Written By: Jessica Gale

This blog post is centered around a concept vital to academic and career readiness: study skills, but more importantly, its intrinsic relationship with executive functioning skills. The framework of this post is constructed from the insights provided in The 21st Century Student’s Guide to Study Skills for College and Career Readiness, which touches upon the executive function 12 times.

Study skills and executive functioning are synonymous with success in school, work, and everyday life, yet do we truly understand these terms? Frequently associated with test preparation, study skills entail much more! Executive functioning, on the other hand, is our brain’s management system, impacting our working memory, task initiation, emotional control, and so much more.

If you look up study skills online, you’ll encounter a plethora of resources. Interestingly, a significant number of colleges and universities have articles on this topic available for students’ perusal. These executive functioning and study skills need to be taught, honed, and reinforced across academic levels.

Study skills encompass all the strategies and habits that contribute to successful learning such as organization, note taking, reading comprehension, active listening, and task completion. These are skills transferable across different settings, subjects, and grades, making them essential life skills that are widely discussed from elementary school, through college, and into the workplace. The same can be said for executive function skills, which are equally crucial and even more foundational.

Since these are vast topics, this post will emphasize the foundational information and skills, starting with the key element of learning.

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Learning and Executive Function

We spend our lives learning, yet often don’t reflect on how this occurs. Learning is a process culminating in the acquisition of knowledge. Understanding this process can greatly enhance our ability to learn effectively and underscores the importance of strong executive functioning. According to The 21st Century Student’s Guide to Study Skills: For College & Career Readiness, the equation is:

Learning = the acquisition of knowledge + retention of knowledge (working memory) + the ability to demonstrate knowledge (task initiation and completion).

Is there a stage that consistently impacts your ability to learn information? Recognizing this can help identify strategies specific to improving your learning ability and your executive function skills.

Self-Awareness and Executive Dysfunction

As you reflect on your learning process, we should also consider self-awareness. This term is linked to metacognition – our ability to think about our thinking. Those with strong executive functioning skills are usually self-aware learners, consciously monitoring and focusing on their learning. Unfortunately, those with executive dysfunction may struggle with this.

Self-aware learners typically:

  • Focus on a single task
  • Identify their learning goals
  • Assess and adjust their learning environment
  • Monitor and adjust their thinking
  • Gauge progress towards their learning goals

How many of these traits do you possess? Which do you need to improve? This list can serve as a guide for developing self-awareness as a student and learner, and bolstering your executive function skills.

Effort and Growth Mindset

Do you believe that intelligence is fixed or fluid? Your answer will shape your future steps. You’ve probably heard about fixed versus growth mindsets, which are closely connected to the idea of executive function and self-regulation.

In terms of study skills and executive function, possessing a growth mindset means that you believe that basic ability can be nurtured through dedication, effort, and experience. Academic challenges are embraced, labels are shunned, and there’s focus on the strategies and processes of learning, rather than merely grades or outcomes.

The Impact of Executive Function on Study Skills

Executive function is a term used to describe a set of mental processes that help us connect past experience with present action. We use executive function skills when we perform tasks such as planning, organizing, strategizing, and paying attention to and remembering details. These functions are crucial to learning and study skills.

When your executive functions are in good working order, they help you stay focused, get started on tasks, make good decisions, manage your time effectively, and keep track of what you’re doing. You’re also better at regulating your emotions, which can help you handle stress and manage your time better.

Conversely, when your executive functions are not working well, you may struggle with tasks that require planning, problem-solving, or attention to detail. You may also find it difficult to regulate your emotions, which can make it harder to stay focused and manage your time effectively.

The Role of ADHD Coaching in Enhancing Executive Functioning

ADHD coaching, provided by professional ADHD coaches, can play a pivotal role in improving executive function skills. A trial coaching session can offer insights into how this process works. ADHD coaching uses a variety of tools and techniques to help individuals with ADHD overcome the challenges they face in their daily life due to executive dysfunction.

The ADHD coaching process often involves helping individuals to set achievable goals, develop organizational strategies, and improve their self-monitoring skills. ADHD coaches understand the unique needs and challenges of individuals with ADHD, and they’re well-equipped to help them develop the executive functioning skills they need to succeed.

The best ADHD coach for you will depend on your personal needs and goals. It’s essential to work with an ADHD coach who has undergone formal training, such as those certified by the International Coach Federation or a similar professional association. It’s also worth considering a mental health professional who specializes in ADHD and executive functioning.

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Choosing an ADHD Coach

When selecting an ADHD coach, there are several factors to consider. You should feel comfortable with your coach and believe that they understand and can help with your specific challenges. The coach should have a good understanding of ADHD and executive functioning and be able to demonstrate how their coaching sessions will help you enhance these skills.

Most coaches offer a trial coaching session, which can provide a good opportunity to see if you’re a good match. Potential coaches should also be willing to discuss their training, qualifications, and approach to coaching.

While personal experience with ADHD can be helpful, it’s not a substitute for professional training and expertise. Therefore, while many coaches have a personal understanding of ADHD, the most important factor is that they have the necessary skills and knowledge to provide effective coaching.

Your local CHADD chapter may be able to provide recommendations for potential ADHD coaches in your area. You can also check with the International Coach Federation or other professional coaching organizations for directories of certified coaches.

Conclusion

Understanding the interplay between executive functioning skills and study skills can significantly improve academic and career readiness. It’s an ongoing process that requires self-awareness, a growth mindset, and the right strategies and supports. Students who comprehend their learning process, find effective strategies, and work diligently are more confident, and this increases their ability to manage stress and other challenges that may arise.

Whether it’s in the classroom or the workplace, in our relationships, or when novel situations occur, these skills are crucial. By paying closer attention, you might be surprised at how much you learn, reflect, and adjust throughout the day!

Resources:

Survey: FixedVsGrowthMindsetQuiz Article: https://stanfordmag.org/contents/why-mindset-matters Work Cited: Mulcaire, Susan. The 21st Century Student’s Guide to Study Skills: For College & Career Readiness. Tween Publishing LLC, 2015.