7 Tips to Help Your LD/ADHD Student Succeed on Admissions Tests

October is LD, Dyslexia, and ADHD awareness month. Nationally, it’s estimated that one in five students has some form of learning or attention difference.¹ At Applerouth, roughly one in three of our students learns differently. While few students would list standardized tests as the highlight of their academic career, these tests can present a particularly anxiety-provoking hurdle for LD/ADHD students. 

One thing we’re passionate about here at Applerouth is making the testing process a more positive and affirming experience. With the right approach and supports in place, LD/ADHD students can make tremendous strides and hit their testing goals. Moreimportantly, an effective approach can build, rather than erode, a student’s sense of academic confidence and ability.

Here are seven tips – adapted from Applerouth’s Guide to College Admissions Testing – to help optimize the testing experience for students who learn differently.

1. Begin with The Diagnosis: Look Past the Label to The Student

A diagnosis is a frame, a launching point to understand how an individual student learns. There is no substitute for understanding the student’s unique profile: how the diagnosis manifests for that individual and how it affects the student’s feelings about school and testing. Some students may be experts at compensating for a particular learning challenge, while others will exhibit clear symptoms of the disability. 

A student’s family can provide invaluable background information, but ultimately, the student will be the primary source of information to guide any test preparation. Students can speak to their experience, articulating how their challenges affect them in and out of the classroom.

2. Stay Positive: Adopt a Strengths-Based Approach

One of the keys to working with students with LDs is to keep things positive. Students with LDs are more likely to use negative self-talk and experience academic and test anxiety. Parents should provide a healthy dose of affirmation, focusing on strengths and reinforcing progress. 

It’s important to help the student reframe their experience, realizing their strengths as well as the challenges of how they learn. The student’s academic challenges are real, but so are their strengths. Many successful people in business, the arts, science, and other fields have learning differences or disabilities.

3. Encourage Self-Awareness and Self-Advocacy

Students who are aware of how they learn best can use this self-knowledge to their academic advantage. Such students can take charge of their learning and move towards more efficient and effective methods of study. 

Students who need a quiet space can set up their work environment accordingly. Some students may need to play particular music or use scents to help mask other sounds or scents and help channel their focus and attention. Some students may need to bounce a ball against a wall to help them study or focus. Students should use all necessary tools at their disposal: go with what works, even if it’s different from what works for others.

4. Get the Necessary Accommodations 

Getting the right accommodations can help students with LDs show what they know on the exam. One of the most common accommodations for students with LDs is extra time, but a wide range of accommodations are available. Often, a student’s psycho-educational evaluation and school-based accommodations plan already reflect the necessary and appropriate accommodations for that student. The accommodations request process can be lengthy and requires sufficient documentation so it is important for parents to be aware of the requirements and start in advance

5. Customize the Scheduling 

Keep tutoring and test prep sessions on the shorter side: an hour and a half of instruction may be optimal for many LD/ADHD students. Some students may need more intensive prep, in certain cases more than once per week, while others will need to take a week off to allow for “brain breaks.” It’s important to build momentum carefully without overwhelming the student.

6. Coach Students to Be Strategic Problem Solvers

It’s important to demonstrate clearly that problem solving is about employing discrete, specific strategies. Model effective use of various helpful strategies when working through assignments or problems with a student, and teach students how to break bigger problems into small, discrete steps.

Strategic problem solving requires flexibility and a willingness to make mistakes. Mistakes are essential to the learning process and students should never view mistakes as failures. When something isn’t working, it’s time to pause, pivot, and try something else.

7. Meet the Student Where They Are and Build From There

Tailor all aspects of instruction to match the student, modifying the lesson plans, content covered, speed, and techniques to meet the student’s specific needs. From there, continue to gauge comprehension and progress. Notice the incremental wins and be sure to celebrate each one so the student starts to internalize the feeling of progress

In areas where progress may be slower, determine whether any concepts might need to be reinforced or reviewed in a different way. Earlier, we said the student had to be flexible about choosing a new problem-solving strategy if the first one doesn’t work. The same goes for anyone supporting the student! Model flexible thinking and be ready to abandon an approach and try something new if the current approach is not working.

Final Thoughts

When a student learns to make adjustments and takes ownership of their learning, this can have a transformational effect. Students who shift to a place of intellectual curiosity about their learning process, adopt a strengths-based-orientation, and secure any necessary accommodations can transform their beliefs about their academic abilities and achieve their best results.


¹ Horowitz, S. H., Rawe, J., & Whittaker, M. C. The State of Learning Disabilities: Understanding the 1 in 5. New York: National Center for Learning Disabilities, 2017.

² For more detail on the accommodations request process for the SAT and ACT, please see Applerouth’s Guide to College Admissions Testing. Our forthcoming Guide to Accommodations (due out in early 2020) will provide an even deeper dive into this process.


Applerouth is a trusted test prep and tutoring resource. We combine the science of learning with a thoughtful, student-focused approach to help our clients succeed. Call or email us today at 206-456-6864 or info@applerouth.com.


  • Forrest Tuttle

    Awesome, Diana!