Improving test-taking in neurodiverse learners

By Jessica Watson
March 11, 2024

In our latest webinar, How to Improve Test-Taking for Neurodiverse Learners, experts Dr. Sheila Murphy and Kevin Organisciak, shared invaluable information on helping learners succeed. Our audience had great questions, but we were unable to address them all due to time constraints so we’re answering them for you today.

Make sure you scroll to the end, grab something to take notes with and press play on this info-packed webinar!

My child has suffered from school avoidance for years; now, coming into middle school and the hormonal changes that come with puberty, my child has become crippled with anxiety to even show up to school – we have him in counseling and have started new meds, but i’d love some guidance on how to manage this as a parent 

Dr. Murphy: Having your child do an executive functioning assessment might help pinpoint the areas of challenge he is having in school.  Learnfully is a strong advocate for getting to the root of the problem and we have found they almost always tie into an executive dysfunction.  Coaching your son and the family is something Learnfully specializes in when it comes to executive functioning.  We take assessment results, build goals, work with the learner on those goals and monitor progress along the way. 

Success in executive functioning translates into every aspect of a learner’s life.

What does slow processing mean? A student of mine has slow processing but I don’t know what it truly means when they are taking a standardized test…How does this translate into what students do on test day?

Dr. Murphy: This could mean a number of different things, but in terms of test-taking it could just be a matter of how much time they need to do things.  Typically a slow processing learner is working much harder even though they know the answer.  Accommodations such as more time and/or chunking the test into multiple sittings/days will offer a more accurate account of what the student knows.  If they have the pressure of time or exhaustion sets in, the results will not be a true reflection of the student’s knowledge of the material.

As a test prep tutor, I feel that each of my neurodiverse students have different needs…but how to help those with low working memory?

Dr. Murphy: There are many tips and strategies to support students with low working memory that allow them to access the information they know for test-taking.

A few of these include:

  • Providing visual supports and memory aids such as graphic organizers they can recreate on paper when test taking.
  • Monitoring the student’s work to head off delays and help them recognize what is hindering their success.
  • Teaching students how to visualize the question and visualization tools to work through test questions.
  • Reducing the number of questions or teaching the students to focus on the most important ones.
  • Using breathing techniques to reduce test anxiety, which can affect working memory

If I’m not certified to work with dyslexic students, should I not tutor them for SAT/ACT ? Some parents have been offended when I say I can’t take their student because I don’t know how best to help a dyslexic student on the Verbal/Reading / English sections.

Dr. Murphy: This would be a case to case basis for me.  I would say if you don’t feel comfortable and you don’t feel like you have the skill set for a particular student then the parent should be grateful and not offended.  Maybe have a list of test prep tutors that do specialize in neurodiverse learners would be helpful for them.  That way the recommended person could explain the different approaches and it would make more sense to the family.

Kevin: Although you may not have a certification, working with dyslexic students may still be an option.  The key is to identify the accommodations the school and testing body (Collegeboard or ACT)  is providing the student on their IEP.  For example, dyslexic students often receive an extended time accommodation.  If that is the case, a tutor would need to provide the same extended time on homework, section testing and full length practice testing. 
If you want to become more familiar with executive functioning and how it fits into tutoring, there are a few organizations, Learnfully is among them, who can provide executive function training for test prep tutors.  

Don’t stress–you are being transparent and that is laudable.  If you don’t feel comfortable working with a student, just explain the “why” as best you can.  Remember, though, dyslexic students still use traditional test prep tutors to help them and, you can work to deliver lessons and material in accordance with the student’s accommodations from the testing agency.  To get a better sense of the tutoring parameters, review the student’s IEP/504 as well as the accommodations being provided by the testing agency.  If you can provide those accommodations, you can still provide effective tutoring. 

What is the best way to test executive dysfunction? What is the most comprehensive test for it?

Dr. Murphy: Learnfully offers an executive functioning assessment that comes with a complete learner profile. The SPARK assessment is designed to analyze strengths and look for any underlying cognitive differences, so that you can take action immediately to get your learner on their best path.

View How to Improve Test-Taking in Neurodiverse Learners below. To stay up to date on all of our webinars follow us on Facebook or subscribe to our event page on Eventbrite.

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