the schedule, use a weekly planner to record all the due dates from the syllabi. Refer to the color block to see when times have been assigned for studying or homework. When the long-term assignments are on the calendar, use a “back mapping” technique to break down the assignment into smaller parts with interim due dates. To do this, start from the date due and move backwards, scheduling in the smaller components of the project.
3. Color code: Assign a color to each class. On the schedule, give a class a color that has meaning to you, such as green for Science. Match notebooks and folders to the colors assigned to subjects on the color block schedule. You can help strengthen a your recall and memory by making associations to concrete concepts.
4. Study times: Whenever possible, schedule study times directly after a class. This will allow for a “mind dump” — the chance to unload all of the new information still swirling around the brain. This is also a great time to jot down further questions that come up from the lecture and need to be addressed during the next class. To strengthen this strategy, try to schedule in a review of notes directly before class. This helps make connections between past learning and new information. Create mini study sessions during the week leading up to exams. Schedule them on the calendar and utilize study techniques such as interactive flashcards and rewriting notes to help push information into long term memory. The minimum amount of days to study for a test is 4. Make time at least 4 days prior to an exam to interact with your notes.
5. Note taking: Sometimes the pace of a lecture makes it difficult to take notes. Use technology: Record or videotape using a laptop or Smartphone and replay the video or audio and rewrite the notes once class is over. There are also applications that assist in note taking such as InClass, which allow a student to electronically take notes and organize and share. Some students can’t listen and note take. Try getting the Echo Pen from Livescribe. It allows you to record notes and turn them into virtual notes instantly. For the pencil and paper set, there are websites devoted to note taking techniques. Downloading and using templates from dedicated note taking systems like Cornell Notes or Reciprocal Notes will also improve organization of notes.
6. Keep it clean: An organized, clean, study space and notebook can lift a borderline student’s grade. Make a dedicated study place that has all the materials needed to study such as highlighters and Post It Notes, in a variety of colors and sizes. Clean out your notebook regularly. Using an accordion file to organize papers by subject. Refer back to the papers during mid terms and finals. If studying in the library is easier, make a portable study space with all of your materials.
7. Get organized: Create a notebook system that works. Put a slash pocket folder in the front of the notebook. The front pocket is for assignments to complete and the back pocket is for completed assignments to be turned in at the next class. If forgetting to bring assignments to class is an issue, scan the homework right after you’ve finished it and e-mail it to the teacher. Put it immediately into the notebook folder to help create the habit of filing your homework away in the proper place. Pack up materials each night before going to bed. Consult the color block schedule to make sure you are packing for the correct day.
8. Get some rest: Cramming does not have to be the college way. Following a well thought out schedule help can ensure good sleep habits. It is harder to study and attend in class when sleep deprived. Following a well thought-out schedule can help ensure good sleep– and study habits.
9. Technology: There are some great apps and add-ons out there. If you have difficulty getting out of bed, try Freaky Alarm. For students who get distracted by the Internet, download an app that blocks social media such as Freedom.to. There are lots of organization and scheduling apps too. These can help you stay on track of all of your assignments.
While many of these tips may seem logical, they might not occur to the student with ADHD/EF. Learning how to be your own “executive” brain does not happen overnight. Seeking help in these areas and following a well-designed program may keep the ADHDer on the right path.