High on the SAT

Students are taking prescription drugs — without a prescription — to improve their SAT scores, reports the Wall Street Journal. Stimulants prescribed for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, such as Adderall and Ritalin, are popular choices.

Amphetamines act on the brain by mimicking the neurotransmitter dopamine, which increases alertness and concentration. Studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health in the late 1970s found that low-dose stimulants increase concentration and alertness in everyone, not just people with attention disorders.

Side effects of Adderall can include loss of appetite, insomnia and weight loss.

But it takes more than one pill.

So many young people have ADHD diagnoses — “prescriptions for stimulants have risen to 2.6 million a month in 2004, from 1.6 million in 2000” — that it’s easy for students to get pills from friends.

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  1. Anybody want to tell these kids that the secret of success on the SAT is to be *relaxed* when they go into it? The whole adrenaline thing is going to have them plenty alert. Like my voice teacher says, “You’re nervous because you’re alive and you care.” The bigger this test is in the student’s mind, the more nerves stand between him and a good score. I’m a performer, and I know that the last thing I want to do is take in a stimulant of any sort before I have to perform. Well, I guess they’re all going to have to learn that the hard way.

  2. Unfortunately, this is not necessarily true. While I think we’d all like to believe that are best performances, either athletic or academic, are achieved naturally, there’s every indication that this is *not* the case (for most people).

    I will admit that I find this terribly scary. For tests which are competitions (like SATs), as opposed to mere competency tests, I cannot see any other outcome in the near term but large scale use of these neurological enhancing drugs. (Amphetamines are only the beginning. Just wait until we start getting to drugs aimed at Alzheimer’s patients.)

    “To the person whose brain doesn’t explode, and who doesn’t spend the entire exam examining the patterns of the ceiling tiles, goes the race.”

  3. I’ve been taking Adderall for about 8 months, and it has been very helpful. It helps me to focus, and actually makes me less anxious, because I get things done instead of worrying about them. I only take it for work, and I vary my daily dose according to the demands of the day (within the boundaries established with the doctor, of course). It’s only made me shaky once, but that was likely because I was sick, and should have been home sleeping instead of working!

    Unlike drugs which give you a false sense of awareness and ability (not that I’ve tried any, but I remember the great commercials with the kid trying to write while smoking dope and thinking the work is brilliant, when it’s just, well, dopey!), Adderall does increase focus, and thus allows me to make better use of my abilities.

    Of course, I took the SAT (and GMAT) long before Adderall, and did well. I wonder what I would have made with the Adderall? Of course, now my brain is way too tired from too many years of school, and I never wish to take an exam again. (It’s more fun to give them!).

    Dr Liz

  4. Walter E. Wallis says:

    If you rub your scalp with turpentine it will make you smart.

  5. Tom, I didn’t say that the best performances were natural, I’m saying that, when nerves are an impediment, like on the SATs or, in my specialty of musical performance, taking a *stimulant* is a stupid thing to do. In these situations, too much alertness is a *bad* thing, since it makes nerves much more accute.

    Personally, if I were going to use a drug when going into the SAT, I’d use an anti-anxiety drug, since if you care about the test enough to use a drug in the first place, you’re probably nervous as hell already.