July, 2013

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Learning about ADD

Recently, I’ve been reading a book  on ADD and how it affects kids and adults: Driven to Distraction by Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., & John J. Ratey, M.D.

While I was reading Driven to Distraction, I had specific questions in mind. Below, I’ve laid out my questions and some quotes from the book that provide answers.  (Please be aware that whenever I or the authors say ADD, we are also referring to ADHD.)

What is ADD?

“We still have much to learn. The exact mechanism underlying ADD remains unknown. . . Still, we have been able to take some steps toward defining, in terms of the anatomy and chemistry of the brain, the underpinnings of ADD. With every step forward we become more sure what the disorder is not: it is not a willful misbehaving, it is not a moral failing, it is not a lack of trying nor an inability to take an interest in the world. Neurobiological data now show that the syndrome is rooted in the central nervous system.” (p. 336, emphasis added)

Young Boy Learning

The book goes on to explain that, in the authors’ view,   “. . .ADD [is] an inability to stop receiving messages rather than an inability to receive the right messages. These people always feel a press for the next thing and the next thing and the next thing. The ADD individual is captive to the events of the external world . . . Instead of framing the syndrome as an inability to pay attention to cues, this definition focuses on the ability of someone with ADD to pay attention to many more cues than the average person.” (p. 351)

Paraphrased, the brain of a person with ADD is unable to regulate the signals his or her brain receives as well as the brain of a person without ADD. So, someone with ADD is constantly distracted by external stimuli that a person without ADD can “tune out.”

What are the symptoms of ADD?

“Primary symptoms are the symptoms of the syndrome itself: distractability, implusivity, restlessness, and so forth. The secondary symptoms, and the ones that are most difficult to treat, are the symptoms that develop in the wake of the primary syndrome not being recognized: low self-esteem, depression, boredom, and frustration with school, fear of learning new things, impaired peer relations, and violent behavior.” (p.63)

One of the many subtypes of ADD is ADD without hyperactivity, and since I didn’t realize that ADD could exist in this form, I wanted to share some of what the book says about this subtype.


“One of the most common misconceptions about attention deficit disorder is that it only occurs with hyperactivity. Many people believe that if the child is not “bouncing off the walls,” then he or she does not have ADD. If the child is not a behavior problem, or a discipline problem, or at least a fidgety nudge, then the child does not have ADD. . .The diagnoses seems to rest, in many people’s minds, upon the symptom of motoric hyperactivity.”  (p. 189)

“But the evidence now shows that there are hosts of children and adults who have all the other symptoms of ADD but who are not hyperactive, or even overactive. If anything, they are motorically slow, even languid. These are the daydreamers. These are the kids–often girls–who sit in the back of class and twirl their hair through their fingers while staring out the window and thinking long, long thoughts. . . These are the people, often highly imaginative, who are building stairways to heaven in the midst of conversations, or writing plays in their minds while not finishing their day’s work, or nodding agreeably and politely while not hearing what is being said at all. They steal away silently, without the noisemaking of their hyperactive brethren, but they steal away just the same.” (p. 189-190)

How does ADD affect learning?

MP900446448“. . .the diagnosis of ADD should not carry with it the perception of an educational death sentence . . . It is very important that parents and teachers reassure the child about this matter. While one doesn’t rejoice at the diagnosis of ADD, neither need one despair. With help, children with ADD can draw on their emotional and intellectual strengths.” (p. 63)

“ADD exacerbates learning problems in the same way that nearsightedness does: you can’t focus as well as you should, so you are not able to use the talents you have to the fullest. The first step in treatment is to get glasses, or treat the ADD, and then reassess the extent of the residual learning disability.” (p.48)

How do you know if a student has ADD?

One of my biggest questions was “So, lots of kids struggle with restlessness, inattention, and learning…how do you know the difference between normal human struggles versus having true ADHD?”

“The person with true ADD experiences the symptoms most of the time and experiences more intensely than the average person. Most important, the symptoms tend to interfere with everyday life more than for the average person.” (p. 240)

Pages 247-250 of Driven to Distraction contain tables of specific criteria for diagnosing ADD in children and adults.


