How to Support the Needs of Test Prep Students with ADHD

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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) diagnoses are on the rise among America’s student population. By definition, students with ADHD have difficulty with tasks like focusing and impulse control. That being said, the ways these difficulties manifest vary from person to person. This has a profound impact on the way educators must be prepared to modify their test prep curriculum in order to maximize the growth students with ADHD can achieve.


Understanding the challenge

The learning objective for a student with ADHD should be no different from any other student: growth. The diagnosis simply means that there is the need for some creativity and flexibility in achieving that aim.

ADHD is not an excuse for failure or a lack of effort. While students with ADHD often face sincere challenges in trying to maintain focus and composure, allowing a student’s diagnosis to excuse a lack of growth is doing the student a disservice.

The challenge for educators is finding ways to help students work through their symptoms rather than allowing them to not work because of them. For test prep professionals, this can be accomplished by fostering strategies and workflows that allow students to both engage with a test prep curriculum and reflect upon the strategies that are most helpful.

Modifying testing conditions

Students with clinically diagnosed ADHD have the option of applying for modified versions of the SAT and ACT testing experience. An Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 Plan are the common documents that will enable to qualify for the relevant supports.

The process for seeking out and applying for these modifications can take some time, but tutors should encourage students with IEPs or 504s to pursue them. These modifications include things like extended testing time, the ability to take additional or longer breaks, and even the use of various reading aids.

If a student is eligible for testing modifications, tutors should put these helps in place as a part of the practice experience so that students are best prepared for what to expect on test day.

More information on testing accommodations for the SAT
More information on testing accommodations for the ACT

Modifying working conditions

Whether a student qualifies for formal testing modifications or not, part of a tutors of students with ADHD should spend time helping students develop strategies and coping mechanisms to help offset the disruptions of the disorder. Again, ADHD is a broadly defined condition, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

However, educators can help these students learn to self-reflect upon their own attentiveness, energy level, and focus. The goal is then to enable students recognize the effects of their ADHD on their learning process so that they can choose the appropriate countermeasures to overcome them.

Some commonly effective approaches to try include:

  • Establish routines and stick to them. A structured workflow and schedule can help create a predictable learning environment optimized for student success. If students know what to expect, they can better prepare themselves to mentally engage.
  • Focus on tangible rewards rather than abstract ones. Intrinsic motivation is the golden goose of education, but sometimes it takes some extrinsic goals to help get to that point. For students with ADHD, tangible benefits are easier to focus on than esoteric ones. As such, they will typically produce better results.
  • Limit distractions. Food, cell phones, tablets, computers, pencils, or even a paperclip could become a powerful force in derailing the focus of a student with ADHD. Make it a point to keep students’ workspaces free from unnecessary objects and stimuli.
  • Set up accountability protocols for students and parents. This is a must for all test prep students, but students with ADHD are more prone to things like procrastination and work avoidance than other students are. Regular communication between stakeholders about progress, practice, and struggles is essential!
  • Make breaks productive. Breaks during work time should not be free time. The purpose of a break is for a student to re-center, adjust his or her energy level, and refocus. A break should start and end at specific times to help a student know when to expect it and prepare for transitioning out of it.
  • Utilize mindfulness techniques to promote self-regulation. While a student’s current challenge may be on completing the ACT practice worksheets directly in front of them, ADHD is a condition he or she will grapple with long after leaving your tutelage. Part of the learning experience needs to focus on practices that help students identify ADHD-related struggles when they arise, reflect upon their effects, and employ the appropriate countermeasures to overcome them. This is no small task, but it is one of the most important in supporting students with ADHD.
  • Once more, a large part of working with students that have ADHD is trial and error. Some strategies will work better than others depending upon the student (and possibly even the day). Above all else, a willingness to be adapt and be flexible will help ensure that all students get the most out of your tutoring efforts.
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How have you been able to optimize your test prep curriculum for use with students with ADHD? Share your stories with our readers in the comments below and on social media!

Matt McCorkle