ADHD And Math: 3 Struggles For Students With ADHD (And How To Help)

adhd and math image 1I remember in elementary school memorizing my math times tables… what stands out most to be is the “mad minute.”

It was a short quiz of 20 multiplication problems and we were given one minute to complete them… and it could probably be defined as the most stressful 60 seconds of my young life!

Now, imagine doing that exercise, but at the same time not being able to keep track of all these operations in your head and constantly losing focus on the problem.

This is what most of our children with ADHD face when they look at a math problem.

ADHD and math don’t seem to be a “natural” fit, and there are various factors that go into why math is so difficult for kids with ADHD.

So in this post, we’ll break down some of the struggles kids with ADHD face in math class, and some ways to help make sure your child’s math foundation is strong.

ADHD and Math: The issue at hand

Students who are affected by ADHD often have a hard time with math because their memory is not very strong and blocking out external stimuli is a struggle.

Memory, which is where information is stored for later use, is one of many executive functions. Executive functions refer to skills such as reasoning, task switching, and planning. Kids with ADHD do not have strong executive function skills, which significantly affects their performance in school.

Which brings us to our first struggle…

Struggle 1: Word problems are overwhelming

A 25 foot ladder is leaning against a house and a hose is stretched from the base of the house to the garden and passes the ladder after 8 feet and you have to find out how tall the house is and what the angle the ladder makes with the house.

Wait, what just happened?

If you read the problem above and got confused or zoned out, you’re like many people who dread word problems. For students with ADHD, the stumbling block with word problems lies in the combination of words and numbers that make it difficult to store the information in their memory as they progress through the problem.

Even if the student is able to follow along with the problem, when it comes time to solve it, all of their energy and focus is already used up!

The solution to the word problem struggle

Have your student read the problem in small parts and draw a picture of the part he just read.  This breaks the word problem into chunks, allowing the student to place just a small piece of information into his head.  Adding a tactile and visual dimension to his learning by drawing part of the problem at a time only strengthens his memory.

Check out the image below. It shows what the picture might look like as your child is reading.  By the end of reading the word problem, he will have completed the drawing in the bottom right.

adhd and math image 2

Taking this piece by piece approach to reading and drawing might mean that your child might have to change the original drawing as he goes, but that’s okay… it’s important to get something on the page before he finishes reading the whole problem.

Struggle 2:Order of operations are confusing

Remember PEMDAS: Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally?

It’s an acronym that stands for Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction and is supposed to help us recall the order of operations in complex math problems.

The struggle that students with ADHD have with math problems that require them to conjure up the correct order of operations has to do with their working memory and ability to maintain focus throughout the multiple problem solving procedures.

Solution? Make it visual

Have your student highlight math signs and symbols.

adhd and math image 3Make colored pens, markers, and highlighters your kid’s best friend by encouraging her to color or highlight the sign, – + = x ÷, of each problem.

ADDitude magazine recommends highlighting math signs because it is a visual reminder to the student of the kind of math operation needed to solve the problem.

It may also be helpful in downtime to allow use of mobile math apps that work on the topic your child is struggling with. These tend to be effective because of the very high level of visual engagement kids have with video games and screen time.

Struggle 3: Staying focused enough to finish the problem

Aside from issues with working memory, issues with focus are why students with ADHD tend to struggle with math problems.

Staying intently focused on a single task takes a ton of mental energy, which often conflicts with the desire that many kids with ADHD have for constantly changing stimulation.

This is why completing a mathematical proof, a complex word problem, or a problem involving intricate problem-solving procedures can seem out of reach for your child.

Solution to the focus problem:

Have your child take a focus break. Focus breaks are 2-5 minute breaks when the student steps away from his homework, even if it’s in the middle of a long mathematical problem, and does something unrelated to his work.

This might be spending a few minutes on his phone, playing fetch with the dog, or better yet, a brain exercise to strengthen his focus. Dr. Robert Myers writes about brain exercises that are used to improve the executive functions in kids with ADHD.

Does your child struggle with ADHD and math?

We want to help you and your child who may exhibit any of these struggles. To get more tips and resources to help your child with ADHD, click here.

The August SAT: 3 Steps to Take Advantage of One of the Rising Senior’s Last Ditch Efforts…

For years, SAT and ACT exams took a summer break along with students, meaning that students could get away with taking a short break from preparation before taking an early fall exam.

But no more!  For the first time ever, the College Board has announced that there will be a summer SAT, which will take place on August 26th.

What does this mean for prep? If your child is a rising senior, it means that this is one of her last chances to take the test before she begins applying to colleges. She has likely taken the test once or twice already and is looking to get that score up in order to get into her target schools. If your child does not take advantage of the summer downtime and begin preparing for the test, the summer slump is likely to kick in and those scores can drop. So the pressure is on to recognize the urgency of preparing this summer.

Have your rising senior follow these 3 steps to ensure she is ready for the August test:

1. Prioritize your areas of focus.

This means that you have to decide which sections you need to review the most.  Do this by reviewing your previous score reports (and if you don’t have previous score reports, take a practice exam ASAP!!). See which sections you did the worst on and start reviewing concepts from these sections, since there’s the most room for improvement, waiting a couple of weeks to revisit the sections you did well on.

2. Start prep NOW and make a study calendar!

This means TODAY—not next month.  Remember that the first step to preparation is making a timeline and scheduling when you’re going to study, complete homework, and take full length practice exams. Treat your preparation like a class, penciling in a couple 1-2 hour study sessions on your calendar every week.

3. Take full length practice sections and exams multiple times.

Taking full length sections is the ideal follow-up to a study session.  Furthermore, taking a full length practice exam after every 4 weeks of prep is essential to conditioning you for the exam and giving you more information regarding your continued areas of struggle and improvement.  Don’t forget to add deadlines for taking full length practice exams and full length sections on your study calendar.  This will help hold you accountable to actually completing these tasks.

And of course, don’t forget to make sure your child registers for the actual SAT exam here.

Worried your rising senior isn’t ready for her last ditch effort? Let us help!  Email our test prep manager, Payton, at [email protected] or submit a Get a Tutor form today.

Learn the Basics of SAT/ACT Preparation

If your child is in 11th grade or headed into 12th grade soon, it’s time to start thinking about the SAT or the ACT.

But where to start?

Should your child take the SAT, the ACT, or both? When should preparation begin? How many times should the test be taken?

If you’ve got questions like these and are early in the test preparation process, listen to Ann Dolin on WTOP giving an overview of the basics of the test preparation process or read the transcript below.



These tests are on a lot of kids minds this time of year. When exactly should students be taking the SAT or ACT?

Most juniors will take the test twice, in the spring of their junior year and if they’re not happy with their score, in the fall of their senior year. Usually, they take it the two to three times just to make sure that they can get the best score possible.

We’ve got the SAT is coming up again on May 6th, June 3rd, August 26th. And the ACT dates are April 8th, June 10th and September 9th. Most students give themselves about three months leading up until a test date to prepare.

Should kids take both tests?

No, students should pick one and just study for that test, otherwise, they’re splitting their focus. Every single college in the country that requires testing accepts both tests, so there’s no need for kids to put added stress on themselves studying for two very different exams.

It used to be that most kids took the SAT, but that’s not the case any longer. In 2011 the ACT overtook the SAT for more tests administered. And since the SAT changed their format last year and there was so much uncertainty, we saw even more students elect to take the ACT, and we’ve seen that trend continue.

What is the difference between the ACT and the SAT?

The ACT is a faster paced test and includes a lot of questions in a shorter amount of time, but the questions are straight-forward. There’s a math, reading, writing, and science section (which mostly reading comprehension and data interpretation). A perfect score is 36.

The SAT is more a test of critical thinking skills. Although there are fewer questions on the SAT, they are longer and a bit wordier and take more time to answer. Like the ACT, there’s reading, writing and math (which includes a section in which kids cannot use a calculator), but there’s no science section. The highest score you can earn is 1600.

What is the best way to prepare for these tests?

There are three ways for kids to prepare: buying a book and prepping on their own, taking a group class or getting one-to-one tutoring.

In addition to practicing the content and strategies, one of the best way to boost your score is to take practice tests. We (and many other organizations in the community) offer these for free on the weekends.

Practice under simulated conditions are beneficial for a number of reasons. When kids are just starting to think about preparing, taking a practice SAT and ACT can help them determine which test is their natural strength. And once they decide, taking a few of these mock tests along the way helps with fatigue issues – because these tests are four hours long — and this type of practice decreases anxiety because kids know what to expect when they go to take the actual test. And when kids are less stressed and more prepared, they score better.

