For many students, preparing for a test is a discrete task — often begun with only a few hours to spare. A better approach — one that’s particularly beneficial for ADDers — is to see test preparation as a process lasting several weeks. Taking good class notes, reading to comprehend and retain, and planning a schedule of review when a test is first announced — these are the keys to earning great grades.

Find a note-taking style

For an ADDer, taking notes is a chance to translate the material being taught into a format that allows him to learn. Most teachers present information in A-B-C order, yet ADDers think in concepts, images, and networks of connected ideas. They may write down every word a teacher says, yet miss important points or themes.

Encourage your child to experiment with several different in-class note-taking techniques, such as outlines, charts, diagrams, lists, or drawings — and to use a combination that best suits his learning style.

To develop good note-taking skills, your child should sit near the front of the classroom, away from friends and other distractions. As the teacher speaks, the child should ask himself: “Is this important? Could it be on a test?” Later, if he’s not sure he has captured all of the important information, he can ask the teacher to look over his notes.

Review notes daily

To help your child stay on top of what she’s learned in class — and avoid needing to relearn large amounts of material for a test — have her set aside a specific time each day to review her notes. This should be an opportunity to complete sentence fragments, clarify points, or add memory-jogging associations. Or she may want to transfer hastily written notes into a format she likes better. As she reviews, she should ask herself:

  • Can I find key information quickly? Do the important points leap off the page?
  • Does my material follow a logical progression and remind me of the lecture?
  • Can I stay focused on my notes or do they make me zone out?

If your child is an auditory learner, she should read her notes into a tape-recorder and listen to them on headphones.

Read to retain

By the time your child reaches middle school, he’s probably reading several chapters a day for homework — and much of that information will show up on a test. To avoid rereading everything, he’ll need effective reading habits. Begin by setting up a reading routine. Have him figure out where, when, and how he works best. Is he more comfortable sitting at a desk or lying on the bed? Does he prefer reading before school or before bedtime? Should the radio be on or off?

He should tackle the most difficult material while he’s fresh. Offer a colorful sticky note reminding him to “stay focused!” He can move it from page to page, to keep it in sight — and later use it as a bookmark.

ADDers need frequent breaks to relax and recharge. Set a timer to signal both his reading time and his breaks.

To help him absorb material — and to create study tools he can use if needed — suggest that he take notes and make flashcards as he goes along. Auditory learners can record important information in a question-and-answer format, to create “auditory flashcards” that can be used for review.

Encourage your child to keep an “I don’t know” sheet, listing anything he’d like to check with the teacher.

Create a study plan

When an exam is announced, help your child draw up a study schedule that will let her make the most of her time and avoid last-minute cramming. How many days until the test? What material will be covered?

Break the preparation into manageable pieces (by topic or chapter, for example, or by math problem set), and schedule study time in her planner. Be realistic about how long she can focus effectively: Schedule a few one-hour study sessions a day, rather than a three-hour marathon. Save the last two or three days for an overall review or a time to go over challenging material. Focus on self-quizzing, rather than merely re-reading material. Quizzing shows a student what material she has down pat, and which areas require more study. Help your child try different learning techniques to find those that suit her. Flashcards are a good way to review facts and figures. Or turn key concepts and terms into mnemonics for quick retrieval.

For math problems, the key is practice, practice, and more practice, to master formulas and techniques. Alter the wording of problems in the textbook and homework assignments to prepare your child for variations that may appear on the test. To prevent careless errors, have her use graph paper, number each step of each equation, and write in big, bold handwriting.

To prepare your child for an essay exam, have him write or tape-record a sample essay. Use questions the teacher has asked in class or formulate new ones from the material she needs to know. To test her recall of historical events, have her draw a timeline or a mind map from memory.

Computer jocks may enjoy studying with software such as Inspiration, My Study-Buddy, and Kidwidget, which offer virtual flashcards and other study tools. There is also math and science software for interactive studying. Visit and enter the subject (algebra, biology, geometry) or a specific software program. Most are free to try out online.

If your child learns best through interaction, have her join or form a study group. Each member can prepare a quiz for the others on a portion of the material, saving time for everyone and allowing for thoughtful discussion. Three days before the exam, create a practice test and have your child do a timed run-through. Let her know that she should pretend it’s the real thing, but that she needn’t sweat the results. Wrong answers will show where she should focus her remaining study time.