Finding the Tools to Succeed When Studying with ADHD
- Feb 08, 2019
Half the battle of studying for the LSAT can be finding a study strategy that works for you. I have the “inattentive” subtype of ADHD, which generally manifests as limited attention, distractibility, forgetfulness, and procrastination. If these sound like obstacles to success on the LSAT, you’d be right. But the LSAT still holds significance in my life. I believe the LSAT was the first time that I found study and test performance strategies that truly allowed me to achieve my full academic potential.
ADHD is a condition to be diagnosed by professionals, and it can be distinguished by differences in the structure, function, and chemistry of the brain. But reflecting on my experience as both a student and tutor of the LSAT, many of the approaches that helped me to succeed can be applied to other students with different or more subtle challenges.
Below, I’ll parse out some of my particular challenges on the exam and share the success strategies that you could apply to your own study process.
Difficulty Sustaining Attention
One symptom of ADHD is that paying attention isn’t impossible, but often remains outside your control. On the LSAT, this meant that several thoughts could be competing in my mind at the same time that I was working on a practice exam, and that external stimuli like noise and activity could easily pull my attention away. But the LSAT is a long exam for most students, so the same techniques for paying attention to detail through several hours of testing could apply to your own experience.
1. One of the most effective tactics I found for sustaining attention was to initially practice the LSAT in very small doses (anywhere from 1-5 minutes). Once I learned the basics of the Logical Reasoning section, I could generally focus long enough to complete a single LR question. Eventually, I could apply the same strategy to the other sections (for instance, 8 and a half minutes per game, broken out into chunks of time for the setup and for each question).
Though my experience with CrossFit begins and ends with knowing what a “WOD” is — that would be Workout of the Day, to all our non-swoll readers — I decided to apply this CrossFit idea of engaging in a series of intense, short workouts, where resting is replaced with simply switching between exercises involving different muscle groups. In my case, I found with practice that I could identify when I was losing the ability to focus on one particular section of the LSAT, and I would simply switch to working on a different section, eventually completing a large amount of work without actually stopping entirely.
2. Next, since the LSAC prohibits test-takers from switching back and forth between sections on the actual exam, I had to learn to complete each section while still thinking of the exam as a series of short and achievable tasks. This worked simply as a mental exercise of treating each question, each game and each passage as a fresh start, like a chance to exercise a different muscle.
3. Reduce distractions. Since distracting noises and movement were all things which couldn’t be avoided in the classroom setting in which most students take the LSAT, I decided that my best approach to reducing distractions was to reduce the novelty of those distractions. I practiced questions in the library, on trains, in the park, and even with Netflix in the background. Some of these settings were more relevant than others, but this approach eventually made the noise of other students working and the proctors hovering over my shoulder significantly less distracting on my official exam.
Difficulty with Planning and Follow-Through
4. Organize. I also found better strategies for organizing my LSAT study than I’d found in any other setting up until that time. I believe most students benefit from creating LSAT study plans at the beginning of each day, each week, and long-term. However, in my case, I had trouble with procrastination, as well as shifting from types of study that I preferred (usually, concepts I was already familiar with), to those where I needed the most improvement.
To address my struggles with getting started, I planned my study schedule down to the minute and I set my phone stopwatch to count up the time I was actually spending on studying. That way, I wouldn’t hold it against myself if I pushed studying later in the day or took breaks that I hadn’t intended, but I wasn’t “counting” any of that time toward my work that day. At first, I wouldn’t fulfill the amount of time I planned to study until very late in the day, but the rules I set out for myself eventually helped me to fall into a reasonable routine and limit my procrastination.
5. View it like a game! I also found that, as I became more comfortable with LSAT concepts, it was easier to convince myself that the questions were like games that I no longer wanted to avoid practicing. We’ve all participated in an activity that was more difficult at the beginning stages, whether it’s playing a sport or practicing an instrument (I presume — I haven’t mastered either of these). There’s a point where the foundational elements fall into place, and the whole activity becomes more enjoyable.
If there’s one thing I hope to convey to LSAT students, it’s that even those instructors who seem to be naturals at understanding the material often had to work very intentionally to get to that level. And for anyone with a diagnosable condition or just a set of personal challenges with the LSAT, it’s worth considering tutoring or professional help, accommodations, and strategies of all kinds. The LSAT, and thus, the legal profession, can only be its best when every student has the tools to reach their full potential.
If you have any questions about LSAC accommodations or want to discuss which prep courses (between private tutoring, at-home online course, or live course work best for you, you can speak to one of our Academic Managers.
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