If you are interested in having your child take a free diagnostic ACT and/or SAT, sign up here or call us at 703-934-8282.

ADDitude Magazine Features Our Very Own Tutor: Congratulations Jan Rowe!

We are proud to announce that our tutor Jan Rowe has been featured in ADDitude magazine!  In addition to being a phenomenal one-on-one subject tutor, educational coach, and Wilson reading tutor, Jan heads our tutor training programs and imparts her knowledge and experience to all of our tutors.

Jan listens to the child she is tutoring and gets to know the gaps in knowledge and skills so that tutoring can be catered to the specific needs and wants of the child.  Read the full story here.

If you think that a wonderful tutor like Jan could help you and your child, contact us here!


SAT NEWS FLASH: The Accommodations Process Just Got Much Easier!

SAT LogoIf you know anything about what it takes to go through the approval process for accommodations on the SAT, you’ll be thrilled to know that things just got simpler.

Accommodations refer to adjustments made to the administration of the SAT based on a particular student’s needs.  Common accommodations include extended time, extra breaks, large-print testing booklets, and even multi-day testing.

In the past…

In order to be approved for accommodations like the ones listed above, you had to have your child go through psychoeducational testing, which takes time, money, energy, and can cause stress.

But here’s the good news…

If your child receives accommodations at school (like through an IEP or a 504 plan) and the school will vouch for this, your child will qualify for those same accommodations on the SAT without the need for any additional paperwork. A representative from the school will just need to communicate with College Board to certify that the student receives accommodations.

Also, if English is not your child’s first language, College Board is offering additional accommodations including the option of reading directions in the student’s native language and receiving assistance on vocabulary.  By fall of 2017, non-native English speaking students can also get extra time and the option of testing in a space with fewer distractions that the main testing room.

Check out the original College Board announcement here.


How to Organize Homework Folders & Backpacks

pendaflex-hanging-folderIt’s springtime, which means it’s not quite the end of the year, but your kids (and maybe you) might have a touch of spring fever—routines have fallen to the wayside and your child’s backpack and homework organizational system might be in need of some attention.

But don’t worry, because tutor coach Jan Rowe has some ideas to help organize homework areas.

Check out her videos about the backpack clean out and the homework folder clean-out.

Spending 3 minutes watching these videos now might just save you and your children headaches later, and give you the boost to get through spring and ring in summer.

How to Use & Organize a Homework Folder

How to Organize a Backpack 


Anne Swinson is our April Tutor-of-the-Month!

AnneCongratulations to Anne Swinson, our April Tutor-of-the-Month! In the time that Anne has been a tutor with Educational Connections, she has continuously made a great impression on the people she works with and is one of our top tutors and educational coaches. We are lucky to have her on our team!

Anne’s Bio

Anne has been with Educational Connections for only a few months but has over 20 years of experience as an educator. She has worked with students of all ages in various settings from a residential wilderness program to a self-contained classroom in both public and private schools.

More recently, Anne spent the past 7 years as the supervisor of a before and after care program with Arlington Public Schools. She graduated from James Madison University with a degree in special education and a minor in psychology. She is an area native and was fortunate to have had a top quality education at parochial and public schools in Arlington. Anne was also very lucky to have parents who placed a high value on knowledge and who exposed her to excellent books and experiences from an early age.

The many good teachers she had throughout her schooling have served as great role models for Anne in her career. She strives to bring the same level of dedication exemplified by those exceptional women and men to her tutoring. She loves being a member of the tutoring staff at Educational Connections. Helping a child experience academic success and realize the joy of learning is giving her more professional fulfillment than she’s had for many years.

Anne’s Tutoring Tips & Strategies

As our leader, Ann, and other EC colleagues have stressed, the most important element of being a successful tutor is the relationship you establish with each student. Without that foundation in place, you are on very shaky ground when trying to help a child – especially one who is struggling to be successful at school. As professionals, we are well aware of the importance of being positive with the student and acknowledging their every success.

I start each session reviewing what we accomplished the previous session and what we planned for this one. At the end of the session, we discuss what we accomplished during the session and what we plan for next time we meet. I call it the “what I did, what I’m doing, and what I will do” checklist.  It’s also a great tool the student can use on their own for homework and study sessions.

