10 Steps To Help Take the Sting Out of Studying!
A Plan for Students Who Struggle with Executive Functioning Challenges
It’s no secret that individuals with executive functioning issues have a tendency to struggle in school! It is because acquiring new knowledge requires planning, prioritizing, and learning new material – which can be a challenge for individuals that already struggle to organize information and connect it all in the deeper regions of the brain. Studying is a crucial part of putting information all together- synthesizing it- which is often a struggle for people with executive functioning challenges.
Individuals struggling with executive functioning might find it difficult to plan ahead, maintain focus, manage their time effectively, set personal & professional goals, or even get organized. However, there is Good News– There are practices that you can be put into place to make studying more effective and learning more enjoyable.
10 steps to take the sting out of studying!
These strategies can help individuals with executive functioning challenges (or other unique learning needs, for that matter) to study more effectively.
1. Get Used to the ‘P’ Word- PLAN
One of the best ways to become better at studying is to Plan.
Rather than mindlessly flipping through pages in a textbook, or skimming online flashcards for 2 minutes, or rereading tons of information – all practices that may be helpful, but probably won’t yield the best results – Come up with a plan that takes a more targeted approach.
Review past tests you have had in the class or course and pay attention to the format the teacher uses. If it is a first test, ask the teacher how you will be accessed. This way, when you study, you can replicate how you will be tested (fill in the blank/ essay/true or false, etc.), and visually map out the exam and organize how to study in advance.
Map your Plan. This means building in a daily, weekly, or even longer-term schedule that takes into account all classes and upcoming exams. By creating a map that dedicates study time to each class, you will be more likely to sit down and study, since it is now part of your regular routine.
Not only that, but this will reduce the likelihood of having to participate in the dreaded “cram session” which should be avoided at all costs. More about that later in this article.
2. Do a Rewrite of Your Notes
This is a top notch study tip that works for all learners – not just people with executive functioning challenges.
Rewriting notes is a great way to review information that may be on the test. Writing things down is one of the best ways to transfer information from short-term into long-term memory.
Rewriting your notes is an ACTIVE process that allows the brain to be engaged, where just rereading is more of a passive process. Rather than just skimming over sections of the textbook or other materials your are using to prepare for a test, this active behavior allows you to use your tactile senses to engrain the information more permanently.
It may also help to use colored pens and drawings when rewriting notes – color code important vocabulary, dates, themes or information highlighted by the teacher.
3. Make Flashcards – And Use Them
Flashcards can be ultra helpful. There are several free sites online. I have had students create cards on Quizlet, but they are only helpful if you use them. They may not work for every subject or topic (they’re not the best for critical thinking or writing questions, for example) but for things like vocabulary and formulas, they’re perfect. Think science, new vocabulary, and math.
One key to making flashcards work for individuals with executive functioning issues is to do the work of making the flashcards yourself, rather than just using premade ones. Again, writing information down will help solidify it in your memory. Plus, it will help to create a more personal connection to the material and can make learning more fun.
4. Check Out Old Tests And Quizzes
An area of executive functioning that many students struggle with is in reflecting upon past behaviors to make future decisions.
Go back and look at old tests and quizzes as part of his studying routine. Look at the format of each question as well as the mistakes that were made. Use a colored pen to circle questions that he knows, doesn’t know, or is unsure about, with a different color used for each type of question.
This will help differentiate between the questions and make it easier to slow down and focus on the questions that are especially challenging.
5. Make Your Own Review Packet
Yes, this process can take a lot of time, however, it just may be worth it to figure out what is important and what is not in your studying journey. For shorter assignments, it may not be worth it, as an example for weekly quizzes. However, for large exams, like finals or summative exams that count for a large portion of the grade, making a review packet is a great way to make studying more executive functioning friendly.
Review all those old exams (Hint: don’t throw them away) and other assignments to figure out what’s going to be on the final – then, make a list of possible questions and go through the review packet multi times before the test. Getting together with a friend that also needs to study is a great way to divide and conquer this task.
