Sybil Low by Sybil Low

ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, has recently become a problem widely spoken about. There are many students who have this diagnosis but do not necessarily know what to do with it. For them, studying is hard, and organizing themselves is even harder. Though, it’s not impossible.

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Key Takeaways

  • ADHD affects many students, making tasks such as studying, organizing, and especially essay writing, difficult due to challenges with focus and attention to detail.
  • Using a table chart – breaking down points, reasoning, and evidence – significantly simplifies the essay-writing process for those with ADHD.
  • Apart from table charts, other strategies like creating outlines from syllabus rubrics, bullet point outlines, and flexible essay structures can aid ADHD students in essay writing.

In the US, around 6 million children are diagnosed with ADHD and 13% of these are 12-17-year-olds. This widely common problem, nonetheless, hasn’t been for a long time addressed by society, not to mention the educational sector. 

Students with ADHD enter universities, knowing that from that period on it will be a hard battle between them and the regular studying system. Sadly, not everybody makes it. Around 11% of freshmen who have ADHD drop out due to problems with punctuality, focus maintenance, and lack of supervision which leads to questionable decision-making.

The Issues of Studying with ADHD

Doing homework is another tough trial for these students. Many find that it takes them ages to finish work, while their groupmates are quickly done with the same tasks. As they have problems with focus and attention to detail, writing assignments become a particular challenge. Try keeping your train of thought in line when its routes constantly change. What’s even harder is reviewing the final work, as ADHD students not only tend to miss out on small details but also try to finish their torture as fast as possible which leads to pretty careless mistakes. 

Constant errors and generally less elaborated answers may then even further discourage students from working on their skills and doing these types of tasks.  Luckily, as these issues is voiced aloud more, young people can learn from one another and share their working strategies of organizing their academic efforts. 

This one student, for example, shared on Reddit their recently-found way of making essay writing less hard. As it turned out, the whole secret was in compiling the right table for your thoughts:

“It’s literally just a table with a point in one column, reasoning/argument in the next, and then evidence in the final one… yes we were taught this method in secondary school but not as a TABLE. OMG I can jump from point to point so easily, and as my brain spurts out random information I can just put it in the right place on the table and BAM suddenly have thousands of words written and it’s just a matter of copy-pasting then into an essay format and adding connective words :))”

As many asked to see this famous table, the OP shared it:

Image of essay writing table shared by the student on Reddit

As we went through the thread we also saw many share their own experiences of battling writing problems. As it turned out, there are a lot of ways to keep your ADHD brain organized and focused.

Table Chart is the Answer

Some students agreed that table charts were a great option, as they helped them keep all the information in one structured place:

“I had a method I’d use at uni where I did it in Word in a similar way. I’d have the topics for the paper as headers and the under each one I’d copy in the reference and underneath that put bullet points of the information I got from it, that way I could see which of the papers I had found had been summarised and which still needed doing.”

“I did this with note cards and it was EXTREMELY helpful. During the research phase, I would have a note card per source. As a paper formed in my mind during the research phase, I would use coloured highlighters to highlight topics. Then I would have a note card per topic with bullet points and then type it all up in complete sentences and an intro and conclusion. That sounds like a lot but it helped me become incredibly familiar with the information which made writing so much easier and this was before all the technology that we have now.”

“The way the professor wanted us to write essays was basically this. We had a table with the thesis of the paragraph, one column with evidence another with an explanation of the evidence and one dedicated to why it mattered. It blew my mind and made structuring essays so much easier. I really only use the table now if I don’t really enjoy the subject I’m writing about. It’s a great tool to organize your thoughts and create legible essays.”

As you can see, table charts were one of the popular options when it came to thought organization. But it Wasn’t the only one. 

Outlining or Going with the Flow?

A few other tactics to cope with ADHD messy head included outlining. Redditors mentioned a few different approaches to the method like creating a skeleton of the writing from the given syllabus.