I believe that no one formula works for every student every time. To provide the best support to our clients, it is critical to be consistently adding to one’s repertoire of skills. That is why it’s so important to take advantage of all the resources provided for tutors on EC Link and other sites. I’ve found great articles, seminars and workshops on ALISON, The Muse, and Understood to name just a few online sources.

Jeff D’Onofrio is our March Tutor of the Month!

Jeff D'OnofrioW
e are happy to announce Jeff D’Onofrio as the Tutor-of-the-Month for March!  Jeff has made a great impression on his students, the families he works with, and the staff at Educational Connections.   
In addition to being a tutor, Jeff is a history teacher and department chair at an Arlington middle school. He has an M.Ed. in Secondary Education from The George Washington University. In the last two years, Jeff has tutored students in everything from third grade math through AP history. In particular, he loves helping test prep students build their confidence and relieve stress during the college application process.  
Jeff’s Strategies & Tips for the ACT Reading Section 
When it comes to the ACT reading section, never start with the prose! This fiction passage is the most time-consuming because it requires students to make more inferences to catch all the nuances of the author’s intent as well as decode the characters’ actions and dialogue. Since you are likely to score lowest on the fiction text anyway, it is better to read it last (when you’re short on time) after you’ve methodically used other strategies to maximize your score on the three non-fiction passages.  


How to Study for the ACT Science Section

ACT scienceThe biggest myth about the ACT science section is that you have to be a science whiz.

Guess what? You don’t!!!

You just have to know science enough to not get intimidated and bogged down with science graphs and tables, even if they are of concepts you are totally unfamiliar with.

After you realize that you don’t have to be a science superstar to do well on the ACT, but that really it’s more about being a strong reader, it’s important to understand what to expect on the Science section and how to study for each of the 3 main types of passages.

Also, the Science Section is 35 minutes long and has 7 passages in total.  This means you only have about 5 minutes per passage. Knowing what to expect beforehand and how to divide your time will result in multiple minutes saved and less stress on test day.

These passages are broken down as follows:

  • Data Representation
  • Research Summary
  • Conflicting Viewpoints

Data Representation Passages

Data representation passages are often full of big charts and graphs that take up almost a whole page in the test booklet.  Topics covered range from meteorology, astronomy, ecology, and biology to physics.

You might see:

  • A graph of the different layers of the atmosphere, the earth, or outer space
  • A chart of the life cycle of different types of insects
  • A diagram of how fast cars accelerate under varying driving conditions

What should you do?

Jump right to the questions!

Data representation passages are designed to throw you off your game, but they are where you can save time. They are meant to test your ability to navigate charts and graphs.

Jumping directly to the questions as opposed to studying the passage is the best way to see which part of the chart or graph you need to understand.  As you read the question, treat it like a map and literally move your finger to the axis, unit, or object in the chart or graph that is referenced in the question.  This will guide you to the information you need to find the correct answer.

Doing this will save you about 2 minutes per passage, dropping your time needed for Data Representation passages to a mere 3 minutes or so.

If you are starting your ACT preparation months before an exam, then you have the choice of skimming data representation passages before delving into the questions so that you become familiar with the kinds of topics that will be covered.  This is a good approach in the early stages of studying and helps prevent you from getting overwhelmed by unknown science concepts.

Research Summary Passages

Research summary passages present a short description and a few accompanying diagrams illustrating a specific experiment or two.

The general approach is very similar to that of Data Representation passages—jump to the questions.

However, many students benefit from:

  • Skimming the introductory passage that describes the experiments or research to become familiar with what is going on
  • Perusing the charts and diagrams to help navigate back to them from questions
  • Determining what the experiment is measuring—is it the speed of meteors, the strength of visible wavelengths as seen through a microscope, or how a substance’s properties change when exposed to different temperatures?

Since you have about 5-6 minutes per passage (after shaving off valuable time from Data Representation passages), only spend about a minute or so skimming the introduction and trying to understand the specifics of the experiments and how they are set up.

Conflicting Viewpoints Passages

These can be zingers. They are passages that look like they belong in the Reading Section more so than the Science Section.

