What if you were trying to study for the MCAT, but literally every fluttering, moving, or sparkling object in your room distracted you? What if every sound you heard — a door closing down the hall, a chair being dragged across the floor — was like a little explosion of noise in your brain, making it impossible to keep track of what you were doing a second ago?
I’m reading Temple Grandin’s book, Animals In Translation, and it’s a fascinating read. Temple does a lot of anthropomorphizing as she extends her experience with autism to the lives of animals. Still, there are a lot of GREAT take-aways, and we can borrow her tactics, as well as study skills and test-taking tactics used by people with ADD, ADHD or learning disabilities.
In my personal experience, someone who has been diagnosed with an LD is commonly a brilliant, gifted thinker. These are “whole picture” minds, who are brilliant at conceptualizing large-scale, complex models as one cohesive whole.
Their gift also makes it difficult to process information in a linear, step-by-step, recipe-like approach, because this approach is not holistic. When you’re learning how to solve simultaneous equations, it takes a long time to get to the “complete picture.” As a result, unwanted information leaks into their awareness and they become distracted. I think it feels like you’ve had too much coffee and you can’t sit still long enough to complete a task, while you have on headphones that amplify every sound around you, and while you have on glasses that flash whenever there’s any change in the visual field around you. Amplified many times over. (Try this: The next time you’re in a classroom, and someone walks in or out of the room, watch how everybody allows their attention to drift from the lecture to look at the person walking. That’s our prey drive taking over our attention.)
In order to block out these distractions, learning disabled people use a variety of focusing mechanisms to help them stay on task. You can learn from these methods, and apply them to your own study. Try these.
Create a Focused Environment
Create your “focused environment.” A focused environment is free from distraction, plus it gives you numerous cues and reminders to help you keep on task. A corner of your room with a study table that keeps you looking into a blank space / empty wall, with no windows or moving curtains in your visual field to distract you, with the door behind you or out of your peripheral vision, so that if someone walks by, you’re not stimulated to look up. Put a timer in front of you and set it for 10 minutes; use earplugs to reduce the amount of audio clutter around you. This is a “total immersion” environment that eliminates unwanted distractions, but gives you enough stimulus to remind you to keep on task.
Basically, you’re replacing the normal visual and auditory distractions that don’t help you, with visual (the timer) and audio stimuli that do help you.
If you can’t stand studying in silence, then try one of these tricks: