Using Neurofeedback To Improve College Entrance Exam Scores

Posted on July 3 2013

By Brad Oostindie, MA - Clinical Director

Over the past several months several parents of high school age children approached me about using neurofeedback to improve college entrance test scores such as the ACT and SAT.  Over the past 10 years of practicing neurofeedback as a specialty I have run across several participants who reported a significant increase in ACT scores subsequent to neurofeedback training for another issue or concern.  In many of these situations an ACT score increase of 3-7 points was observed.  The most recent report I received was an increase of an ACT score from 23 to 29 upon completing a neurofeedback protocol of about 30 sessions.  In fact, over the course of practicing neurofeedback I do not recall ever running across a situation where a decrease in ACT score was observed post neurofeedback.

Because of the interest in this area I thought it would be good to review the available research on this topic and offer opinions on the topic on our website blog.  Unfortunately, there are very few documented studies of controlled research related to this subject.  In a 2005 study in Hartford, Connecticut, repeat SAT scores improved by 233, 180, and 136 points for three individuals following 10 half-hour neurofeedback sessions. A typical test-retest improvement for SAT is reported to be only 14 points according to Educational Testing Service data.  For those unfamiliar with how to evaluate an effective study, a sample size of 3 is hardly enough to be considered adequate size.  However, the results are very encouraging and in combination with many neuro-therapists observed “results” with participants who report an increase in ACT/SAT scores, it serves as a starting point for identifying a possible usefulness in using neurofeedback as a tool to use in improving one’s performance on these type of tests.

Related to this topic are many controlled studies (with adequate sample size) that show increase in IQ scores post neurofeedback training.  Typically these increases can be in the range of 10-12 points, an increase that exceeds what the test makers would suggest could occur by chance in a test-retest situation.  Since IQ is typically seen as a measure of the brain’s overall intelligence and potential (among other things), an increase in IQ can result in improved test taking abilities and problem solving in responding to test questions.

At this point the neurofeedback community needs a well-defined, controlled, adequately sized study of participants who complete a standardized neurofeedback protocol in between SAT or ACT test completion to objectively measure whether or not significant score increases occur, and whether or not these increases can be reasonably connected with the neurofeedback experience.  Personally, I believe a positive connection will be observed between neurofeedback and ACT/SAT score increase should this type of study be completed. 

If you are interested in using neurofeedback for your son or daughter prior to them taking or retaking the ACT and/or SAT, please contact our office for a 12-16 session package.  1-800-850-0535. 

The many benefits of neurofeedback

Posted on May 7 2012

The benefits of neurofeedback towards improving attention span and concentration are well documented and understood.  Many participants have used the neurofeedback program at Ready To Focus to for these types of issues.  Some have even been able to reduce or eliminate prescription medication they were taking to address these issues by utilizing the neurofeedback program.  However, it is important not to limit the use of neurofeedback to helping the person with attention span and concentration deficits only.

There are many well-documented uses for neurofeedback beyond improving attention span and concentration.  For example, students preparing for SAT exams have been shown in a 2005 study out of Hartford, CT to improve their SAT scores by 7-10% by completing as little as 10 neurofeedback sessions in between testings.  Most parents and students understand that 10% increase can be quite signficant in terms of college admissions, scholarships, and other placements.  At Ready To Focus we have observed similar results with particpants who have completed the program and then have re-taken ACT tests. 

Another common benefit to neurofeedback is improved sleep.  Most Ready To Focus participants show improved sleep patterns within 4-8 sessions.  Improvement is measured by falling asleep faster, staying asleep better, and not waking up early.  Studies on the effectivenss of using neurofeedback to improve sleep date back to the 1970’s.  Improved sleep patterns typically result in improved focus, mood, and energy levels during the day. 

Lastly, another benefit to neurofeedback is improved athletic performance.  Many of our parents of participants comment on how their child’s athletic performance improves when using neurofeedback for other reasons.  The sports community has long known that neurofeedback can be used for training purposes.  At Ready To Focus we have provided training to professional athletes in professional golf and professional football.  We have also provided neurofeedback to many prep athletes, and consulted and presented for Division 1 college programs. 

