Let’s Stop Timed Tests

Adam Grant, a well-known Organizational Psychologist and Psychology Professor at the Warton School of Business, recently wrote an excellent opinion piece in the NY Times titled: The SATs Will Be Different Next Year, and That Could Be a Game-Changer (NY Times, Sept. 20, 2023).

Please read this article by Adam Grant and his take on timed tests.

Here is my response:

“Thank you, thank you, thank you for highlighting the negative impact of timed tests!

As an ADHD Specialist, I have been preaching to teachers and parents that Speed does NOT equal Intelligence for over a decade. Starting in Kindergarten, if you ask most children how they know who the “smartest” kids in the class are, they will often respond that they are the ones who raise their hands the quickest and turn in their tests the fastest.  As a result, bright, ambitious children who struggle with slower processing speed, anxiety, and poor time perception get the negative message that they are not “smart.”

“Processing Speed,” the fluency with which the brain receives, understands, and responds to information, is an Executive Function Skill that varies significantly in individuals and has NOTHING to do with intelligence.  Children and adolescents with ADHD often have deficits in Processing Speed.  Also, individuals with ADHD have difficulty perceiving the passage of time – their internal clock is not as accurate.

As Adam Grant highlighted, anxiety also impacts performance.  When we add pressure to a situation, we decrease one’s ability to perform.  Roughly 33% of individuals with ADHD struggle with anxiety, so adding time pressure further exacerbates their challenges.

Teachers and curriculum developers need more training in understanding the impact ADHD and Executive Function challenges have on learning.

We know better – let’s do better!”

Here is a related article “How Fast is Smart?”

6 thoughts on “Let’s Stop Timed Tests”

  1. Beautifully written, Cindy. My heart aches for the students who are misunderstood and judged while their real skills and creative thinking are ignored. School can be toxic for these children and it doesn’t have to be!

  2. Yes! I have felt passionate about this topic since the start of my teaching career. Although I’m no longer a classroom teacher, I remind my elementary-aged kids that speed often does not reflect depth of knowledge and that it can result in stress for many students, which hinders learning. I hope we can continue to work towards modifying our approaches to assessment 🙂

  3. Yes Cindy, I agree, and as you started your article, Thank you, thank you, Mr. Adam Grant for highlighting the negative impact of timed tests. In my experience as an educator, I always noticed that speed is not equal to intelligence. It is great to have the ability to solve problems quickly but more difficult problems need time for more reasoning. Students with slow processing are penalized with timed tests, which is the case for many who have ADHD. Also, students with English as a second language need more time to read, process, and give their answers, or to write their essays. Multiple questions take longer for them to answer accurately. I recall I mentioned this at a College Board Conference at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, years ago.
    Many times I observed that students just having the accommodation of extended time on tests, do much better due to the relief of time pressure and finish their tests faster.


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