Test-Taking Tips for Students with ADHD

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

For children with ADHD, just the thought of taking a test can create fear and worry. Although ADHD is not a learning disability, students with ADHD may have a hard time learning and remembering what they have learned. Constantly being distracted can cause students to miss important details in a lesson. And poor self-esteem can make them believe they will fail the test even before they begin. But tests are a part of school life and these days, standardized tests are required before graduating from high school.

Whether you are a student, a parent or a teacher, we have some great tips to make test taking a little easier for children with ADHD.

For Students:

Don't wait until the night before a test to start studying. Although you have probably heard this many times, taking 10 or 15 minutes each night to review your notes helps. It is easier to sustain attention for this amount of time rather than trying to focus for several hours right before a test. You might want to set up a schedule where you review notes for each class for 10 minutes per night. If you have four classes per day, this comes out to 40 minutes per night. Once a week you can take a little longer to review important information. This helps the information get into your long-term memory, where you are most apt to remember it later.

Know exactly what is going to be covered on the test. For some tests, knowing terms and definitions is important, while in others you will need to understand the characters in a book. Talk to your teacher and ask if she can go over what information you need to study. You may want to write an outline of what you see as important topics first and show it to your teacher, asking if she can help you to make additions or deletions.

Talk to your teacher about the upcoming test. Ask questions about the format -- is it multiple choice, essay, fill-in-the-blanks, matching, etc. Understanding the format can help you study better; for example, if it is an essay test you should spend more time understanding the concepts in the chapter, using facts to back up the concepts. If the test will be fill-in-the-blanks or matching, you should probably spend time learning specific facts, dates and names.

Create the best environment for studying and taking the test. For studying: do you need a quiet, distraction-free place or do you study best with the low hum of the radio? Find a spot at home where you can study without distraction. When taking the test, consider the classroom. Would you do better if your desk was in the front of the classroom, near the teacher? If you sit by a window, can you move your desk around so you can better focus on the test? Can you take the test in the library or the resource room? Think about how your environment impacts your schoolwork and work with your school and teacher to create the best test taking environment for you.

Be prepared for the test mentally and physically. Knowing the information isn't always enough. Make sure you get a good night's sleep the night before and eat a good breakfast the morning of the test. If your test is going to be late in the school day, a protein bar before the test may help.

Stay positive. If you are worried about your upcoming test, chances are, you have had problems with test-taking in the past. Watch how you talk to yourself. Stop yourself from negative self-talk such as "I know I will fail," or "It doesn't matter how much I study, I never do well on tests." Instead, remind yourself that you did study, you know the work, you can do well. If you tell yourself you will fail, you are setting yourself up to fail.

When given the test, use a highlighter (if possible) to highlight the instructions. Students with ADHD sometimes rush into beginning the test and fail to completely read the directions. Using a highlighter and outlining them will help you remember to slow down and think about what to do.

For parents:

Help your child set up a study schedule. Look over the information that is on the test and break it down into manageable study chunks, having your child review some of the information each night for several nights.

Talk with the teacher about accommodations to help your child take tests. If you have a Section 504 or IEP, you may have already included some. Accommodations can include: having your child take the test in a quiet area, such as the library or resource room, having extra time to take the test, having a reduced number of questions or giving oral tests.

Review test taking strategies. Instruct your child that, if you are stuck on a question or problem, move on and come back to it if you have time, it is better to miss one answer than to take too long and run out of time before the test is completed. For multiple choice tests, it may help to look over the possible answers, cross out those you are sure are incorrect and then decide which one that is left is best. Take time to read all directions and questions carefully. For essay questions, write down the important points before forming your answer. When reviewing your test, only change answers if you are sure your first answer is incorrect, don't second-guess yourself and start changing answers.

Remind your child that you will love him or her no matter what happens during the test. Remind him that he knows the work and can do this.

For more information: Ten Suggestions for Winning the Homework Wars

For teachers:

Prepare tests that are more apt to keep student's attention. For example, tests which include pictures, graphs and different colors will keep a student's attention.

Divide the test into clearly marked sections, with easy-to-understand instructions for each section.
For example, for a literature test, one section may be for vocabulary, one on story plot. This helps the student with ADHD focus rather than having questions that move from topic to topic throughout the test.

When creating tests, remember the aim of the test is to assess, not make the test so difficult that many students fail.

Write instructions for the test on the board for easy reference. You may want to read the directions aloud before beginning the test.

Consider using oral tests for those students who have a hard time focusing on lengthy, written tests.

Have the first several questions of the test be "easy" questions that you feel most of your students will know. This helps students not panic when they don't know the first answer.

For more information: Motivational Games for Teachers for Students with ADHD

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.