SAT and ACT Success for Students with ADHD

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

For high school students the school year may just be starting, but it’s never too soon to start planning for college admissions tests like the SAT and ACT. Standardized tests are challenging for most students, and even more so for teens with ADHD. With ADHD it can be difficult to complete timed tests, avoid careless mistakes, and keep calm in stressful conditions. So, it’s especially important to support your teen by putting a standardized test plan into place as soon as possible.

Register on Time

If you have a teenager with ADHD you know by now that completing tedious, multi-step tasks and meeting deadlines are not their forte. While it’s important for all teens to gain independence during high school, resist using the SAT or ACT sign-up process to teach a life lesson. Take some of the burden off of your teen by learning about the deadlines and taking the lead in the sign-up process. This will reduce stress and will allow your teen to focus their energy on studying for the exam.

Request Accommodations
Students with ADHD are often eligible to receive testing accommodations on standardized tests. These accommodations are intended to help students demonstrate their knowledge to the best of their ability while minimizing the problems caused by their ADHD symptoms. This may mean receiving extended time on exams to account for the slower pace at which students with ADHD complete academic work, taking the exam in a private room to minimize distractions, or using a calculator to help offset a propensity to make careless mistakes.

The SAT and ACT have stringent criteria for the documentation required to qualify for accommodations. These requirements typically include a thorough psychoeducational evaluation that was completed within the last 5 years. Getting a psychoeducational evaluation scheduled and completed takes time – usually a few months – so plan ahead. Once you have the documentation that you need, it takes at least a few weeks for SAT and ACT representatives to review your accommodations request. So, submit your documentation early. For more information about the specific documentation requirements, see the College Board (SAT and PSAT) and ACT, Inc. websites. Your teen’s school guidance counselor or special education coordinator can also be an excellent resource. They should have a great deal of experience helping students submit documentation and request accommodations.

Enroll Your Teen in a Test Prep Program
Studying for the SAT and ACT involves doing just the type of tedious academic work teens with ADHD often struggle with the most. A test prep program that provides structure, social support from teachers and peers, and accountability will go a long way in helping your teen stay on track with a study plan. Look for a test prep program with teachers who have experience working with ADHD students. Help your teen stay motivated by planning out rewards that they can earn as they study. Tie the rewards to the things they can truly control, like the amount of time they spend studying and the number of test prep study sections they complete. Avoid tying rewards to scores on practice tests or the actual exam. Help your teen identify a reward they can earn at least once a week, or if necessary, more immediate rewards that they can earn after each study session. This will help them stay motivated in the moment as they work toward their long-term goal.

By being a partner in the SAT and ACT prep process you’ll help your teen reach their full potential on these exams. Just remember to start the planning process early, request accommodations if you think they will be helpful, and find a test prep program with teachers who know how to work with students who have ADHD. The investment you make now will help set your teen up for success on their college applications.



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

This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.

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