6. Claim Study Space
Claim your study space in your home, local library or coffee shop that is just for homework and studying. We all have a place that feels comfortable that is quiet, the perfect temperature, and lends itself to focusing. For individuals with executive functioning issues, not having a dedicated workspace can be disastrous.
Not being grounded in a dedicated space makes it harder to stay organized and makes it more likely that supplies and study materials will not be available. For younger students, create a space with all the materials they may need (paper, highlighters, pencils, erasers, computer changing station, etc.). For older individuals, a backpack with all necessary supplies will work.
Therefore, at the beginning of the school year, it’s a good idea to create one homework space, whether it’s the kitchen table, the desk in the bedroom, or somewhere else in the home. That way, when you’re in that space, it’s time to work. For older adults, pick a spot and stick to it. Make it a haven of knowledge acquisition.
7. Avoid the Cram Session
Less is more when it comes to studying – When I was in school, cramming was my go to study habit. It backfired- it is never a good idea to take a test already exhausted, trying to hold on to information. This can lead to increased test anxiety.
Try something else instead. Break your studying into smaller, manageable sessions. Here is that ‘P’ word again…Plan to study for 10-20 minutes daily by reviewing notes from the course, rewriting notes, and reviewing what was highlighted in class.
Look at the test material long before the test is due to occur. Figure out how much studying time might be needed for the test, based on its difficulty. This skill is a valuable and is a reflective practice. Additionally, it helps to determine how comfortable you may be with the material.
Then, create a schedule that requires studying in smaller increments – but over a longer period of time.
8. Create Your Own Checklist
Checklists and charts are incredibly helpful for anyone with executive functioning issues. For instance, if you always seem to be forgetting your materials at school, try creating a daily school-to-home checklist of all the study materials you need to make it into the backpack. That way you avoid the dreaded “I forgot my notes and books at school!” when trying to study the night before the test.
You can also make checklists of other tasks and items related to studying, such as a checklist of which items need to be reviewed for certain exams, project due dates, and a final schedule.
9. Get a Great Calendar -and Use It Daily
As mentioned above, writing stuff down has an impact on how our brain processes information. By having a weekly/monthly calendar and recording events, we are more likely to remember them. Many individuals I have worked with rely on their digital calendar to remind them of due dates and activities. That only works when you are fastidious about recording dates. I suggest starting with a paper calendar to record events, tests, and activities…and moving slowly to digital.
Review and update your calendar on a regular basis- I do mine each day and it helps me organize my life.
10. Learn How To Study
This is an issue I hear from many students, in grades 4-12 and through college – especially those with executive functioning issues – Not knowing how to study has them resorting to study skills that tend to not produce the results they are looking for.
In order to perform well on tests most students need explicit instruction in how to study, particularly in how to determine what is the most important information from the less important information. This is a skill set that deserves some time and attention.
Learning how you learn best and applying skills that hit those targeted areas is the best way to crack the study code. Try taking a learning style inventory online (link below), see what type of learning style fits your unique learning profile, and build study strategies into your plan.
You may learn best by talking it out, reviewing material each night, creating graphic organizers, or doing per-writes to organize your thoughts before a writing test. There are so many ways to get information inside that brain of yours, so have some fun with it.
Why Knowing How To Study Is Important For Lifelong Success
Learning does not end with graduating from high school. In fact, it can be argued that is when learning really starts. The best way to practice skills you are going to need for the long haul is right now. Not learning them can still be problematic later on in life. Being able to study material indicates a good grasp on the executive functioning skills that are necessary for success later in life, such as:
· Time management
· Organization of thoughts and materials
· Planning and prioritizing
· Task initiation
…and much more!
Because of this, learning the best strategies to study is one of the best gifts you can give to yourself – or to your child. Get started with these tips today!
Want more information on this topic or others centered on Executive Functioning and Leading Your Best Learning Journey- Reach out to:
Dr. Christine Powell at LearningByConnecting
Learning Style Inventory Link: