Fact checked

Navigating ADHD and Autism during the SATs

Navigating ADHD and Autism during the SATs
Written by:

The SAT is a key stepping stone for high school students aiming for college, acting as a crucial component in the admissions process for many institutions. This demanding test brings its own set of challenges, particularly for students with ADHD and autism, who may struggle with time management and focus during the test.

Michael Tribble can deeply relate to these struggles. He took the SAT four times during his high school years before being diagnosed with ADD/ADHD and high-functioning autism. Recently, he accepted Learner’s challenge to retake the SAT as an adult, long after his school days were over. 

Michael shares his journey and the insights he gained from this experience, offering practical advice and hope for students with ADHD and autism. His experiences and learned strategies can serve as helpful guides for those who are walking a similar path, helping them navigate the challenges of standardized tests like the SAT with greater ease and confidence.

Overcoming Challenges with Four SAT Attempts

Michael, like many, found the SAT to be a substantial hurdle, particularly struggling with time management. He shares, “I’ve always had a history of taking too much time to complete tests, both the SAT and in general.” He always found Math to be his strength, but the imbalance between his Math and Verbal scores was a continuous obstacle in his SAT journey, leading him to take the test multiple times before graduating high school in the summer of 1999.

According to him, these difficulties were more pronounced due to his diagnoses which were identified later in his life. “I was re-diagnosed with ADD/ADHD in my early years of college (around late 2000)… and with high-functioning Asperger's/Autism in June 2007,” he explains.

“I often wonder what life in high school… would have been like if I had been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD and Asperger's/Autism (and had begun treatment) at a much younger age.”

Tailored Strategies for ADHD and Autism

Navigating the world of standardized tests can be a labyrinth for any student, and Michael has provided some thoughtful advice for students who share his conditions. Having been through the journey himself, he emphasizes the significance of preparation and self-awareness in navigating the test efficiently.

Preparation and Practice

Michael strongly advises practicing all sections of the SAT, even those students might feel they are better at. For areas where students feel more competent, he suggests practicing periodically still, though less often. Being prepared in every section is crucial, as overconfidence can sometimes be just as detrimental as being nervous.

Time and Focus Management

Managing time and focus is often a significant hurdle for students with ADHD and Autism, and Michael highlights its importance. He has learned not to spend an excessive amount of time on a single question.

"Remember that answering the toughest question correctly is worth just as much as answering the easiest one"

He notes, “If you spend more than (say) two minutes on a single question, don’t be too hesitant about putting a (seemingly) very-time consuming question on hold and (possibly) returning to it later on.”

Coping Mechanisms and Test Day Strategies

Michael suggests having a good night's sleep before the SAT and maintaining positive thoughts on the morning of the test. "The SAT is supposed to be difficult and challenging. It’s unbelievably rare and difficult to even get close to getting a perfect score," he says, emphasizing the normalcy of finding the SAT challenging. He recommends closing your eyes for a few seconds before each section of the SAT and thinking of something that always makes you smile.

Reading Comprehension Advice

Michael  vividly recalls his initial strategy and the ensuing struggle with reading comprehension sections during his early attempts at the SAT, revealing, “Back when I took the SAT in high school, I would read a question and then scan the reading excerpt/summary looking for the answer, often by trying to find certain similar keywords to those in the question.” He openly admits this approach was “a big mistake as it was very inefficient, very time-consuming, and very discouraging.”

With the wisdom of experience and hindsight, Michael adapted his strategy when he tackled the SAT again in 2023. This time, he first read all of the reading comprehension questions and underlined or highlighted certain keywords in each question. Then, he systematically went through the excerpt/summary. “While reading the excerpt/summary, when I came across content related to one of the questions, I either answered the question or underlined the content in the excerpt/summary,” he shares. Michael found this refined strategy to be “much more efficient and not as time-consuming” compared to his old, inefficient high school approach.

Seeking Accommodations

Michael believes having slightly longer breaks after each SAT section and a moderately longer break between the last Verbal section and the first Math section of the SAT could aid students in recharging their brains. He also suggests bringing a highlighter to mark certain parts and keywords in the Verbal Reading Comprehension section if they are allowed.

Words of Encouragement

Michael’s journey underscores the importance of persistence and self-understanding. He encourages students to embrace the challenge and not to be disheartened by difficulties. Remembering his own journey, he reminds students that it is okay to retake the SAT and learn from each experience.

"There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking the SAT more than one time"

Final Thoughts

Michael generously shared his insights to enlighten others treading a similar path. He offers practical advice and much-needed support to similarly affected students, emphasizing that overcoming such obstacles is indeed possible with determination and the right strategy.

He retains a positive view of the SAT, considering it a valid measure of a student's preparedness for college, particularly with the advancements and modifications made in recent years. “I have much more confidence (compared to when I last took the SAT back in 1998/1999) that the more modern SAT layout/design can provide a more accurate evaluation and assessment of how prepared my children will be for college,” he asserts.

This stance, coupled with his valuable advice, serves as a reassuring reminder of the test’s evolving fairness and relevance in assessing academic readiness.

Get started with a custom-matched tutor for your child.

Find your tutor

About the author:

As the Head of Editorial at Learner, Mathias combines a deep passion for education with creative flair. With a diverse background and a brief stint in full-time parenting, he focuses on delivering inspiring, educational content. When not at work, he can be found knitting, writing books for children and spending time with his family.

Related Articles

All Articles

SAT Goes Digital in 2024: Everything You Need to Know About the Changes

In a significant shift from traditional paper and pencil methods, the SAT is embracing the digital age. Starting in 2024, the SAT will no longer be administered in its physical form, marking a new era for one of the most critical exams for college admission. This move is part of a broader trend towards digitalization in education and testing, reflecting changes in how students learn and are assessed. 

Is Summer the Best Time to Take the SAT?

For many students, summer is a season to finally relax and enjoy time away from school work. However, dismissing the idea of taking the SAT during the summer may overlook certain advantages worth considering, especially if maximizing one's performance on the SAT is a priority.

What is the PSAT and Why is it Important for High School Students

The PSAT NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) is a standardized exam. It consists of different compartments, including a math test, reading, writing, and language test.