How Does Standardized Testing Affect Kids With ADHD?

It's normal for kids to get fidgety or start daydreaming during class or a test, but kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder find it harder than others to sit in one place and focus on a particular task for an extended period of time. ADHD can also make it much harder for a child to do well on standardized tests.

Symptoms of ADHD

Sitting still and paying attention for long periods of time can be a challenge for many kids, but ADHD symptoms are much more severe than these ordinary childhood tendencies to want to move around. According to the KidsHealth website, ADHD may be caused by low levels of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters 1. Kids with ADHD experience great difficulty focusing on one thing for very long. They have trouble paying attention, staying organized, sitting in one place and following a set of instructions. These symptoms make it much harder to do well on a standardized test.

ADHD and Testing

ADHD has become somewhat controversial because of concerns that too many kids have been diagnosed with the disorder. However, children who show the symptoms of ADHD have problems with standardized tests regardless of whether they have been diagnosed or not. The National Bureau of Economic Research analyzed longitudinal surveys on children between ages 4 and 14 who were screened for ADHD symptoms in the 1990s 2. Researchers found that those with the most severe symptoms had standardized test scores between 8 and 10 percent lower than the average. The study also found that kids with more ADHD symptoms were twice as likely to be held back a grade.

Boys and Girls

ADHD affects more boys than girls, but the survey by the Bureau of Economic Research suggests that ADHD symptoms also have a more severe impact on boys with ADHD than on girls with ADHD 2. The bureau's report found that boys and girls with moderate symptoms of ADHD had similar outcomes, but that girls with severe symptoms were less likely to be placed in a special education program than boys with the same symptoms. Boys with severe ADHD symptoms also did worse on standardized tests than girls with the same symptoms.


The Americans with Disabilities Act requires schools and testing facilities to provide accommodations to help children with ADHD do better on standardized tests, such as the pre-college assessments ACT and SAT. The requirements to apply for accommodations can be complicated and confusing. However, 85 percent of those who apply for SAT accommodations and 92 percent of those who apply for ACT accommodations are eventually approved, according to a 2010 article in the "New York Times." Accommodations can include more time to take the test, a private room with fewer distractions and extra break-time during the test.