“Another good way is making a skeleton from the syllabus/marking rubric. And make little headings (including one for the intro and one for the conclusion) with a few notes under each one of the things you need to include to get full marks. It makes it so much easier for me to do in small chunks and not leave it until the last minute.”

“Using the Rubric is what got me through uni! If there’s a rubric provided, there’s an excellent chance the teaching body would actually prefer having your submission laid out to match it. Headings and sub-headings for each section, plus it makes it easier to be sure that the section worth 10 points has more to it than the section worth 5 points.”

One user also mentioned that making a bullet point outline was helpful, as it helped sort out the thoughts and ideas more efficiently:

“This semester I have to write ~1000 word essays weekly that connect with a (set of) texts. I started to adopt the bullet point outline for ALL my writing except translations. Helps me sort my thoughts and ideas, check for balance between the parts and allow me to break up the work. I can read the text(s), write bullet points for that, write bullet points for the different reflections, and turn bullet points into words – ALL SEPARATE! The last if needed can even be broken up more. And nothing gets lost!”

If you are not a list person, you could also adopt another way of outlining, when you figure out the topics first and then gradually add needed information to them. This is how it was described by one student:

“I was an outline hater for much of my high school life until I was slapped with a 6-page essay and had no idea where to even start. I would start by making the topics of the paragraphs. Then adding the quotes to support them. Then add the details. Combine it into paragraph form and read it to make sure it makes sense. Do a spelling and grammar check. Read again. Submit.”

Going With The Flow Could Work Though

There was one alternative method mentioned as well. It concentrated on the fact that writing doesn’t necessarily need to be structured exactly like it taught you in school.

“An alternative tactic which helped me with essays was realizing that I don’t need to be confined by the five-paragraph structure we use in grade school. A lot of famous papers that I read in my classes seemed to just kind of flow from topic to topic in whatever order was the most logical to the writer. I started doing the same and while I can’t say my grades improved, my enjoyment of the process increased greatly. It was like letting the essay format change to fit my own mind. Additionally, I’d gone through enough essay writing that I knew intuitively how to cite sources properly, so that wasn’t an issue.”

So, if you want to embrace your free flight of thought, this could work for you as well. Write as feels natural and you will probably end up with a well-structured essay. Just don’t get carried away too much and stick to your initial topic.

Other Essay Writing Tips That Can Make It Easier for YouDespite ADHD

Writing Essays with ADHD Can be a Bliss – Student on Reddit Found

Outlining is a great strategy to help you keep your work structured. However, it is just the beginning. You will then need to combine all your thoughts and findings under your structure creating the whole picture. We searched around a little bit and found a few more things you can do to turn your essays into candy.

Engaging with Writing

Having created an outline and maybe a thesis for your writing, you can create a new document. There you will continue your writing as per the topics in your rough draft, filling out all the necessary details. You can also organise them in bullet lists if it works for you. This method encourages a deeper engagement with your writing. By doing so, mistakes become more apparent, especially when seen in list form. Transitions that might be causing confusion and unnecessary information that doesn’t serve the narrative become easier to spot. 

Storytelling and Visualization

Even when working with factual subjects, essay writing is similar to storytelling. Understand the journey from the introduction to the body of your essay, visualizing the direction of your argument, which helps in progressing towards the conclusion. You can even imagine a road and just follow it seeing where the presented facts may take you.

Editing and Proofreading

Undoubtedly, this step is critical. And, with ADHD, pretty daunting. There’s a trick that may help though: visualize proofreading as using binoculars:

  • Initially, aim for a bird’s-eye view to understand the bigger picture. Double-line spacing can aid this macro view. 
  • Once this is done, zoom in on the finer details. Read the essay pretending someone else wrote it, focusing on transitions and the logical flow from one paragraph to the next. 
  • Following this, read sentence by sentence, ensuring each connects and flows with the next. 

Revise as necessary, repeating the process until satisfied.


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