College Readiness and AD/HD: Academic Considerations

This post is one in a series examining several facets of college readiness. According to Landmark College (, important readiness factors include: academic skills, self-understanding, self-advocacy, executive function skills, including time management and organization, and motivation and confidence. This post is looking at the subject of academic readiness

Of key importance in college readiness is the ability to handle college-level academic expectations. Ideally, academic considerations to support college readiness should be addressed in the high school setting. They can be incorporated into the IEP/504 or transitions plan. Some teens can also benefit from additional tutoring, coaching, or parental support around these skills.

Seven key academic considerations important in college readiness are: note-taking skills, study skills, test-taking strategies, skills for writing academic papers, library and research skills, college-prep courses, and familiarity with technology aids. Check these considerations out in more detail below:

1. Note-taking skills

Why note-taking? Note-taking skills are important in college for several reasons. First, believe it or not, most students pay better attention when engaged in note-taking! And note-taking actually starts the process of learning. Also, instructors often use the lecture to give clues about what to expect on exams (listen particularly for anything emphasized or repeated). And finally, reviewing your notes helps you prepare well for a test!

How do you take notes? What works well for you? Where do you run into problems?

The Academic Resource Center at Sweet Briar College in Virginia poses the following questions students can use to evaluate their own note-taking skills (

Did I use complete sentences? (generally a waste of time)
Did I use any form at all?
Are my notes clear or confusing?
Did I capture main points and all subpoints?
Did I streamline using abbreviations and shortcuts?

If you answered “no” to any of those five questions, you may want to tune-up your note-taking skills before heading off to college. No one method of note-taking works for everyone, so experiment a bit.

Check out the following resources to see what works best for you. Then practice, practice, practice. Don’t slack off just because it is summer: you can use video lectures from the library or internet to practice note-taking anytime!

Check out this great overview of note-taking:

Examples of various approaches to note-taking include: detoured=1,3002,1-27933,00.html

Practical tips can be found at

Remember, notes don’t have to be taken by hand. Most colleges are fine with students bringing a laptop to class.

2. Study skills

How do you learn best? Are you a visual learner? auditory? kinesthetic? You learn most effectively when you understand how you personally learn. You study most effectively when you know how you best study.

Learning skills and study strategies can be taught, but they have to be individualized, for best success. You may even find that you need to study differently depending on the subject!

Here’s a great website that explains learning styles and offers a quick on-line quiz to help you assess your own style:

Follow that up by exploring which tools and strategies work best for you:

Many colleges offer study skills courses. You might even be able to sign up for one at your local community college while you are in high school. Keep in mind: studying does take time, so be sure to plan that into your busy schedule if you want to study successfully!

3. Test-taking strategies

College classes often have fewer graded assignments than high school classes. So, any single test can count for a fairly substantial portion of your grade.

How do you study for tests? How many different strategies do you use? How well are your strategies working for you?

Check out this quick on-line self-assessment of test-taking skills to find out how good you are at preparing for and taking tests:

For most students with AD/HD, cram sessions just don’t work. Ideally, preparing for a test starts with carefully reading assignments before class, reviewing any problem sets if applicable, and reviewing notes right after class. Reviewing the material a number of times, over time, and perhaps in several modalities (read it, write it, say it, ask someone to quiz you, etc.) is important in preparing most effectively for a test. Studying over time is more effective than cramming.

Some students may also benefit from test-taking accommodations, such as a quiet location for test-taking and/or extended time. If you qualify, be sure to make arrangements for this in the beginning of the semester.

Here’s one college student’s experience:

Want to review some test-taking tips and strategies in detail? Here are a few useful resources: (look at the sections on test preparation and on test taking)

4. Skills for writing academic papers

Studies have shown that writing can be challenging for many students with ADHD. It is a complex task requiring getting started, motor control for the physical act of writing, use of active working memory, creativity, organizing one’s thoughts, staying on task, and other executive skills.

How’s your writing? What works well for you? What do you find difficult?

Becoming familiar with the various steps involved in writing is a good place to start if you want to improve your skills. Master each one and you’ll be in good shape.

The website offers detailed information on the following steps in the writing process:

1. Develop your topic
2. Identify your audience
3. Research
4. Organize and pre-write
5. Draft/write
6. Revise
7. Proofread

Becoming confident with formats for different types of writing, particularly essays and research papers, will also help with college readiness. A simple guide for the 5-Paragraph essay format:

On the technology side, it is worth becoming a good typist. Furthermore, software such as “Inspiration” can help you organize ideas if you are visual, and “Dragon Naturally Speaking,” a voice-to-text program, can help you get ideas down in print if you process better verbally.

Finally is just getting started is tough for you, try talking the topic out with someone first, or try writing for only a short five or ten minutes to see if that gets things flowing.

You don’t want to wait until you get to college to develop your writing skills, but rest assured that you can continue to sharpen them there. Most colleges require a writing course in the first semester. Many colleges also have some type of student writing center – the mentors there won’t write your papers for you, but they will offer support.

5. Library and research skills

What are your research skills like? How much experience do you have finding materials in a library? How familiar are you at finding good electronic resources (i.e. not just using Wikipedia!)?

If research skills are an area you might need some help in you can work with a teacher or librarian to get familiar with different kinds of print and electronic sources, how to research topics in different subject areas, and how to decide whether a source is reputable or not.

A fun, easy website introducing basic library and research skills:

Remember, even in college, librarians want to help you find what you need to do your assignments. Don’t be too shy to ask for help.

6. College prep courses

What types of courses do you need to be considered at the colleges you might be interested in?

You and your guidance counselor can best figure out what courses are best given your future plans. Discuss with your counselor whether you should consider some college prep coursework. The benefit is experience in course work designed to help you develop the skills needed for college courses.

7. Familiarity with useful technology aids

Does your psycho-educational or neuropsychological report, or your IEP, suggest any assistive technology that might make things easier for you? What do you know about the options?

Spell-checkers, word-prediction software, voice-to-text, talking calculators, screen readers, idea mapping software, timers and alarms, laptops, on-line or hand-held planners …. There is a lot of technology available that can build on your strengths and help you manage your challenges.

Check out this great article on assistive technology for AD/HD:

This index of articles is also worth a look:

Some sources of technology that can be useful for students with AD/HD and other learning disabilities include:

Envision Technology at

eAdultADHD at

Keep in mind, some colleges have the Kurzweil Reader and other technology available on campus, so check ahead before making major purchases. As an example, Montgomery College in Maryland lists the following types of technology available on campus for students with learning disabilities: Kurzweil 3000, WYNN, Lexia, Inspiration, audio books (Daisy), e-text, Dragon Naturally Speaking, My Writing Lab, Skillbank, Townsend Press, and Browse Aloud.

If you found this blogpost useful, stay tuned. Subsequent blog posts, over the next 1-2 months, will address other key areas of college readiness with tips for success in each area. Check back! Or email me at to get my newsletter.

If you are interested in working with an AD/HD coach to help ascertain and/or prepare for college readiness, or to support success in the transition to college, I’d be happy to talk to you! Please check my website at or contact me at

Posted in college readiness

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.