By K W Warburton, The Reluctant Spoonie
Brain fog is the biggest barrier for students with chronic illness. It makes concentrating in class a challenge, it slow down assignment work and it can trip you up in exams. Brain fog is common for those with ME/CFS, Fibromylagia, POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome), MS (Multiple Sclerosis) and numerous other chronic illnesses.
Here are my 5 top tips for achieving academic success with brain fog:
1. Make a to-do list
This may seem like a basic hack from Time Management 101, but writing down what you need to do will help you to remember and also act as a visual aid when you’re studying. I always like to write out my key assignments for the semester and stick it in a place on my desk where I can see it every day. This way, I feel motivated to study and know what I need to complete each week. You can also make a daily to-do list for yourself.
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2. Break down large assignments into manageable chunks
Often, assignments have several sections which may seem overwhelming when you first read them. Carve out some time to read through the assignment sheet and write down what you need to do for each section e.g research online, go to the library for books or create data sets. Then set yourself a mini deadline for each section so that you don’t have to pull an all-nighter to finish the assignment. For very large assignments, such as your final dissertation, you may find it useful to create a Gantt Chart in a spreadsheet to keep track of your research topics.
3. Take regular breaks
Taking more breaks was a game-changer for me when studying with brain fog. When I previously studied as a ‘normal’, I never took breaks and took pride in my ‘productivity’. However, my study time was probably not as productive as I perceived it to be. When studying with brain fog, I used an adapted Pomodoro technique with 20 min study sessions and 10 min ‘breaks’ for doing less taxing activities such as replying to DMs or scrolling through Pinterest. By taking these breaks, I was actually accomplished more during my study sessions.
4. Request extra time in exams and/or deadline extensions for assignments
As a person with a chronic illness, you will be entitled to disability support during your studies. The most basic accommodations are extra exam time and deadline extensions when you’re not able to study. To achieve your full academic potential, you should probably sign up for disability support at the start of your course, even if you don’t think that you’ll use that extra time. When living with a fluctuating condition, it can be hard to predict when you’ll need extra help, so it’s best to have a plan in place, just in case.
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5. Record your lectures
Some universities will record lectures and post them online and others won’t. Some lecturers don’t like to be recorded and will opt out for their lecture course. If you are unsure of whether a lecture course is going to be recorded, ask the course leader before it starts. You can always record the lecture on your phone or Dictaphone. In the UK, you can apply for the DSA (Disabled Students’ Allowance) to help you with the cost of buying a Dictaphone.
What are your top tips for studying with brain fog?