How to Score an ‘A’ in Math, Even if Your Child Has ADHD

How to Score an ‘A’ in Math, Even if Your Child Has ADHD

How difficult is Maths for ADHD children? Is achieving good grades in Maths close to impossible for these kids? Our expert shares some tips!

“We are prepared that he may not do as well for his Maths paper.”

This was the mother’s response when I asked her about her son with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and his expected performance for Primary 6 Maths.

So, imagine my surprise (and the mother’s) when he got back his Maths paper. He had scored an A (75 out of 100) in his mid-year Maths exams!

What was more remarkable was this statement from his mother, “He has really put in a lot of effort to work on his Math.”

Maths for ADHD Children: How Is It Different?

An ADHD student PREPARING for math exams?! How is it possible for this ADHD boy to get an A in math? What’s more, at Primary 6?!

Let me share with you the background of this boy’s success.

The boy’s mother came to me when he was in Primary 4. He was scoring 60 on an average for his Maths exam. The aim for him was simple: to pass his Primary 4 Maths.

You might be thinking, “How difficult can that be?”

Maths for ADHD children

Image source: File photo

Well, how difficult would it be if the child has ADHD?

Every ADHD child has one major challenge: keeping focus and attention on what they do. Let me give you an analogy of what this means.

You switch on a TV channel and watch a programme. You find it boring after ten seconds. You switch to another channel.

After eight seconds, you find it boring. You switch to another channel. Three seconds later, you switch again to another channel.

After that, you just kept switching immediately to the next channel.

This is what ADHD children feel like when it comes to studying.

Maths for ADHD Children: Challenges Faced

It requires so much attention and focus from them that they are exhausted after just a few minutes of studying. You will see them massaging their temples to keep focused from time to time, or grumbling endlessly away on why they have to study.

Having ADHD is like running a race even when you have sore leg muscles.

And this race took us two and a half years. Thirty months! The consolation was that my student had an interest in learning Math.

Maths for ADHD children

You don’t need thirty months to help your ADHD child score an A in math. Let me show you how you can do it in a shorter time with three secrets

Even if your ADHD child can’t score an A in math, they will at least feel confident when learning

Secret 1: Start from solving the easiest problem first

If your ADHD child struggles with solving word problems at Primary 3, 4 or 5, it is most likely their struggles have started as early as Primary 2.

For this boy, it started at Primary 2.

He couldn’t solve the Primary 2-word problems with bar modelling.

In case you don’t know, bar modelling is like drawing diagrams to represent key information in word problems. Think of it as the key to unlock the solution.

Bar modelling is a common tool used to solve exam word problems, from the easy to the challenging ones. If you can ace bar modelling, you will have great confidence in solving math problems.

So, we re-visited the Primary 2-word problems. He had to use bar modelling to explain how he solved the word problems.

Also, given that ADHD children have limited attention span, the best way for them to be consistently completing the work is to use a calendar and schedule the word problems to be solved for the day.

I kept it simple for him by scheduling only one page of word problems a day. One page has at most two word problems.

Once we completed the Primary 2 series of word problems, ensuring that he knew how to solve problems with bar modelling, we went on to Primary 3.

Then, Primary 4. Then, Primary 5.

Problem by problem. Level by level.

At Primary 6, he was ready for the challenging problems in exam papers. At this point, we had not harboured any thought of him getting an A in math. All we wanted was to help him prepare for the PSLE exams and pass the Maths papers.

So, we prepared one challenging problem per week for him to solve. I told him he didn’t need to solve the word problem right away. I asked him to understand it first, and in one week’s time, we came back and discussed what he understood about the problem.

In summary, secret number 1 is all about revisiting Primary 2 word problems and solving them with bar modelling. Then, move your way up to solving Primary 3, 4 and 5-word problems with bar modelling.

How to Score an ‘A’ in Math, Even if Your Child Has ADHD

Secret 2: Be a disciplinarian

There were problems (non-math) that occurred along the way.

This boy would write down the word problems to be solved each day in his calendar. The trouble was, he would only follow it half of the time.

One week, he would complete it. The next week, he would say he had forgotten about it.

Worst of all, even when he did complete solving the problems, he would write his solutions like a plate of noodles had just fallen below the problems.

I was fortunate as a tutor to have a supportive mother like his to come down hard on him when he didn’t complete the work.

This meant he would lose his privileges. Like losing playtime with his friends and cousins. Or staying at home during the weekends to complete his work while the family went on outings.

He lost more and more privileges as time went by. It got to a point where he had to be disciplined with family rules.

That was also the turning point where he became more consistent in completing his work punctually. Solutions changed from a plate of noodles to numbers and words.

In my opinion, when parents take charge of the child’s discipline, the child understands the unsaid message: Consistent hard work leads to confidence.

Maths for ADHD children

Secret 3: Focus on progress and effort in solving challenging problems, not marks

When your child was learning to walk for the first time, he or she kept falling. Walking was so difficult for your young child at that time.

Through your constant encouragement, your child persisted and eventually, walked by themselves. You were so proud of them!

Similarly, solving challenging word problems requires lots of persistence and encouragement. When you encourage your child to try out different ways to solve difficult problems, they learn that making mistakes while solving challenges is safe.

When it is safe to make mistakes, they let their imagination take over to solve the challenging problems.

This was what we told the child: just do your best to understand the challenging problems. It will be difficult and that is very normal. We can always discuss how to understand the problems next week.

Every week was a showcase of work gone wrong or bar modelling that was incomplete. We praised him for trying to solve the problems and assured him that he would only get better each week.

In summary, always praise efforts in solving challenging word problems. This will encourage the child to take on even harder word problems to solve. Solving is then a matter of time.


This article was contributed by Cai Shaoyang (or Brandon). who is a a former primary school teacher with over 12 years of teaching experience in Singapore Maths. He is now a full-time tutor who helps 7 -12 year old children score an A in Maths exams and tests with minimal stress and maximal confidence.

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Cai Shaoyang

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