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Simple Test-Taking Tips for Your ADHD Kid

parenting kids with adhd

Kids with ADHD experience high levels of anxiety, discouragement and negative self-evaluation when it comes to test taking. Parents can help their children overcome this anxiety through the following simple tips.

Test-Taking Tips for ADHD Students

Parents of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) know that test taking is one of the most difficult tasks. Although test anxiety affects more than half of the student population, research shows that children with ADHD experience this anxiety at a greater and more consistent rate. Learning how to recognize the signs of test-taking anxiety in your ADHD child, along with implementing a few simple test-taking strategies, can help him or her overcome anxiety and perform better on tests.

Tip One: Understand Test Anxiety

Test anxiety is a normal occurrence for many students. It can hit when a student is thinking about a test, preparing for a test and even taking a test. Students with ADHD experience these anxieties at greater levels, which can restrict their test preparation and actual test taking. As a result, students have difficulty concentrating, paying attention and recalling facts from memory. This in turn affects how they read and understand test directions, retrieve facts and concepts learned earlier, and organize their answers.

Student stresses over test preparations.

Dr. Tamara Rosier explains that most students with ADHD who experience test anxiety participate in class, do their homework, study hard and feel confident that they understand the material. But on test day, everything goes blank. Students zone out, freeze and are unable to recall what was learned - even if it was learned moments before the actual test. The result is not only a poor test score but also psychological and emotional damage as well.

Test anxiety can cause students to:

  • Be more susceptible to procrastination
  • Take longer preparing for tests
  • Zone out during more than 40% of study time
  • Engage in poor motivation and negative self-talk and self-evaluation

Tip Two: Recognize the Signs of Test Anxiety

Recognizing the signs of test anxiety and understanding what your child is physically and mentally going through when it comes to test preparation and taking is also key. Younger students may show physical signs of stress and anxiety, including sweaty palms, upset stomach, trouble breathing, tension and rapid heart rate. Older students may present more behavioral symptoms, like avoiding people or situations, asking numerous questions or appearing extremely nervous.

Tip Three: Focus on Test Preparation at Home

Successful test takers know how to prepare ahead of time for an exam. Students with test anxiety, especially those with ADHD, tend to panic even in this phase of the test-taking process. Typically, ADHD students have difficulty identifying key information within study materials. The fear of learning the wrong thing or not learning enough can lead to information overload, which you can help combat by working with your child to identify key study areas.

Dr. Rosier suggests that the anxiety built up during test preparation is an unnecessary waste of energy that is needed for taking the test itself. When parents help with test preparation, they help their children stay focused and teach them how to direct energy towards the task. Here are Dr. Rosier's recommendations for helping your child with test-preparation anxiety:

  • Practice cognitive rehearsal skills by encouraging your child to visualize the perfect test experience, instead of dwelling on how bad it will be.
  • Encourage your child to express anxiety before a test by writing, drawing or even talking about it.
  • Practice positive self-talk, especially around test time, which can help students learn how to become their own coaches and talk themselves through their anxiety. Teach your child to recognize symptoms of negative self-talk and transition to positive, reassuring words.

ADHD Coach Michael Sandler also suggests developing practice tests for your child and walking through the test-taking process with him or her. Time how long it takes to answer each question in order to have an idea of how much your child will need to take the test at school. Share this information with your child's teacher and consider asking for extended test time.

Parents can help children know what to study.

Tip Four: Prepare Physically for the Test

In addition to assisting with actual studying and practice tests, parents can help their child by ensuring his or her mind and body are refreshed and ready for test day. Psychologist Kathleen G. Nadeau, Ph.D. believes the following four strategies to be especially beneficial:

  • Ensure that your child gets enough sleep the night before a test, as lack of sleep often increases ADHD symptoms, which in turn can increase test anxiety.
  • When working on practice tests with your child, try taking the test at different times of the day to determine what time he or she responds best. Talk with your child's teacher and request morning or afternoon test times as necessary.
  • Exercising and eating right also play a role in preparing your child for a test. Parents can do their part by providing well-balanced meals and snacks. Encourage your child to drink lots of water and avoid sugary sodas and juices. Exercise is also critical: studies show that high-impact exercises can help stimulate or change brain chemistry, making it more focused and alert.
  • If your child is on medication for his or her ADHD, make sure it's being administered correctly. Help your child prepare physically and mentally by giving medications consistently and on time.

Tip Five: Develop a Strategy for the Test

The final tip for aiding your ADHD child in taking tests is to develop a strategy or plan to implement when taking them. In addition to using positive self-talk and visualizing a successful test-taking experience, a test-taking plan can prevent a child from mentally freezing or panicking.

Here is a suggested checklist prepared by Dr. Nadeau. Parents can teach both younger and older students how to implement these suggestions while taking a test.

  • Close your eyes, take a deep breath and relax your shoulders.
  • Open your test and review it from beginning to end before answering questions.
  • Carefully review directions; reread them as needed.
  • Divide the test into 20-minute segments, leaving an extra segment at the end for review and revision. Mark the 15-minute stopping points throughout the text to make sure you have enough time to complete each section of a test.
  • Set an alarm for 15 minutes and take a break. If possible, use this time to stand up, walk around, waive your arms, stretch, drink water and eat a small snack (if allowed).
  • Don't get stuck. If you're stuck and you can't member an answer, move on and come back later. You may remember the answer while reviewing or answering questions on the rest of the test. This is also a good way to ensure time won't run out before completing each part of a test.

Thumbs up for a successful test!

Cheer Your Child On

Outcomes for implementing some of these tips will largely depend on where your child is at with his or her ADHD symptoms. Some steps may be easier to work out than others. No matter the result, parents should remember to stay positive and cheer their children on throughout the test-taking process.

If your child gets tired, take a break. If one step doesn't seem to be computing, then move on to another one. Some steps may need to be restructured to fit your child's particular need.

The important thing is to take your time and work with your child in a non-stressful environment. Remember, it's about breaking down the stress and anxiety - not creating more.

By Amanda Johnson
January 2017

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