If you have questions about how neurofeedback could help you or your child, feel free to email us or call us (info@readytofocus.com or 1-800-850-0535).  Our website is also a good source of information.  If you’d like, you can schedule a no-charge phone consultation with a psychologist to discuss your particular questions.  We look forward to hearing from you!

Recent Updates in Neurofeedback Efficacy

Posted on April 9 2012

Recent findings indicate that when a neurofeedback treatment plan is tailored to the individual the success rate of the treatment increases significantly.  At Ready To Focus we have been providing individualized assessment and treatment planning for years based on this type of approach.  Each individual participating in the program meets with a psychologist who is trained in the interpretation of neurofeedback assessment results and neurofeedback training.  Ongoing review of the individuals training program is also conducted by this psychologist, who changes and adapts the plan as needed.  We believe this is why our participants have a higher degree of success in reducing or eliminating their ADHD symptoms, as well as symptoms related to stress, anxiety, migraines, sleep problems, among others.  Here is the article announcing the publishing of these results: research link

Recent Updates to Neurofeedback Protocols at Ready To Focus

Posted on January 30 2012

Ready To Focus participants have always enjoyed high levels of success using the neurofeedback program we offer.  That level of success is now reaching even higher levels based on some new protocols we have developed.  These protocols are available in our office or home based programs. 

One of these protocols include a specific training program for those with anxiety, stress, and poor sleep issues utilizing our auditory neurofeedback programs.  This auditory relaxation program includes a strong biofeedback component and most our participants begin to feel relief within just a few sessions and establish more long lasting change by completing the entire protocol (typically 3 months).  Because of the fact an anxious or stressed person’s central nervous system can be “locked” in an activated state, we need to program a relaxed counter-measure via the neurofeedback to give that participant the tools to use to relax and calm themselves.  Our newer protocols are very effective at doing so.

We have also developed several new protocols for our participants with focus and attention span problems, including theta-beta training plans (increasing focused versus unfocused activity), SMR augmentation training plans, and multi-site training along the sensiomotor strip.  Trend reports that statistically measure training scores show us the degree to which improvement is occurring.  These protocols join our current standard practice that includes 3d imaging of brain wave patterns, standardized behavior assessments, and regular contact with our psychologists on staff who direct all training protocols. 

Of course, only a good assessment can identify problematic and dysregulated areas of the brains.  An experienced provider can then set up the appropriate plan to maximize gains. 

If you would like a no-charge phone consultation with one of our psychologists to discuss you or your child’s particular situation and how neurofeedback may assist, please contact Kristi at 1-800-850-0535. 

The Science Behind Neurofeedback

Posted on January 24 2012

By Dr. Jeffrey Van Meter - Ready To Focus clinical supervisor

We are often presented with questions from our participants regarding how neurofeedback actually works.  Specifically, what exactly about this intervention causes the brain to operate differently and how the positive changes can be permanent for some?  This discussion is an in depth explanation of how neurofeedback promotes positive change and the science behind the intervention.

The brain is a remarkable organ that has the ability to self-regulate.  By this we mean the brain automatically controls its own blood supply and can direct increased blood flow to more active areas of the brain as needed.  As you may know, blood carries life sustaining oxygen as well as other nutrients such as glucose that provide cells what they need to function and grow.  The concept of measuring blood flow in the brain is called “perfusion.”  Perfusion can be clearly measured via SPECT and PET scans, and more recently it has been proven that the EEG patterns can actively correlate with perfusion. 

Although the EEG has its origins in the early 20th century, it wasn’t until Dr. Barry Sterman’s work in the 1960’s that we learned EEG patterns can be identified as regulated or dysregulated, and these brain wave patterns can be controlled by the participant via the concept of operant conditioning.  For example, the brain of an adult or child with ADHD may show a low activation type dysregulation, meaning the brain lacks activity in certain regions that is necessary for the person to maintain sustained focus and effort.  The concept of operant conditioning is basically a method of “positive reinforcement,” whereby when we reward regulated brain wave patterns we tend to get more of that type of pattern and less dysregulated patterns.  The brain then changes structurally and biologically at a cellular level.  At microscopic levels small connections are made in the brain’s neurons and these neuronal connections are developed via perfusion.  So, in the case of our ADHD child or adult, we are using the EEG to find areas of the brain that are under focused, increase activity in these regions via operant conditioning, and allowing the brain to do what it does naturally - namely grow and develop these new connections via perfusion.   

