The big news according to the graphic below from OnlineDegrees.org and a June New York Times article is that an alarming – and increasing – number of students are resorting to drugs to get better grades. Drugs like Ritalin and Adderall, intended for people with ADHD and similar ailments that makes focus and learning difficult are now being hawked on college campuses as ‘good grade pills.”
On my opinion, this is symptom of a greater problem: schools and educators haven’t taken responsibility for teaching students how to learn. There is a daily pressure to get the grades you need and students are caught between a rock and a hard place. They’re in college with a glaring potential for no success but lots of debt. It’s a bad road to go down and the consequences multiply over time when you take these drug without actually having the illness they are intended to address. If we teach students the correct skills for memorization and learning this would simply not be a solution they would have to turn to.
In teaching my memory, focus and learning skills on campuses around the country I’ve actually had students ask me about these drugs. Usually they say that it’s ‘a friend of mine’ that’s using them but I make it a point not to be judgemental. If I am they just shut down. Even though they ask me about them they already know the answers. They are aware of the long-term consequences but often feel they don’t have a choice.
Learning to learn the right way
My answer to them is simple… Using the right ‘brain-based strategy’ gets better results. Because I usually get the question at the end of my training session or presentation, the students tend to agree with that statement because already – as a result of that training – they’ve seen results in a very short period of time.
The drugs are a temporary fix, but if you learn a skill – like Focus Bursts, etc. – you’re training your brain to be brighter and better in the future. You can use real learning skills – and not a pill – when the situation arises in the future with a boss, a project or anything else that requires brain function. (Maybe that should be everything else!) A strategy for learning is going to get greater results when dealing with people, money, and finance and the future. Instead of feeling guilt and pressure, you’ll feel confident and equipped to think your way through.
The reality is that students on the edge of dropping out will try anything. Drugs are not their first choice but they too often feel like they’re running out of options. The Farrow Memory System that I teach gets results and instills in students the confidence they’ll be able to remember. Once they’ve been through my system and they’ve seen the results, they get it. If not my system, then any system – PLEASE! But get a real learning skill and not a pill.
A learning marathon
Many students are also taking these drugs to give them the energy and focus they need to pull all-nighters and then still stay awake for the marathon of tests the next day. If you really understand how the brain works, you’ll understand why students have trouble with this. They’ve never trained their brain to be used to a marathon day of taking tests. It’s like they’ve been in training for sprints and then are expected to run a marathon. You can do it and there’s not enough classroom time to get used to the marathon test environment.
However, the ability to hold focus or pay attention for a long time can be learned. So many things in our society are training students to be unfocused – video games, television, etc. Believe it or not, this trains people to have attention deficits – and I believe that ADD can be acquired. You can train the brain into it or out of the ability to focus and pay attention. Students are telling the truth when they say they can’t stay focused during testing because they haven’t been trained to. You can do some training yourself by taking practice tests, etc. and in about a month you can get to level where you can retain your focus. As a student, you might have to take the initiative yourself but you can’t run a marathon overnight.
I’ve been there
I had ADD as a kid but was not prescribed any drugs. As an adult I’ve taken a few samples just to see what it was like… but I decided to stick with my training. I didn’t want to be dependent on ADHD drugs, I was already hooked on study.
My Guinness Record for Greatest Memory is a test of mental stamina more than anything else. It was a marathon event over two days and included up to 4 days of constant mental work. I had to have perfect recall and remember what was in deck 54 just as well as what was in deck 17. It took personal effort but I taught myself to learn and to focus and whatever you consistently do with your brain it will get used to and that will be the new paradigm. For me that was study.
In some cases the symptoms of ADD or ADHD are so severe the medications are need just to have any kind of focus. In those cases I advocate the process of starting with medication but augmenting it with training – with the goal to get off the medication eventually. There’s no shame in taking it if you need it, but I’d rather function without it. It empowers me and gives me a confidence that drugs just can’t match.