Conflicting viewpoints passages have a description summarizing one scientist’s view on a science-related topic and then another description summarizing another scientist’s view on the same topic.

These passages are designed to drain your time, since you do have to read them like you would a passage on the Reading Section. So don’t let them! Since there is only one of these passages in the entire section, save it for the end so that you can use only the time you have remaining to work on it.

The key things to look for while reading are:

  • In what ways the scientists agree
  • In what ways the scientists disagree

The goal is to spend enough time reading so that you have some mental (or written) notes on the differences and similarities between the two passages. If the first scientist claims that substance X melts at a higher temperature under certain conditions, that should be a red flag for you to note what the second scientist thinks about the melting behavior of the same substance.

When you’re done reading, start with questions that refer only to passage one, then move on to questions that just refer just to passage two, and end with the questions that refer to both passages, which are the hardest ones.

If you are short of time, then just read the first passage and find all the questions that pertain to it before doing the same for the second passage.  Then make your best guess on questions pertaining to both passages.

General Tips for the ACT Science Section

  1. Watch axes—sometimes units of measurement decrease the higher on the axis they are.
  2. Check units—this is an age-old trap but it works, so check that the units in the question match the units you found on the chart/graph.
  3. Double check paired answer choices—paired answer choices are ones that offer two sets of answers that are the same, aside from one change like “increasing” or “more than.” It’s all too easy to narrow your answer choices to two of the wrong choices, so read slowly and double check your work.
  4. Guess—this tip pertains to all sections on the ACT so even if you’re short on time, intimidated, or totally lost, always pencil in an answer for every question.

Remember: You can become an ACT Science Section whiz without being a master of science!

Understanding the types of passages, how to approach each, keeping in mind the general tips listed above, and practicing again and again and again before the actual exam is how you can ace the ACT Science Section.


Why Calling Your Child Smart is Actually Dumb: 5 Ways to Properly Praise Your Child

A teacher instructs a schoolboy in a high school classYour 3rd grader comes home from school and proudly flashes her spelling test with an A+ and a sticker, posts it on the refrigerator, and you say “You’re so smart—you got a perfect score!”

Then your 11th grader reports during dinner that he got a 34 out of 36 on the ACT and you say “Oh my goodness, you have always been so intelligent!”

Is this you? Are you in the habit of telling your kids that they are smart?

If so, you’re not alone, and this article will teach you why it’s worth it to break this habit.

It seems like a harmless, and rather, supportive phrase to say, right?  But in fact, research actually shows that focusing on innate intelligence when praising your kids is actually a disservice.

Saying “you’re smart” teaches kids that they either have the capability to achieve a good grade, or they don’t, and that nothing they do can change this.  Dr. Carol S. Dweck from Stanford calls this perspective a “fixed mindset” and says that it is far inferior to a “growth-mindset.”

Having a growth-mindset means that you understand that the brain is elastic, meaning that it changes and grows as you use it.  Think of it like a muscle: the more you work out your brain, the stronger it gets.

How Can You Strengthen Your Child’s Brain Muscle? 

Have your children take risks by learning new things instead of just rehearsing what they already know.  They will appreciate that mistakes are opportunities to learn and grow the brain, instead of reflections of personal shortcomings.

People with a growth-mindset do not rely on their raw intelligence; instead, they put a lot of effort into difficult tasks because they understand that it is possible for them to learn how to do the task at hand.

So, what can you do to develop a growth-mindset in your children? Check out the 5 examples of “process praise,” or praise that draws attention to the effort your student puts into schoolwork instead of innate intelligence.

5 Ways to Praise Your Child

  1. “That geology homework seemed really tricky.  You did a great job reviewing your class notes, referencing your text book, and completing the questions.”
  1. “You really improved on your last German test! What do you think you did this time around?”
  1. “Wow—you sure did get a wonderful grade! All the work I saw you doing this week really paid off!”
  1. It takes courage to choose the most challenging English book to read for your project—good for you!”
  1. “It’s OK that you made a mistake. Mistakes are like puzzles waiting for you to solve them.”

By re-training your child’s mindset with these phrases, you are expanding your own brain by introducing a new habit and perspective on praise.

I challenge you to break the habit of using the “S-word” this year and try your hand at process praise.  You might be surprised how your child’s confidence is boosted and how he will begin to feel less dejected when he makes mistakes.