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Old 11-25-14, 09:56 PM
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Re: College and ADHD-How does everyone study?

I went back to school as a History major in my 30s, got into a top PhD program, attended grad school for 1.5 abysmally miserable semesters, then dropped out when I decided the only reason I really needed the PhD was to feed my ego (because I didn't want to teach).

I'd always been a lousy student, but while back in college as an adult I learned some tricks that not only helped me function, but helped me excel. I'm currently a freelance writer and editor, and I can actually do my job because of the tricks I learned.

First, in class I always sat in the front row (fewer distractions from other students, more pressure to look attentive from the prof) and took almost verbatim handwritten notes. I drift off right away if I try to listen to a lecture without note-taking, and by the time it's over I'll have no clue what was said. Note-taking forced me to listen closely. Writing everything down kept me from getting caught up in wondering if something was important or not. The physical act of writing while listening (info coming through dual channels) helped fix information in my memory. There were some classes where I never had to go back to my notes or even do much studying before exams, because I could remember what the prof said in lecture.

Second, using physical activity--walking while reading or listening to audio material; taking tons of notes while listening to lectures or reading books; using a standing desk while writing (or getting up to do physical exercises between paragraphs when sitting); etc. all helped me maintain enough focus to study and complete assignments. No lie--I still had difficulties, but I didn't go off the rails completely.

Third, one thing I suck at is writing an essay from start to finish. I can't even do a rough draft that way. My thoughts bounce all over the place, and I end up with a disorganized mess, or I quickly lose the will to continue writing altogether. I can easily think of the various points I want to bring up, or bits of evidence I've found in my research, but putting it all together into one coherent document that flowed smoothly from point to point, everything building upon what came before was like torture. I pulled a lot of all-nighters were I ended up sobbing at 4:00AM because it just wasn't working.

My solution was to start carrying 3x5 index cards with me everywhere, and when I got an idea for the paper, or found a new bit of evidence, I would jot it down briefly on one side of the card, and write any bibliographic info on the back. I had a little zippered pouch that held the cards and a pen, and carried it in my bag all the time. Once I'd written upon a card, I just stuck it back in the pouch.

Then, when I finally had a big stack of scribbled-upon cards, I'd go to the library and shut myself in a study room with a conference table. I'd dump all the cards out on it, and start moving them around, figuring out the overall "flow" of the paper. I'd start by making three rough stacks for the beginning/intro, central argument, then the final summation and wrap-up. Then I'd work on each of those stacks in turn, shifting them around until I could literally see my argument taking shape.

Once I had them sorted and my "paper" laid out in front of me, I'd number the cards in order. My own system was a little complicated (using formal outline numbering), but it ensured that if I ever dropped an entire stack of cards, or if one got loose from the rest, I'd be able to put them back in the correct order every time.

After that, it was a matter of typing in all the info on the cards, in order, into a document. Tedious? Hell, yes. I used my standing desk, and did a lot of pacing around the room after every few cards. But I did a lot of writing and revision as I went, and by the time I was done I had a finished rough draft with far less pain and struggle and panic than before.

For me, the hardest part was done by then; I've always had a far easier time in the editing and rewriting stage than the initial Writing Stuff Down. In my current career, I've used the exact same technique to ghostwrite book-length (60K-150K words) manuscripts, and I seriously would not have a writing career of any kind without it.

And fourth and last, organization needed to be boneheaded-simple. When I was in elementary school, my 3-ring binder was always a disaster, with papers falling out, or in the wrong place. More often than not, I just shoved papers in the back of it, because taking the time to flip to the right section and open the rings so I could put each sheet in the proper place was more than I could deal with. In high school, carrying individual cardboard folders for each class was marginally more successful, but not much.

In college, what worked for me was one of those brown paper expanding files with six pockets and an elastic holding it shut. In the front, I put blank paper for note-taking. The middle four pockets had each class labeled on them. The rear pocket was the catch-all.

Okay, yeah--all of the pockets turned out to be the catch-all. But I just figured that as long as I shoved a given piece of paper into any one of the pockets, I was golden. I could always empty out the file and find it, if I had to. And unlike the individual folders I carried in high school, as long as I had the file with me I always had all of my papers for every class--I never left one at home.

About once every week or two, I'd empty out the entire file, sort the papers by class, and put them in the right pockets. If I was at home, I'd take the papers I knew I wasn't going to need in-class, binder-clip them together, and hang them on the bulletin board over my desk (because anything placed on a horizontal surface in my house vanishes in no time flat). When it came time to study for exams, or I needed to re-read an assignment, there they were.

And to this day, my home and business filing systems are that boneheaded-simple. I throw papers I need to keep (check stubs, receipts, tax papers, etc.) into a box under my desk. When I think to, I sort whatever's in the box, and enter receipts and payments into QuickBooks. There is never so much paper in the box that this is a major undertaking, and it takes me less time and is less prone to forgetting than using a filing cabinet. Really time-sensitive stuff goes on the bulletin board so it doesn't disappear, but that's about it.
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