The Fat Envelope
A Discussion Of All Things College Admissions and Test Prep
I'm a long-time SAT tutor, and my specialty is working with students with learning disabilities, particularly ADHD.  Don't miss my tutoring website if you're looking for individualized help with test prep or accommodations.  Find me at

In many ways, a student with ADHD should prepare in exactly the same way as other students.  You will need the same types of knowledge, the same willingness to commit sufficient time and so on.  However, there are some specific issues of concern for ADHD students in regards to how to use their prep time, and perhaps more importantly, how to navigate the rough waters of seeking testing accommodations.  Here are a few things to keep in mind:
  • First and foremost, be sure you've got a good diagnosis and good treatment.  Problems with attention are NOT necessarily caused by ADHD, and starting a regimen of stimulant medications when you don't actually have ADHD is a recipe for major trouble.  This means visiting with an ADHD expert.  While your pediatrician may mean well, he or she is not necessarily equipped to make a good ADHD diagnosis.  The medication point goes for students, too, that think that taking their friend's Ritalin on test day will boost their scores.  You're likely to just make yourself too wired to focus, so don't do it! 
  • ADHD students may be more likely to benefit from multiple forms of prep materials.  While books are a wonderful resource and the right choice for many students, an ADHD student may find this traditional approach a challenge.  Look into online courses that are interactive.  Many offer video lessons or brief presentations of key topics, and some even allow you access to live online tutoring.  The College Board offers an online course, but many private companies do as well.  Other options include IPhone apps and podcasts.  For vocabulary prep, Word-Nerd is your best bet, of course!
  • As with all studying, give yourself ample time to absorb the material.  I generally recommend starting at least three months before test day, but an ADHD student may want to start even earlier.  It may be unrealistic to expect a student to focus for hours at a time, so try to do SAT prep in 15-30 minute blocks.  You'll be more likely to retain what you learn, and your study time will be more efficient.  A very good option for ADHD students is to do SAT prep during the summer when you've got fewer commitments.  You may even want to plan to take the SAT early, in October of your junior year.  Again, you've just had the summer to prepare, and you're allowing yourself a full year to retake the test once or twice more if necessary. 
  • The flip side of this is that in reality, the SAT is a very long test, and you're going to have to get through it.  Your study plan should include taking several full length, timed practice tests along the way.  You're not only monitoring your progress and identifying focus areas for further preparation, but you can evaluate when your mind starts to wander.  Is the essay the toughest thing for you?  Does math make you lose focus?  Just knowing your weakest areas can help you learn to be especially vigilant to distractions at those times.
  • If you're seeking accommodations for taking the test, start this process early!  I can't say that enough.  You're going to have to assemble a significant amount of documentation from your doctors and/or school.  If you need testing to document your disability, you need to allow at least a month, and preferably longer, to get the testing scheduled, complete the evaluation, and get the results back.  If you've had previous testing done, you may need to get an update if those results are more than a year old.  Take into account, too, that the College Board isn't going to make their determination the day after you send in the materials.  It's also up to you to ensure that the documentation meets the College Board's requirements.  You can find the application and documentation requirements on their website.  Your school counselor can help with this process as well, so don't be afraid to seek him or her out!
  • Be judicious in the types of accommodations you request.  Extended test taking time is often NOT going to be helpful for ADHD students.  Making the test longer will only increase fatigue and make you more vulnerable to attentional drift.  A better choice may be asking for a small group or private administration to minimize distractions.  Another option is requesting more frequent or longer breaks.  Talk to your physician or counselor about what may work for you.
  • Don't freak out if your request for accommodations is denied.  You can reapply if you choose (again, this is another reason to start early).  Speak with your doctor or counselor about any weaknesses in the documentation, or check out this list of the most common problems with applications.  Just remember that your documentation has to clearly show that your ADHD negatively impacts your test taking skills.  A diagnosis alone is not sufficient.
The take home message for students with ADHD is to be organized and start your SAT prep early. Otherwise, just keep yourself motivated and remind yourself that your efforts will pay off when you get that acceptance letter in the mail.  Good luck!
Thanks for sharing these important tips! I find that breaking studying into shorter time blocks can be extremely helpful for students with ADHD. It may also be helpful to partner with a friend or someone else who can help you stay on track with your study schedule.

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