Another issue to consider with neurofeedback is the effect chronic stress has on the brain.  When stressed, the body automatically secrets a cortisol hormone to activate organs of the body to respond to the stressful event.  When a person is chronically stressed this hormone is secreted excessively.  Unfortunately, research shows that cortisol can have a negative impact on the brain, among other organs of the body. Specifically, we know cortisol can negatively impact the hippocampus and the temporal lobe regions of the brain.  This impedes the brain’s ability to focus and learn, among other negative consequences.  For this type of condition we use neurofeedback to help train a relaxation response to counter-act the release of cortisol and to provide a calming effect for the brain and the central nervous system. 

The amount of training (i.e. operant conditioning) required for most participants is 30-40 sessions (for traditional one or two channel neurofeedback, typically less sessions are required for the newer Brain Avatar and multi-channel training).  At this point most participants (or their brains rather!) have received enough positive reinforcement and neuronal growth to make pronounced change possible.  Research demonstrates that approximately 50-60% see significant reduction of symptoms at this point in the neurofeedback process and approximately 80% will report positive improvement at single or multiple levels.  Some may require periodic maintenance sessions after completing the initial program if they find symptoms returning.

The place to start is a one-time consultation where we can measure you (or your child’s) brain wave patterns for evidence of dysregulation.  At that appointment we will discuss how the type of dysregulation discovered can be causing certain problems and how neurofeedback training may help address those problems.  A number of behavioral conditions can be associated with certain types of dysregulation, including ADHD, trauma issues and PTSD, anxiety, stress, depression, autism, migraine headaches, among others.  A good assessment will help individualized your training plan (in neurofeedback “one size” training methods does not fit all) and help you achieve the results you desire. 

A special thank-you to Dr. Jay Gunkelman, Dr. Seigried Othmer, and Dr. Lynda Thompson whose articles and publications were researched and utilized in putting together this information. 

Who responds well to neurofeedback?

Posted on January 16 2012

By Brad Oostindie, MA, LLP

I have had the opportunity to practice neurofeedback as a specialty since 2004, and since that time I have been able to assess and treat well over a thousand of participants using this “next generation of behavioral healthcare” treatment.  A common question I receive from a potential participant at his or her assessment session is “Will neurofeedback really benefit me?”  While it is impossible to predict the future,  it is my opinion there are a few factors to consider in attempting to answer this question:

- Number of sessions completed:  Those who complete 30-50 sessions tend increase their odds of better improvement.  Less than that can work, but reduces the odds. 
- Protocol followed: An experienced neurofeedback provider will be able to “prescribe” the best protocol for you.  “One size” does not fit all.
- Medications:  Depending on the type of medication you are taking that may play a role in how effective the training is for you.
- Condition: Some conditions are more difficult to address than others and may take more time to see results.  For example, those with autism can take more time to respond than ADHD.
- Equipment Used:  There is a wide variety of EEG equipment available for providers to use.  Some equipment provides poor quality EEG connection and this can be a negative.

Overall, I tell our Ready To Focus participants the following based on my experience:  Approximately a third of all participants will see absolutely fantastic results.  By this I mean that neurofeedback will address the majority of issues you wanted it to and make a life changing event.  Another third of participants will see very solid results.  By this I mean that neurofeedback will address many of the issues (but not all) and it is possible that occasional follow-up appointments every once and a while will be needed to keep you on track.  The last third will struggle somewhat with neurofeedback and may require either additional therapies to reach their goal or longer term commitment to neurofeedback if the goal is to use it as a primary treatment.  Some of the factors I listed above will contribute to what group the participant ends up being in.  That said, I believe neurofeedback does a very good job for most participants and a very large majority of our participants report satisfaction and good results.