Helping ADHD Students Study for Tests: Top 10 Techniques for Parents

sxc.hu | author: Kay Pat
Helping ADHD students study at home photo by Kay Pat

Helping ADHD students study should not be stressful for parents but it often is. ADHD students and testing, the thought makes most parents of an ADHD child cringe. As a former special education teacher I know the difficulty ADHD students have at test taking time.

I taught study skills as part of my pull out curriculum in my local public school. Good study skills help prepare ADHD students for handling in-class instruction and taking tests.

Helping ADHD Students: Teach Study Skills at Home

Helping ADHD students study for tests
Helping ADHD students study at home
photo by Kay Pat

If you have a child diagnosed with ADHD in grade school then study skills training is important. Often times these skills are not taught in the regular classroom setting. This is of course, no fault of the teacher. Study skills are often acquired over time naturally by many kids. Most teachers will help organize kids and encourage them to study. Good teachers will provide study guides and flash cards. But helping ADHD students prepare for tests has to fall on the parents’ shoulders. But how do you do it?

Study Skills Advice for Parents

First thing I tell parents is to know your ADHD child. Don’t try to use a particular study skills strategy because you think it’s the only way. All kids are different. And when helping ADHD students motivation plays a major role. Know your child’s strengths. Know your child’s limitations, and know the signs of ‘shut down mode’.

I always look for signs of frustration while helping ADHD students study, get organized, and stay on task. Kids aren’t the best at expressing emotions. When you sense frustration, back down a little. Offer a short break. Ask your child what they think isn’t working. Try a different approach. Offer a reward for sticking to the plan. Motivation is everything. Try to keep things positive. This is the best strategy for helping ADHD students gain success.

helping ADHD kids study: Get 10 tips for parents to use at home with their ADHD child.

10 Strategies for Helping ADHD Students Study for Tests:

1. Plan Your Study Schedule in Advance

Get a big calendar for your kitchen if you don’t already have one. On the day you find out about your ADHD child’s test, schedule study times. As you know, kids with ADHD get overwhelmed easily by academic activities. Sit down and make a game plan. This will relieve stress, and keep the study commitment in focus. It’s on the schedule. It’s written down. Just do it.

2. Pick a Time of Day that Works Best When Helping your ADHD Child Study

Have a kid who’s not a morning student? Work together in the afternoon. Got a kid who bounces off the walls for two hours after school? Work before bedtime or first thing in the morning. If you have a tight work schedule and aren’t available for helping your ADHD student when it’s most suitable, try to get someone who is. Find a neighbor, grandparent, sibling, or even a classmate’s parent that can work with your child instead. Timing is everything. It can make or break your child’s motivation to study.

3. Take Breaks Early and Often when Helping ADHD Students Study

I generally do 10 minute intervals of drilling and practice, then give break time. Breaks are important when helping ADHD students learn study skills. They need to feel confident that the strategies are working. The ADHD child who can’t sit still should be allowed to fidget while working with you. It blows off the excess energy. Do you have an exercise ball? Let your ADHD child bounce on it while studying. Do you have a stress ball? A stress ball is another great tool to help an ADHD child with energy and anxiety stay focused. At the first sign of overload give your child a break for 5 or ten minutes. Then come back to it again. Got a really rambunctious kid? Practice spelling words while playing catch. Mix the pleasure with the pain.

4. Know your ADHD Child’s Strengths and Use Them for an Advantage

Is your child musical?  Music can work really well when helping ADHD students who are good at rhythms and rhyming. Does your child listen really well? Then you want to ask them questions and ask them to answer out loud. If writing is an issue, don’t sweat the small stuff. When helping ADHD students study I like to ask them to write out the terms and their meanings from the study guide. I always tell them to read the vocabulary word and then the definition. Close their eyes and try to repeat it in their head. Open their eyes and read it again. Then I tell them to try to write it from memory on a sheet of paper. I always stress that spelling doesn’t matter. Just try to see what you can remember. If you’ve got a child with fine motor skills issues, give them a computer with a keyboard and ask them to type. If your child can’t type, ask them to try and tell you from memory.

