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Academic Concerns/Learning Difficulties

It is quite common for students to experience academic concerns at some point during college or throughout their college career. These concerns may involve:

  • Poor study habits
  • Difficulty grasping course material
  • Test anxiety that leads to poor performance on exams
  • Procrastination on assignments
  • Difficulty planning and organizing to complete assignments or study tasks
  • Inconsistent class attendance
  • Academic probation or loss of scholarship

These types of concerns may be due to various factors, including:

  • Increased rigor or workload of college classes
  • Poor concentration or ADHD, which can interfere with learning and studying as well as with organizational tasks
  • Increased difficulty of coursework over time
  • Having a learning disorder that makes it difficult to study, organize, and/or understand the course material
  • Having a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety, that reduces motivation and concentration
  • Perfectionistic thinking that leads to procrastination
  • Having a learning style that is inconsistent with the format of course instruction (e.g. the lectures are stated aloud without visual aids but you are a visual learner)

What is a Learning Disorder?

There are many types of learning disorders, all of which affect how people understand, remember, or respond to information. Each learning disorder is different but all learning disorders affect a person’s ability to process information in some way, which can interfere with basic and/or higher level learning skills. A learning disorder is not a problem with intelligence or motivation—there are many brilliant and successful people who have learning disorders. Learning disorders can sometimes, but not always, affect school performance. Some possible signs of a learning disorder include:

  • Inaccurate or slow word reading
  • Difficulty with reading comprehension
  • Inaccurate spelling or grammar
  • Difficulty with basic math calculations
  • Poor organizational skills or time management
  • Difficulty with abstract reasoning
  • Difficulty retaining or organizing information
  • Poor writing skills
  • Before an exam or big assignment, discuss the content of the material and the expectations with your professor and/or TA’s.
  • Spread out your review of exam material over several days or weeks, rather than cramming right before
  • Arrive 10 minutes early to class and use that time to review your notes from the previous class. Take 10 minutes after class to review the notes you just took.
  • Use several different types of study techniques—review notes, read/watch lectures, create a study guide or outline, answer practice questions, review old homework problems, use flash cards, draw diagrams to improve understanding, create acronyms to memorize facts
  • Try structuring your academic schedule as if it’s a 40-hour workweek to help manage your time. Include classes, study time, homework, and meetings with professors and write these all down in a planner or calendar.
  • If you get anxious during exams, take a practice test beforehand under exam-like conditions.
  • Get sufficient sleep, exercise, and nutrition throughout the semester as a proactive way to boost your brain.
  • Take notes or make an outline when completing reading assignments. Try and put things in your own words or draw diagrams to increase comprehension of the material.
  • When taking exams or completing assignments, pay close attention to the instructions. Watch out for qualifier words in questions (e.g. always, never, none, etc.)
  • Assess your learning style and engage in study tasks that utilize your best learning style (e.g. use audio books if you are an auditory learner)
  • Take breaks while studying and doing homework. A good tip is for every 45-50 minutes of work, take a 10-15 minute break. Try taking a break that does not involve looking at a screen.
  • When taking exams, budget your time for each section. It may help to very briefly skim the exam when you get it in order to help with budgeting your time.
  • Try to find out as much about an exam you are taking before you take it (format, content, types of questions, length of exam, etc.).
  • If experiencing test anxiety, use deep breathing to relax your body and focus only on one thing at a time. Reframe your negative thoughts about the test into more realistic thoughts.
  • When trying to retain information, go for comprehension rather than memorization. Research shows that understanding information helps us remember it better than just memorizing it.
  • Study with classmates who understand the material and ask questions when you are stuck.
  • Take advantage of review sessions and study guides.
  • Study and do homework in a quiet, well-lit, comfortable environment at a time of day when you are most alert.
  • Focus more on what you are learning and why you are learning it, rather than a specific grade that you want. Research shows that studying for grades alone decreases long-term success.
  • The Counseling Center can offer assistance with academic concerns and/or learning difficulties. To determine what services are appropriate, please schedule a brief assessment.
  • Contact the Advising Office of the college or school in which you are currently enrolled to talk with an advisor about your current academic difficulties. Follow the link for a list of webpages for the Advising Offices for each UMD school or college.
  • Find additional assistance and information on tutoring and academic success resources. This website serves as a guide to tutoring services and a wide range of academic resources available on campus, from our peer institutions, and other non-university websites. Topics include: tutoring by subject, procrastination, time management, note-taking skills, test-taking skills, study skills, and much more!
  • Consider getting tested for a learning disorder if you experience several of the signs and symptoms. The Counseling Center care manager can help refer you to a location that offers psychological testing.

Academic Resources from the Counseling Center
Various handouts and videos to help with study skills, test preparation, time management and more.

UMD Student Success Office
Offers services and resources to assist students in completing their undergraduate degrees

Learning Styles Overview
Review the various learning styles and see which one(s) fit best for you

Academic Success in College
A list of tools to help college students achieve academic success

Types of Learning Disabilities
Learning Disabilities Association of America provides information on types of learning disorders

Tips for Students with Disabilities
NPR’s list of tips for college students who have learning disabilities and ADHD

Academic Success for Students with LD
LD Online’s article on achieving academic success in college with a learning disorder

College Guide for Students with Learning Disorders
A comprehensive guide with information and resources for college students

Rights and Responsibilities for Students with Learning Disabilities
Learning Disabilities Association of America shares this list of rights and responsibilities.

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