Planning is key to success for students with learning differences

Frustration - Exam questions with broken pencilOne in nine college students have a learning difference such as attention-deficit disorder or dyslexia, according to a recent article in The Washington Post. At SMU about 350 students with learning disabilities are registered with the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities.

Members of the SMU President’s Advisory Committee on the Needs of Persons with Disabilities agree that planning ahead is key to success. SMU students with learning differences, the faculty who teach them, and the staff who support them share best practices for navigating the most challenging time of the semester. Look below the link for answers to the question: How do you prepare for finals?

Plan ahead
Caroline P., sophomore psychology major

To prepare for finals I create an online study calendar that I can sync to my phone for quick reference. I talk with my professors about how I have scheduled past finals and ask how they have scheduled finals with other learning different students. For some classes it is best to take the test at the Health Center testing center. For other classes, like foreign languages, it is better to take the exam in the classroom.

Beat the stress
Brittany H., senior English major

Finals are even more stressful to students with learning differences. The first thing I do to prepare for finals is talk to my professors about the exam length, format and how to begin studying. Typically when you’re honest with a professor and show them all the efforts you’ve made to prepare for the test they will work with you. But you have to be reasonable and ready to have the professor say that they can’t help you further.

Take exams at the Health Center
Judy Newell, lecturer in mathematics and winner of Students for New Learning Extra Mile Award

I advise students with learning difference to take my final the exam in the Health Center. If they heed my advice, they are allowed to take the exam on or before the class exam date. Hopefully this reduces the stress of back-to-back exams with a potential of eight to nine hours of testing in one day.

Manage time
Becca Marin, director of office of services for students with disabilities

Most students with learning differences that I see tell me that to earn strong grades, they have to study two to three times longer than their peers without disabilities. They have to learn to manage their time more carefully and to say “no” to tempting diversions. They also have to learn self-advocacy skills in negotiating accommodations with faculty.

Create a plan
Alexa Taylor, learning and attention disorders counselor, assistant director, Altshuler Learning Enhancement Center

For students with learning differences who use accommodations, like extended-time for testing, negotiating finals can be a big challenge. They need to schedule their finals at different times of day than the other students in the class in order to utilize their accommodations and they need to time medication effects for an entire day of testing. I encourage my students to create a finals preparation plan that considers their needs and gives them the best opportunity to show what they know. I remind them to talk with faculty members early!

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