Study Habits, Motives, and Strategies of College Students with Symptoms of ADHD

ACO coaches who work with college students recognize that students with ADHD often have a lower GPA, are more likely to be on academic probation, and are less likely to complete their undergraduate degrees than their peers. This research study reviewed here points to patterns of study habits and motivation that may impact college success for our clients.

Simon-Dack, S., Rodriguez, P., Marcum, G. (2016). Study habits, motives, and strategies of college students with symptoms of ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders, 20(9) 775-78.

The study’s aim was to “clarify the relationship between student motivation, student study processes, and student learning goals and preferences in students with ADHD.” (p. 777)

A total of 361 college students taking introductory psychology classes in two large Midwestern universities completed three assessments: the Current Symptoms Scale (Barkley & Murphy, 1998), which assessed the severity of symptoms related to ADHD, a Study Habits and Learning Questionnaire created by the authors, as well as the Revised Two-Factor Study Process Questionnaire (Biggs et al., 2001), which evaluated students’ approaches to learning.

The Biggs Revised Two-Factor Study Process Questionnaire yielded four subscales for students’ approach and strategy:

Deep learning approach Surface learning approach
Motive learning strategy Deep Motive (DM) – learning due to intrinsic interest in the material and to maximize meaning + seeking for meaning. Surface motive (SM) – learning due to fear of failure + seeking for meaning
Strategic learning strategy Deep Strategy (DS) – learning due to intrinsic interest in the material and to maximize meaning + selective, rote memorization Surface Strategy (SS) – learning due to fear of failure + selective, rote memorization.


Based on the results on the Current Symptoms Scale, students were divided into an ADHD group (n = 31) or a control group (n = 28). A multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) compared the two groups in terms of their use of a surface or deep study approach as well as their use of motive or strategic learning strategies.

Students who were in the clinical range for an ADHD diagnosis were significantly more likely than the other students to:

•    study due to a fear of failure (vs. having an intrinsic interest in the material)
•    have a surface strategy for studying (using selective, rote memorization vs. studying for comprehension and meaning)
•    study on their own (rather than using collaborative study techniques)

The authors note that:
Students with ADHD appear to have difficulty engaging with the material at a meaningful level due to a high concern over external performance markers that in turn leads to a surface approach to learning material. Furthermore, these students do not seek collaborative study environments that may assist in bootstrapping them toward more adaptive studying and engagement techniques. (p. 780)

As we work with our college coaching clients, we might go beyond helping them clarify what, when and where they will be studying. If we can help them identify and understand their motivations for studying and explore the actual study techniques they use, we may help them discover different ways to master the material at a deeper level, aiding their understanding and connection to existing knowledge. We may want to offer the suggestion of experimenting with studying in a collaborative manner with another student or a small group where they may have the opportunity to share their understanding, learn from others and maintain focus on the study material for longer periods of time.

As coaches, our focus is on helping our clients meet their goals. Armed with the research findings from this study, we may be able to positively influence our clients’ academic success and completion of their desired degrees.

Barkley, R. A., & Murphy, K. R. (1998). Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: A clinical workbook. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Biggs, J., Kember, D., & Leung, D. Y. P. (2001). The revised two-factor Study Process Questionnaire: R-SPQ-2F. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 71, 133-149. doi:10.1348/000709901158433

Note: Access to Journal of Attention Disorders is a benefit of ACO membership. Log on to the ACO website and click on the Research tab, which will highlight how to access this useful journal.


Fouche-RoxanneRoxanne Fouche, Research Chair |