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Feel Like Torture?  15 Writing Tips for College Students with ADHD

ADHD:  Disorganized.  Cramming.  The urge to procrastinate.  Add college and it’s a real mess.

Time out of hand, papers everywhere.  Assignments late or undone.  There are definite ways to make a change.  The question is:  What are they?

College students with ADHD often have a severe impact on their studies.  Inattentiveness leads to a disorganized writing process.  They struggle keeping ideas in their mind long enough to remember what they want to say.  Difficulty maintaining focus on their train of thought results in challenges so they don’t veer off course.

Unstructured thought results in difficulties organizing content.  Multitasking is a skill lacking in most people.  This is especially true for people with ADHD.  

Writing tasks require the manipulation of ideas and details.  Simultaneously, they must keep in mind the big picture being communicated.  With the time and frustration taken to complete assignments, there is virtually no time (or energy) to create success.

Writing on the university level can be a wonderful way to express creative ideas.  The challenge for students with ADHD is that they are 5 times more likely to have writing problems.  Getting their ideas and thoughts on paper can be a real struggle.

  • Face greater responsibilities.
  • Have less structured time.
  • Encounter new social situations.
  • Difficulty with limited language skills.
  • Take longer getting started with writing assignments.

The writing process involves planning, analyzing, and organizing thoughts.  Editing incorporates prioritizing and sequencing information.  The same is true for both high school and college.  Having difficulties organizing thoughts is the major challenge.  

Several studies have found that college students with ADHD struggle organizing their thoughts.  This can be exasperated by an executive functioning disorder.  Starting with a simple systems gives them freedom to manipulate ideas.  Working with several techniques to customize the process for individual skills and challenges.


Mind-mapping – A semantic mind map for an essay may include major nouns, verbs, and outlines.



Advanced Outline – Begin with Introduction and Conclusion as placeholders.



Cornell Notes – Asking questions, then answering them.



Sticky Note Outline/Brainstorm Board – Create small easy-to-manage pieces.

Adding to the challenges for students with ADHD are difficulties with working memory.  They need strategies to remember what they’re writing about.  Sequencing is important, deciding what they want to do next.  High school skills can benefit how to apply grammar, capitalization, and punctuation rules.  Having specific tools help in the long run.

  • Read and highlight in different colors.
  • Makes notes and doodle them.
  • Look up relevant samples.
  • Use mnemonics to create funny ways to remember information.
  • Provide 2 to 2.5 hours of study time per credit hour.

The differences between high school and college writing starts at the beginning.  Students with ADHD can pull off good grades at the secondary level.  However, odds are that these same strategies won’t work in college.  They should use accommodations to support their efforts, especially extra time to complete assignments.

The middle of the college stage requires executive functioning skills.  This pattern of chronic difficulties in executing daily tasks is common in people with ADHD.  Targeted strategies can help.

  • Have some idea about what you want to write about.
  • Figure out how many hours you’ll need to work.
  • Block out hours on a schedule.
  • With a deadline in mind, sit down and do it.
  • Go digital by starting the process on a computer (mind-mapping, outlining)

Look for help from their professor.  Start with ways to begin and how to proceed.  Use an essay template as an example to show how to write and revise it.

Classmates are a great resource when starting and completing assignments.  Both can share language and perspectives.  Consider social skills throughout the interaction.  Approach calmly, asking instead of demanding.  Beginning conversations are important.  It’s in the how.

Not everything works every time.  Mix it up and see what happens.  Taking multiple breaks and getting enough sleep are a good start.

Things can seem darkest before the dawn.  Don’t let the challenges that ADHD presents stop your college progress.  Asking for help sets the groundwork for future success.

Think of college like a job…one that YOU pay for.


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    Thanks for this information.. wow it means Alot to me 2 know I’m not alone in this world.!!! Hugs beautiful human being!!!

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      No, you’re not alone. There’s a new post every week. Check out our Facebook and Google+ pages too.

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