There is a lot more essential information about ADD in Driven to Distraction, so please check out the book! In the meantime, I hope you’ve learned something new about ADD/ADHD and how it affects children and adults.

Have a great weekend!

Rachel Cheslik

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Which test is best?

One question I am asked quite often when discussing the ACT and SAT tests with students and parents is “Which test is best?” The short answer is it doesn’t matter because colleges accept both (see College Preferences below). However, the long answer is it does matter because there are major differences between the tests that can optimize a student’s strengths and enable him or her to get a strong score. So I’ve created a comparison between the two tests from personal experience, observation, and articles.

Test Details


  • Actual Test Time: 2 hours 55 minutes without essay (with essay = 3 hours 25 min)
  • Subjects: English, Math, Reading, Science, Writing (optional)
  • No points deducted for wrong answers


  • Actual Test Time: 3 hours 45 minutes
  • Subjects: Writing, Critical Reading, and Math
  • ¼ point deducted from score for every incorrect answer (besides the student- provided-answers math section–see Content)

Test Content


The sections always follow the same order:

  1. English (75 questions in 45 minutes)
  2. Math (60 questions in 60 minutes)
  3. Reading (40 questions in 35 minutes)
  4. Science (40 questions in 35 minutes)
  5. Writing (Optional, 1 essay in 30 minutes)


  • Writing (49 questions + essay in 60 minutes)
  • Critical Reading (67 questions in 70 minutes)
  • Math (54 questions in 70 minutes)

The three sections are split into smaller segments and put in random order–besides the essay portion, which is always first. The writing section is a 25-minute written essay plus one 25-minute & one 10-minute multiple choice segment. The critical reading and math sections both consist of two 25-minute segments and one 20-minute segment. All these segments are put in random order that changes from test to test. 

Test Comparison

  • The SAT test is known as a reasoning test, while the ACT is a content-based test. This is because the SAT questions are a little harder to understand and take longer to decipher, while the ACT questions are more straightforward.
  • Because of the frequent breaks and subject changes, the SAT works well for students who have a shorter attention span and who like variety. However, it is 50 minutes longer than the ACT without writing and 20 minutes longer than the ACT with writing.
  • The SAT Critical Reading requires the test-taker to have a good vocabulary so he/she can fit the correct words with the sentence context, while the ACT only has a few vocabulary questions.
  • The ACT Math section contains a few trigonometry problems, while the SAT does not. The main difference between the SAT and ACT math sections is that one of the SAT math segments consists of problems requiring a student-created response–meaning it is not multiple choice. The student has to create the answer.
  • The SAT does not have science section, while the ACT does. The ACT science portion doesn’t require memorization of science formulas or facts. Rather, it is mainly science-reasoning. All the information you need to answer the questions is provided in graphs, tables, and paragraphs of scientific information. Familiarity with scientific vocabulary and process is helpful, but reading comprehension speed is especially important.

College Preferences

So, which test is preferred by colleges and universities? According to StudyPoint and Princeton Review, all 4-year colleges and universities accept both tests. (I would recommend checking your prospective college admission’s page to make sure, though). StudyPoint also says that the SAT is more popular among test-takers on the east and west coast, while the ACT is popular in the middle and southern states. Check out StudyPoint’s test popularity map here.

Resources: actstudent.org, collegeboard.com, princetonreview.com, nytimes.com, studypoint.com, and The Official SAT Study Guide.

Celebrating Freedom

Dear Students,

Happy 4th of July week! I hope y’all are enjoying some time with your family and friends! The 4th of July is one of my favorite holidays because not only do I get time off work to hang out with friends, grill some hamburgers and hot dogs, and watch fireworks, but I also get to celebrate the beginning of the United States of America!


I am so thankful to live in a country where liberty is so highly valued. In many countries I would not have the freedom to participate in electing our governing officials, start my own tutoring business, or even post on my own website without regulation.

Man in U.s. Marine Corps Uniform Saluting American Flag

And none of these freedoms would be possible without the millions of United States soldiers who have kept our country free over the past two-and-a-half decades. So, this week when I celebrate the independence of the United States of America, I am especially thankful for these 3 liberties and for the men and women who have sacrificed so much.

What about you? What are some freedoms you are thankful for this week?


Rachel Cheslik

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