Preparing for the SAT or ACT: A Guide for ADHD Students

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The first time Joe had a College Board test – I think it was the PSAT – we didn’t know you needed to apply for testing accommodations. Joe went in expecting extra time, and he was unpleasantly surprised. SAT & ACT for the ADHD student

Today’s post is by Jenn Cohen, the self described ‘Chief Word Nerd’ of Jenn Cohen Tutoring. She has some invaluable tips to help you navigate the troubled waters of the SAT and the ACT. I wish I had read this a few years ago!

College admissions tests are a necessity for most college bound students, but just a mere mention of those three letters S-A-T can make kids (and parents) run for the hills. The urge to dash for the door may be even greater for ADHD students. Preparing for the test can be an overwhelming task, and applying for testing accommodations can be lengthy, expensive and unfortunately, unsuccessful.

Here are a few tips to get your college bound teen on the right track. Most importantly, don’t procrastinate! It’s tempting to stay in denial about the realities of test day, but starting early can make all the difference, especially for ADHD students. I encourage my tutoring clients to start prepping for the test a year before they plan to take the test. Yes, really.

As you already know, ADHD students need more time to complete school aassignments, and test prep is no different. To get in the same amount of practice tests and questions as typical students, ADHD students need to allow plenty of additional time. Ideally, ADHD students will start their SAT or ACT prep by the fall of their junior year at the latest. This allows time to not only get completely comfortable with the test, but it eliminates a lot of stress that comes with last minute cramming.

Another important reason to get an early start is to allow plenty of time to request test accommodations. A 504 plan/IEP may be sufficient to qualify for accommodations, but it may not. If your child is denied accommodations on the first request, you want to make sure you have enough time to gather and submit additional documentation. That may mean repeating any diagnostic testing. A good rule of thumb is that test results more than three years old should be updated. Talk to your child’s school counselor for more information about how to apply.

Before submitting your accommodations application, it’s important to develop an accommodations strategy, particularly if your student is opting for the SAT instead of the ACT. Extended time conditions on the SAT can be grueling at best, and counterproductive at worst. Carefully consider which accommodations will be most helpful, then request only those! I strongly encourage students to take a full-length practice test with accommodations to help determine which are necessary and which only make a long test even longer.

With that being said, the ACT is often a better choice for ADHD students. The accommodations available are more friendly to an ADHD student’s needs, and ACT, Inc. tends to be a bit more generous with awarding accommodations than the College Board. Read more about the ACT and ADHD.

As for the type of prep your student needs, the options are practically endless. However, ADHD students seem to have the most trouble with classroom preparation. That setting is distracting for typical students; for ADHD students, it can be a guarantee of getting little from the course. Better options are independent self-prep or working with a tutor. Tutors are ideal for ensuring accountability, working through tough questions and remediating skills that students may never have fully grasped in school.

The SAT and ACT don’t have to be a nightmare. With planning and an early start, college admissions tests are entirely manageable, if not fun! OK, I lied about that last part, but seriously, just think about the tests as speed bumps on your way to college. Every student who wants to go to college can get there.

Jenn Cohen is owner of Jenn Cohen Tutoring and President and Chief Word Nerd of, an SAT vocabulary website. She specializes in tutoring ADHD students for SAT, PSAT and ACT. You can find her on Twitter @satprepforadhd and @SheldonWordNerd.


Read more about preparing for the SAT:

SAT Prep for an ADHD Student
How to Help an ADHD Child with the SAT

About Kayla

Kayla Fay is a freelance writer and the mother of four boys, three of whom have been formally diagnosed with the inattentive type of ADHD. When she started “Who Put the Ketchup in the Medicine Cabinet?” in 2002, her sons were ages 8 through 14, when her life was a “progression of dirty laundry, lost homework, misunderstood Algebra, and a whole lot of love and fun”.

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