How To Study When You Can’t Study

Hello my chocolate sprinkles!


Yay!! I’m so happy! This semester was so tiring and challenging and I couldn’t be more happy that it is finally over. I’m so done with going to school and feeling not so great about everything most of the time. I’m so much happier being at home where I don’t have to keep up any appearances and I can just chill out, read a lot of books and blog.

So the idea for this post came to me about three days ago. If you don’t know, for the past two weeks, I have been studying non-stop for two exams. That meant that I was confined to one seat all day and I had to stare at a book and at my computer and try to get all the facts in. It was honestly horrific. I mean, I have ADHD. That means that sitting still and staring at a book just does not work for me. I learn by doing. Not by memorising. I honestly don’t know how I managed to study like this for 10 years before my polytechnic life.

You may not get it if you don’t have a learning disability but my psychologist told me this. Most people have boxes in their head. Their brain knows where everything goes and it is able to sort things properly so that when you need to recall something, its right there. However, when you have ADHD, you don’t have these boxes. Everything gets thrown around everything is in a colossal mess. So when I try to think about one thing, my messy brain starts zooming off in a million directions and I struggle to stay focused. I struggle to quiet my crazy thinking pattern enough to listen properly and stay still to complete what I have to. Often the restless part gets better with age but your brain is just always going to be a mess. And there is absolutely nothing wrong about that. We just learn differently and progress differently. But there is NOTHING wrong about that.

So I thought I would share a bit of what it was like studying for the last two weeks while giving you guys five tips to cope with studying for an exam if studying is just really not your thing.

1. Write. It. Down.

One of the things that really help me when I need to remember something is to write it down. So what I usually do is that I create my own notes. I use the lecture slides or even the notes that my teacher gives me and I rewrite them into a notebook. It doesn’t mater if you find yourself copying things word for word. The fact is that writing reinforces your knowledge so regardless, it’s pretty good.

When you’re making your notes, you can also use acronyms or imagery to remember things. It’s a tip that has helped me for many years because I’m more of a visual person. So for example, if I want to remember something, I would usually create an image of it in my mind and store in in my little ‘mind palace’ (yes I learnt to do that from Sherlock. It’s a very very helpful thing that I’ve been working on for almost 2 years now. It is so helpful not just for memory work but also if you need a space to zone out or retreat when life gets too much. You should try it). I would then repeatedly recall it until it solidifies in my brain and I’m done. Memorised and ready to go!

2. Know what music helps you 

This is very important especially if you have a noisy mind like me. Music is great. It  keeps you pumped when you’re studying and it often keeps you from going crazy when it gets too quiet. However, you need to know what music works for you. Personally, when I’m writing my notes, I can listen to anything from EDM to the softer folk/indie pop. These songs usually keep me writing fast and moving forward. However when I’m reviewing my notes or doing mock exam papers, I usually need to listen to instrumental music. But not just any instrumental. Music like Beethoven drives me absolutely crazy when I’m studying because my brain can’t associate it with anything. However, instrumental movie soundtracks like Hans Zimmer and James Horner or instrumental Disney music is fantastic for me because my brain has a memory to latch onto and I don’t go completely mental. And sometimes I need to know when to just turn off the music and focus in silence. Know what your brain needs.

3. Take breaks frequently

You will drive yourself crazy if you sit in one spot for hours on end. Especially if you are an ADHD kid. So take lots of physical and mental breaks.

After you finish a chapter, stop. Take 15 minutes away from your desk, set a timer and do nothing. Or do whatever but just don’t be at your desk or think about work.

Quite often, you will be tempted to deny yourself a break because in that one hour you spent sitting at your desk, you spent 30 minutes chasing your brain and begging it to settle down. So you don’t feel that you deserve a break. Take one anyway. You’re harming yourself more by denying yourself that time to rest your brain. This is something that I am still working on.

4. Don’t be afraid to look for help

I’m talking about asking for help from friends and teachers as well as getting help from medication.

I have been on Concerta (the big sister to Ritalin) since I was 12. I hated it. I hated the side effects (If you have never been on pills that target your brain, you will never understand how a pill like this can rob you of who you are and how it can make you feel like a puppet) and I never wanted to take it. But despite the fact that it took a large chunk away from me (appetite, sleep, my cheery personality and more), it did help my brain to calm down and focus enough to study. I used to take it on a daily basis in sec 4 but I limited it to exam time only when it came to poly because I didn’t need it for projects. During this exam season, I went without. I was afraid of the side effects (as I always have been), so I just said no. And I probably would have done a lot better if I took it but I wasn’t willing to struggle with everything else for that.

Don’t be afraid. It’s scary yes. But if you need it, take it. Sometimes you just need to give in for the sake of your exams.

5. Understand that you are not a failure

One of the things that plague me the absolute most when it comes to studying is the fact that I feel like a failure. I feel like there must be something wrong with me because I can’t sit still long enough to absorb anything and I always feel five steps behind the rest of my classmates. This semester there was someone in my class that made me feel that way on a daily basis and it was so hard and I got very upset but eventually I learnt to use my brain to fight back. I was not stupid. I shouldn’t allow someone to back me into a corner like that.

If you are feeling that way or if you have someone who makes you feel like that, distance yourself from that firstly. Then constantly remind yourself that you just learn differently and that it does not mean that you are stupid. One thing that has helped me a lot is this blog. I succeed in writing here and that makes me feel better because I can say, “Okay. I don’t know how to come up with a cost based analysis. But that’s okay. My brain isn’t made for math. It’s made for creativity. So I’m not going to spiral into a meltdown because of it. I’m just going to do my best and be happy with that. It’s okay.” So find something that you are good at and go at it. Chase it. And remind yourself that no one can make you feel stupid unless you let them.

Do you have any study tips to share? Tell me in the comments.

P.S. I took pictures for this post but WordPress isn’t letting me upload them. If you can help, please help.

7 thoughts on “How To Study When You Can’t Study

  1. luckyhollie says:

    Also I’d just like to add….i remember trying so many different meds throughout my childhood. I took concerta at one point as well. I cant remember if it was that or different meds but it made me feel so anxious on an everyday basis. I was too scared to even stop taking it because i was afraid of what my mom would think. So i took it for about a year or more. I didnt realize it at the time but i also have anxiety as well and that made it 10 times worse.


    • camilliadass says:

      I’m glad my ideas helped! 🙂 I know exactly how you feel. I have anxiety too so concerta used to make me feel very jittery and really not like myself. Also they were super expensive so I couldn’t stop taking them. I think it was $3 per pill or something crazy. Did you end up changing pills or dosages?


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