Students with ADHD may struggle to concentrate in school, which can make learning difficult. Using study tips and strategies can help them succeed.

A parent helping a child with homework.Share on Pinterest
Maskot/Getty Images

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common mental health condition that can cause inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

This can make studying difficult, and many young people with ADHD struggle in school. Students with untreated ADHD earn lower scores than students without ADHD.

Treating a person’s condition can reduce symptoms, helping them perform better in school. In addition to treatment, certain study skills, tips, and interventions can help students manage their ADHD in school and at home.

Read more to learn about how ADHD affects students and study tips for elementary school, high school, and college students.

Focus and attention are crucial components of learning while in school. ADHD directly affects these, making it difficult for students with the condition to learn in a typical school environment.

Many young people with ADHD have trouble learning, get low test scores, and fall behind in school. This can negatively affect their self-esteem.

ADHD can also affect relationships and social skills. A 2020 study found a relationship between ADHD, poor working memory and weak social skills, and experiencing bullying.

However, their struggle to keep up is not their fault — it is because the way their brain functions makes it hard to learn in a traditional school setting. With the right modifications, support, and treatment, they can succeed in school.

Some examples of how ADHD symptoms may affect students include:

  • Inattention: Students with ADHD may miss deadlines, forget their homework, and struggle to pay attention in the classroom.
  • Hyperactivity: Hyperactivity can make it difficult to sit still and follow instructions. It can also affect relationships, such as when it causes a student to frequently interrupt peers.
  • Impulsivity: This can make it hard to focus, communicate with peers, and resisting the impulse to ignore schoolwork. Students with ADHD may struggle to control their emotions at school.

These symptoms can make it difficult for students to succeed in school. A 2021 study found that college students with ADHD were more likely to drop out of school than their peers.

Students with ADHD can also underperform on exams. In a 2020 systematic review, researchers found a correlation between ADHD and worse performance at school and on academic achievement tests.

Elementary and middle school students (aged 5–13) are in the early stages of learning to manage school with ADHD. While the average age of diagnosis is 7 years old, some children may go undiagnosed for several more years. This is particularly common in girls, who are less likely to be diagnosed than boys.

During their early school years, students with ADHD need support from parents and teachers.

Parents can help their child(ren) in school by:

  • asking about disability accommodations, including longer test time, daily feedback, and a reward system for positive behavior
  • talking with the child about ADHD, and helping them understand their condition
  • developing a plan for managing symptoms
  • enrolling the child in organizational and study skills courses

They can also encourage their child to try several useful strategies, including:

  • using a simple system, such as a student agenda, to track deadlines and create daily plans
  • use a white board or visual aid to help them remember items they need for school
  • taking frequent breaks and avoiding multitasking
  • breaking large tasks into smaller chunks
  • asking for help if they are struggling with new material
  • taking notes in class and reviewing them later that day
  • reviewing information in small chunks instead of “cramming” the night before a test

In high school (ages 14–18), a student’s workload usually increases. They have more independent work and more frequent exams, making it difficult for students with ADHD.

High school is a good time for parents to begin encouraging students to advocate for themselves. They can learn to ask for accommodations and develop the skills they need to succeed in high school and higher education.

Students can try:

  • experimenting with different organizational strategies, such as a paper planner, electronic planning, or app-based reminders
  • taking notes in class and while reading
  • building breaks into study sessions
  • tackling the most difficult homework first
  • asking for help early on
  • establishing strong relationships with teachers
  • developing a daily study routine
  • creating a comfortable study space at home
  • turning off phones and television when studying

By the time students reach college, they have likely developed some skills that help them manage schoolwork. However, college can also pose new challenges. Learning to adapt, ask for help, and plan ahead will allow college students with ADHD to do their best.

They can try:

  • building rewards and breaks into studying
  • reaching out to professors with questions early
  • breaking studying and large tasks into small chunks
  • taking notes on everything, and reviewing those notes daily
  • using well-organized lists with clear deadlines
  • planning ahead by establishing and writing down a detailed schedule each day
  • monitoring progress to determine which strategies work best

In addition to study tips and strategies, treatment for ADHD can help students do well in school.

A 2020 literature review found that medication could improve functioning and outcomes across many areas, including academic performance.

However, most effective ADHD treatment strategies include a combination of medication and other interventions.

Some options include:

  • disability accommodations, such as classroom modifications to make learning easier
  • therapy to help a person better understand their ADHD and cultivate strategies for dealing with it
  • study skills and organizational training
  • family therapy and parent training
  • establishing a predictable routine and study schedule
  • education about life with ADHD and how to better manage the condition

Supporting a loved one with ADHD begins with understanding that ADHD is a real medical condition and that people with ADHD face ongoing challenges. Their symptoms are not a choice, though they can make choices to reduce the severity of symptoms.

Some strategies to help include:

  • Advocate for disability accommodations at school when a child has ADHD.
  • Encourage a loved one with ADHD to seek treatment.
  • Help minimize distractions by staying on topic. Avoid loud noises, television, and other background distractions when spending time together.
  • Encourage people with ADHD to develop organizational strategies that work.
  • Provide reminders and cues. For example, when a spouse has ADHD, putting relevant family information and appointments on an accessible family calendar or white board may help.

ADHD symptoms such as inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity can make it difficult for students to focus in school. This can affect people at all stages of life.

Missed skills in early elementary school can add up, so developing strong study and organizational skills early can help students thrive in higher education. Although ADHD may make studying more difficult, it does not make it impossible. With the right accommodations, students can succeed in school.