Self-Monitoring promotes academic success and reduces ADHD symptoms

In general, students who have ADHD in college struggle more than their non-ADHD peers. They have lower grade point averages and are more likely to drop out. While accommodations are available to students with ADHD (extended-time for tests, notetakers, separate and quiet testing rooms, etc.), many students do not request or use approved accommodations, and, even for those who do, the efficacy of traditional accommodations is questionable. Looking for evidence-based interventions that might actually help, the authors of this study examine the potential of self-monitoring as a treatment for college students having ADHD.


Scheithauer, M. C., & Kelley, M. L. (2014). Self-Monitoring by College Students With ADHD The Impact on Academic Performance. Journal of Attention Disorders, 1087054714553050.


Scheithauer and Kelly define self-monitoring as the habit by which an individual will “observe and record his or her behavior with the goal of changing the behavior in the future” (1). They go on to cite recent evidence showing that self-monitoring has been effective in improving academic behaviors and performance in youth as well as medication adherence in adults having ADHD.

This study is important because it extends these findings to examine whether students with ADHD can use self-monitoring as a tool in the arsenal of treatment options to improve their academic success and outcomes.


Research participants in this study were 52 college students who had been diagnosed with ADHD and being treated with ADHD medication.  They were randomly divided into two groups, one that received both study skills training and self-monitoring instruction, and one that only got study skills training. Forty-one students completed the study. Of that group, most were female (75%) and Caucasian (80%) with a mean age of 20 (range of 18 to 32 years of age).

For the intervention, both groups were provided with a 30-minute study skills training session that included instruction in organizing time and materials, finding or creating a distraction-free study environment, use of pre-testing, and studying from a textbook. The treatment group was provided with an additional 30 minutes of instruction on self-monitoring. Each participant in the treatment group created a self-monitoring form based on their own goals and schedule. Students wrote items to self-monitor on a daily basis, such as “I checked my planner,” “I read assignments for today’s class,” and “I avoided social media sites in class.” Participants filled out yes, no, or n/a (not applicable) for each item on their self-monitoring form each day for a period of about 4 weeks. Participants in the study-skills-only group attended follow up meetings with researchers to debrief on their use of study skills and their grades. Participants in the study-skills-plus-self-monitoring group met to debrief on adherence to the daily monitoring and progress toward goals.

The authors examined the responses of the participants before and after the intervention on these self-report and researcher-observation measures: Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale, Conners’ Adult ADHD Rating Scales–Self-Report, a medication adherence questionnaire, School Success Checklist, Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview, the Goal Attainment Scale, a grade information form, and the Treatment Evaluation Inventory.


College students having ADHD who participated in self-monitoring made significant improvement in nearly all areas from pre to post evaluation: academic behavior, ADHD symptoms, grade point average, and goal attainment, while the study-skills-only group did not show significant improvement in any area. The only area that did not show improvement as the result of self-monitoring in this study was medication adherence, even though self-monitoring has been shown to improve medication adherence in other studies.

The authors of this study conclude, “Self-monitoring provided an additive benefit when compared with study skills instruction and goal setting alone. The use of self-monitoring with adults with ADHD is novel and demonstrates that a method used to improve academic performance in children with ADHD can generalize to a college population” (7).


In ADHD coaching, we aim to foster the development of habits that support client goal attainment and help our clients keep on track. The practice of self-monitoring with a goal form that clients can fill out daily is a direct and easy process that shows significant reduction in ADHD symptoms and academic problems for the small group in this targeted study. By extension, self-monitoring may show promise for clients having ADHD throughout the lifespan. Using self-monitoring, the adult with ADHD becomes the agent of change, establishing her or his own goals, reviewing them daily, and monitoring progress toward those goals.

Self-monitoring, in which the coach and client partner to establish daily goals and how they will be measured adheres to Core Coaching Competencies, including Creating Awareness, Designing Action, Planning and Goal Setting, and especially Managing Progress and Accountability. The results of this study provide ADHD coaches with another evidence-based option for helping clients improve goal attainment and manage ADHD symptoms.


CaseyDixonCasey Dixon, PCC, BCC, SCAC, M.S.Ed.