Is Extended Time on Tests Helpful for Kids with ADHD?By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.
When kids and teens with ADHD qualify for accommodations at school, either through and IEP or 504 Plan, extended time on exams is often one of the academic accommodations provided. On the surface, providing students with ADHD with extended time on exams can seem like a great idea. After all, these students often take longer to complete assignments than students without ADHD, and on exams, they may only complete half the questions when their classmates without ADHD complete the entire test. So, extended time on exams seems like a reasonable accommodation that would give them the time they need to demonstrate their knowledge without being penalized for their ADHD symptoms. A closer look at the effects of extended time on academic performance, however, paints a picture that is much less straightforward.
Let’s start by talking about what extended time actually entails. “Extended time” typically translates into time-and-a-half (for example, 1 ½ hours for a 1-hour test) or twice the allotted exam time. In addition to having more time to take the test, kids receiving this accommodation also take the exam in a separate room, either alone or with other students who have the same accommodation.
Now let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of extended time:
- Being pulled out of class for exams. Taking exams in a separate room can be both a positive and a negative for students with ADHD. On the positive side, if they are in a room alone or with only a few other students, they may have an easier time staying focused. They may also have less anxiety if they are bothered by seeing other students finish first. On the negative side, students (particularly older elementary students and teens) who are sensitive to the stigma that can come with being singled out from your peers may resist the extended time accommodation altogether or feel uncomfortable with the situation.
- Addressing the underlying issue. There are many reasons why students with ADHD don’t finish exams on time. Sometimes they have poor test-taking or reading comprehension skills; other times, they struggle to stay focused and work productively on a relatively “boring” task for even 10 minutes (and extending the length of the task doesn’t improve their productivity); in other cases, anxiety is the culprit, and extended time doesn’t reduce anxiety effectively. In some cases, slow processing speed is the underlying issue, which may actually be addressed by extended time. For students who have deficits in areas related to test-taking skills or who have test anxiety, addressing the underlying issues will be more effective than an extended time accommodation.
- Does it really improve academic performance? While only a handful of studies have looked at the effects of extended time on test grades and academic performance in students with ADHD, the findings generally show that there is no academic benefit.1 One exception is a study that looked at test performance in students with ADHD who had poor reading comprehension skills. Those students did seem to benefit from extended time. The one caveat here is that these studies were largely done in controlled environments and not in a typical noisy classroom setting. So, the real-world academic benefits for an individual student may be different from what this limited research has shown.
Overall, extended time on exams is an accommodation to carefully consider for your child or teen with ADHD. It may be beneficial for some students and not beneficial for others. If you decide to include extended time as part of your child’s 504 or IEP plan, monitor their progress. Are they showing academic improvement? Do they say that it’s helpful to take their exams in a separate room? Or do they find the pull-outs disruptive or stressful? When extended time is provided, it’s important to make sure that the underlying test-taking challenges are also addressed, whether that’s treating the test anxiety, teaching strategies for improving the rate of information processing, or coming up with creative ways to improve concentration during exams (e.g. wearing noise-cancelling headphones while taking exams in the classroom). As is often the case with ADHD, there is rarely a one-size-fits-all solution, and it’s up to parents and teachers to find creative and comprehensive ways to help students reach their full potential.
1Brown, T.E., Reichel, P.C., Quinlan, D.M. (2011). Extended time improves reading comprehension test scores for adolescents with ADHD. Open Journal Of Psychiatry, 1, 79-87
Pariseau, M.E., Fabiano, G.A., Massetti, G.M., Hart, K.C., Pelham, W.E. (2010). Extended time on Academic Assignments: Does Increased Time Lead to Improved Performance for Kids with ADHD? School Psychology Quarterly, 25, 236-248.
Lovett, B.J. & Leja, A.M. (2015). ADHD symptoms and Benefit from Extended Time Testing Accommodations. Journal of Attention Disorders, 19, 167-172.
ABOUT DR. MARY ROONEY
Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.
Huntington Learning Center is the tutoring and test prep leader. Its certified tutors provide individualized instruction in reading, phonics, writing, study skills, elementary and middle school math, Algebra through Calculus, Chemistry, and other sciences. It preps for the SAT and ACT, as well as state and standardized exams. Huntington programs develop the skills, confidence, and motivation to help students of all levels succeed and meet the needs of Common Core State Standards. Founded in 1977, Huntington's mission is to give every student the best education possible. Call us today at 1.800.CAN LEARN to discuss how Huntington can help your child. For franchise opportunities please visit www.huntingtonfranchise.com.
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