Abstract This study attempted to determine the acute effects of methylphenidate (MPH) on cognitive performance using the Test of Variables of Attention (TOVA) in children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The study subjects comprised 57 children diagnosed with ADHD aged 6–13 years. Diagnoses of ADHD and other comorbid psychiatric disorders were based on Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-fourth edition criteria following a standard interview with the Schedule for Affective Disorder and Schizophrenia for School-Age Children, epidemiologic version. The subjects' performance on the TOVA was compared before and 1 h after administration of MPH. After administration of MPH, commission scores, response time and ADHD scores improved significantly, however, there were no significant changes in omission scores, response time variability or response sensitivity. The authors concluded that administration of one dose of MPH (0.5–1.0 mg/kg) produced more effects on impulsivity than on attention deficiency in children with ADHD, and that the second half section of the TOVA could be more sensitive than the first half in determining the acute effects of MPH therapy in children with ADHD. However, the effects of different MPH doses on the TOVA results need further investigation.