5 Tips for Surviving Exam Season for Students With ADHD


It’s that time of year again — the dreaded exam season! While for most it means a bit of added stress, time spent revising and having to work a little harder that usual, for someone with ADHD, it means something much more terrifying.

The mere thought of having to sit in a room for an hour, with no change of mental stimulation, no break from concentration and the pressure of a time limit is enough to make me anxious. Let alone the fact that some of my exams are up to five hours long. I struggle to keep concentrated in an hour and a half lesson, often finding myself starting to show my tics and getting frustrated with being unable to concentrate on anything the teacher is saying or what I have written in front of me.

When I cast my eyes over my exam timetable this year, I outwardly groaned! Friends asked me, “What’s wrong with you? You’ve only got four exams!” I groaned because I saw the time for one of my written exams — two hours and 45 minutes. How anybody is physically meant to be able to write for that length of time is beyond me, but for someone who is already starting to zone out writing this post, I can already see my grade dropping — and it has nothing to do with my academic ability.

My usual coping mechanisms would have me disqualified — Listening to music or taking 10 minutes to change the subject and check Facebook on my phone. So how on earth am I meant to cope? It’s taken getting to my second year at college to finally find some things that help. They are both external and things I can do myself. Here they are:

1. Small group and rest breaks (the exam gods’ greatest gifts!)

If I hadn’t discovered this exam concession, I would probably have dropped out of college last year and be sitting around with no A levels to my name. But surprisingly, in a college of over 4,000 pupils, I finally received the help I needed through my tutor.

He introduced me to the idea of having these. At first I turned my nose up — I didn’t need special treatment. I felt I didn’t deserve that! But he reassured me it really wasn’t a big deal and directed me to Study Support. They informed me a note from my doctor would have me whisked away from the huge sports halls lined with hundreds of students taking exams to a smaller room where I could simply raise my hand and ask to leave the room (escorted) for as long as I needed without it affecting my exam time or grade.

As someone who also experiences back and joint pain from hypermobility, this also meant I could have a stretch and a walk and return with a fresh mind and body ready to continue my exam. I honestly can’t tell you how much these helped me. I suddenly became an A student, but more importantly, I felt a lot less stressed in the exams and was able to continue college for another year.

I really stress to anyone who has from ADD, ADHD, any concentration disorder, anxiety, pain or anything else to please talk to the necessary people — teachers, your school’s equivalent of Study Support or your doctor will all be able to help you. I didn’t even know it existed until my tutor told me about it!

2. Add some fruit and vegetables to your diet.

No, I mean it this time! Chocolate chips really won’t help! I know everyone says the same thing about healthy eating — “Vegetables give you brain power!” But they really do! Eating a more balanced diet and helping your body to not be working overtime to find nutrients in what you are eating really helps your brain to focus on the task at hand — exams!

I dare you to try it. I’m not saying don’t eat chocolate, but just think about adding some extra fruit and vegetables to your diet, it will really give your brain the upper hand to help you concentrate and focus and generally have more energy.

3. Avoid energy drinks.

I speak from experience! This time last year, I could not function if I didn’t drink a particular brand of energy drink before every lesson. I’ve never really drunk other energy drinks, but friends have told me they pretty much do the same thing. I genuinely thought even the drink wasn’t doing enough to keep me focused. My heart would be racing in a lesson and I wouldn’t be able to even focus from the beginning. I couldn’t keep this up let alone afford to buy one for every class!So I started to wean myself off of them. Eventually, I made the connection that they made it worse. I’m not a scientist, so I don’t know why, but I presume it has to do with the sugar and caffeine making my body and mind work overtime.

4. Take some time for yourself.

You needn’t spend every hour of your life studying! It’s hard work trying to prepare for exams, let alone when that work doubles when you have ADHD or another concentration disorder. If you have a free period, you don’t always have to use it productively. Spend some time just sitting and chilling sometimes — read a book, look at your phone or have a nap if you can find somewhere!

It really helps to just reset your brain once in a while and have a recharge. Don’t feel guilty about it it’s simply a bit of self-care!

5. Know you aren’t alone.

People might not always be able to understand, but they are willing to help. I spend a lot of my time in a bubble. If you tell someone you can’t concentrate, they might laugh and tell you to just concentrate. Little do they know it isn’t as easy as that! I spent a lot of time struggling in silence until I discovered a community of people with mental disorders on social media. They’ve helped me realize a lot of things I thought only happened to me, actually happen to a lot of people. Knowing this has helped me talk to people to help them help me. My teachers will all check in with me once in a while now, to check that I’m up to date with everything and have managed to catch up on what I’ve missed in a “zone out.” I’ve asked to be emailed PowerPoints used in lessons, which has actually helped others in the class too when the teacher has shared them. It’s almost impossible for anyone to take in all the information they learn in a lesson!

It’s really important to never struggle in silence, and one thing I have learned is that other people don’t want you to either. But they can’t help unless you let them and help them do so. They may not understand how my brain works, but if I decipher the code for them, most people are willing.

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