Standardized Testing and ADD/ADHD

August 16, 2017 

3209126306_0a0090523a_z.jpgIt’s a rare student who leaps out of bed, glances at the calendar, and shouts, “Yay! Today’s the day I get to take a standardized test!”

For most people, testing is a tough activity. It requires focus. Strong reading comprehension skills and excellent math skills can lead to successful outcomes, but they don’t necessarily make the testing experience fun.  

What is rigorous for the average student can be doubly so for a student dealing with learning disabilities such as ADD or ADHD. 

The article “7 Ways to Boost Your SAT Score” by Paul Osborne in Additude: Inside the ADHD mind hits the nail on the head: “The SAT college admissions test is not exactly ADHD-friendly.”

Osborne points out that aspects of the test that many students dislike—for example, being forced to sit and concentrate for hours at a time—can be torture for a test-taker dealing with any type of attention deficit disorder.

Osborne and fellow author Eric Bjerstedt (“When ADD Meets the SAT”) offer a few tips. These strategies are useful for anybody, but are especially helpful for students with ADD/ADHD.

Take a practice test in the most realistic conditions you can find. Bjerstedt points out that the real testing room will not be silent. It will be full of noises that are unavoidable in any group of people. Think people coughing and breathing, chairs squeaking, pages turning. He suggests one tactic for getting used to these environmental noises: Do a practice test under the same conditions! Bjerstedt recommends a busy library or café rather than a silent bedroom. (Note: A+ regularly offers free proctored practice testing sessions that fulfill these same requirements.) Students should also consider looking into testing accommodations. A student with ADD, ADHD, or other learning disabilities might be able to take the test alone in a quiet room.

Here is one tip for those taking a standardized test with ADD or ADHD; don’t spend too much time reading or rereading the passages. Ask yourself what you think the “general idea” or “main theme” of the passage is. Bjerstedt says that “for questions concerning specific words or lines, find these in the passage and read the text around them.” The key word is “relevant.” You don’t need to absorb every word on the test—you only need to grasp those parts that help you answer the questions correctly.


On the other hand, you do need to read those word problems! 

Osborne puts it this way: “Math problems in school are easy to understand, but hard to solve. SAT math questions are harder to understand, but easier to solve.” At A+, our tutors see evidence that careful reading on the math test works. When a tutor asks a student to reread a question he or she got wrong, the student sometimes doesn’t even get all the way through the question before remarking “Oh, I didn’t see that word,” or “Oh, now I see what they meant.” Remember, on the math sections of the SAT or ACT your reading skills are more necessary than ever.

Give yourself a break! (Literally) Even though reading skills don’t get a break, you, the tester, may need one. Standardized testing is all about endurance. As we mentioned above, concentrating for the entire testing session is hard for everybody, but even harder for ADD or ADHD students. Become your own supervisor and allow yourself to take some mini-breaks during the test. Let yourself daydream for a minute or two—push the mental reset button! Just remember, says Osborne, to do this “in the middle of a section after you’ve answered questions. Taking a break before doing so will make it tougher to regain your focus.”

At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, we are here to help make the testing process as productive and stress-free as possible.  We advise you on which test (the ACT or SAT) is best suited to your strengths, and we carefully pair you with tutors who can help you attain your “personal best” score. 

If you would like more information about our free proctored practice tests or any of our other services, our Client Service Directors Anne Stanley and Susan Ware are available to answer questions and provide solutions. You may reach either of them by calling A+ Test Prep and Tutoring at 215-886-9188.

Photo credit: Conner Downey


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