5. Make Studying Fun and Rewarding for your ADHD Child

Did your child get 20 flash cards? When they’ve answered one right let them keep it. If they answer them all in a certain period of time give them a reward. If your child is showing signs of frustration, switch roles. Let them be the ‘teacher’ with the study guide. Let your child quiz you instead. I always like to have fun while helping ADHD students prepare for tests. Make a game out of study time. And try to make sure your child has a good chance of winning if they apply themselves.

6. Remember that the Goal is Understanding Concepts not Memorizing Facts

Many parents just drill their ADHD child from the study guide before tests and nothing more. Don’t make that mistake. ADHD children are often very intelligent and social kids. Make generalizations about the subject you are studying together. Is your child learning about electric circuits? Experiment with the fuse box. Are they studying for a civics test? Turn on C-Span and let them see Congress in action for a couple minutes. Is it a spelling test? Have them send an email to someone using all their words. Be creative. Be fun. Make studying time a chance to connect with your kid in a positive way. When your ADHD child starts to see success from his or her efforts they will feel empowered.

7. Use Acronyms for the Really Tough Stuff When Studying for Tests

Some things need wrote memorization. Is your ADHD child confusing similar terms? Acronyms are a great study tool.  Basically an acronym is when you take parts of words to create a new word. For example, ASAP is the acronym (A=as S=soon A=as P=possible.) Need to know the names of the 5 great lakes? HOMES  is the acronym (H=Huron O=Ontario M=Michigan E=Erie S=Superior.) Little made up acronyms will help your ADHD child remember the facts at test time.

8. Teach Your Child how to Find the Answers in Their Textbook

When helping ADHD students study for a test I always try to familiarize them with their textbook. The ADHD child doesn’t often realize that there is a glossary at the back of the book. They also don’t usually pay attention to subject headings, captions under images, graphs, and practice tests either. Teach your ADHD child how to use the textbook to his or her advantage. Is there a study guide question they need to answer? Help them ‘guess’ what part of the chapter it may be found in. Show them how to guess which section based on the heading title. Teach them how to use the glossary instead of the chapter to find the meanings of words. ADHD kids love shortcuts. Learning how to navigate their textbook efficiently is going to feel like a shortcut to them. And helping ADHD students will feel like an easier task for you.

9. Use Color Coding When Helping ADHD Students Study Concepts

Color coding goes a step beyond using a highlighter pen. If you haven’t already, invest in a few packages of fine point multicolored ink pens. If your child is studying for a science or social studies test they can use the colors to organize the material. For example, the child studying for an energy test might need to know nuclear energy, wind energy, and solar energy facts. Ask them to use a red pen to write about (or underline) all facts that relate to nuclear energy. Have them use green for wind energy, and then blue for solar energy. When it’s test time your child will remember the color that they wrote the fact in. And this will help them keep the facts straight! If they are not sure, knowing the answer was written in red will tip them off. It must be nuclear power! Do you have a child who has difficulty writing? If you have a copy machine you may want to make copies of the chapter. Instead of writing answers, have your child use the colored markers to underline or highlight the answers.

10. When Helping ADHD Students Prepare for Tests, Take the Practice Test!

I have seen it many times. For the ADHD child, much of poor test taking is anxiety. Trust me on this. You want your child to feel confident. To do this they need to feel like they know the answers. It is a lot of extra work for the parent to take the practice test at the end of the chapter. But it works. If they don’t do well, give them a second chance. Have them take it the first day. Then have them take it again the night before the test. They will see the progress. This will give your ADHD child confidence. This will also help you see where you need to focus your study time the most.

Bryan Hutchinson also has some insight on strategies for remembering reading facts when you have ADHD. If you want insight into ADHD from a personal perspective check out his article at ADDerworld.

Also, have you also seen my articles about eating a healthy ADHD diet? Learn which foods are most beneficial for kids diagnosed with ADHD. These healthy foods are packed with vitamins and minerals that improve concentration, memory, and a sense of calm in the ADHD child.

Like my tips on helping ADHD students be successful at test taking? Leave a comment! Do you have another tip you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about what has worked for you.

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