Tips on how to Improve Your Executive Function Skills While in College

Executive function skills, or also known as “self-regulation skills,” are the mental abilities that allow you to manage your time, memorize facts, understand what you are reading and problem-solve. Executive function impacts key components in our lives such as:

  • Impulse control
  • Working memory
  • Flexibility
  • Prioritizing
  • Self-monitoring
  • Organization
  • Task initiation

Many individuals with learning differences have challenges with their executive functioning, however, each experience is different—not everyone will have difficulty with all the tasks listed above. Executive function challenges are often prevalent in individuals diagnosed with ADHD.

While the causes of these challenges are unknown, some possibilities include genes and heredity, environment, brain differences and other disabilities (including learning differences). As your brain continues to develop, there are several practices that you can implement to help you overcome these challenges in college.

Students who have a difficult time with these key cognitive skills may really struggle in college even though they are bright and intelligent individuals.  A student may grasp the content of a class, but if he or she cannot stay organized to complete assignments on time they will unfortunately still fail the course.  

College is also the first time many young adults have complete independence.  For students who struggle with impulse control and self-monitoring, college can be an overwhelming environment that can lead to poor decision-making.  

If you have any of these challenges, the suggestions below will help you to stay organized and make good use your time.

Know yourself.
You must first be able to identify the areas that you struggle with so you can best create a plan on how to adapt and overcome them.  For example, if you are someone that struggles with time management, it is imperative to be intentional on giving yourself extra time to complete assignments.  

Take notes.
Taking notes during lectures and assignments will allow you to recall key concepts at a later date. This can be especially helpful when it comes to writing a paper or studying for an exam. Try experimenting with different note-taking techniques to find a strategy that is best suited for your learning style.

Use assistive technology.
There are various apps and software programs to help students with their executive functions.  Utilize a digital calendar to stay organized and create task lists. Keep in mind that different tools won’t work the same for everyone, so it’s important to find out which one works well for you.

Stay organized.
Plan ahead and organize your time. Create check-lists at the beginning of each week to stay on top of deadlines and avoid procrastination. Block off a certain number of hours per day to work on assignments and study. Breaking down your day into manageable chunks of time will allow you to establish a routine and set realistic goals without creating stress.

Connect with an academic support center.
Connecting with an academic support center, like NorthBridge, will help you with educational planning, goal setting, time management, organization and learning strategies. NorthBridge can provide you with one-on-one sessions with a College Success Mentor so that you can develop a plan based on your unique skill set to help you succeed in college and the workforce.

Harvard University

Posted on August 5, 2015 in ADHD, Autism, Blog, Dyslexia, Executive Function, NorthBridge, Student Success, Transition

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