I have a learning disability: Which test is better for me?
Plenty of students with LDs take and score well on both the SAT and the ACT. And while people talk about the two tests as though they’re interchangeable, there are actually some differences that may work in your favor. For students who excel at science or struggle with vocabulary, the ACT may be a better choice; unlike the SAT, it covers science knowledge, and its vocabulary questions are minimal. Meanwhile, the SAT may be better for students with especially strong verbal skills.
In terms of timing accommodations for these tests, both offer extended time, although the SAT offers 50 to 100 percent more time to students (in rare instances, even 150 percent), while the ACT limits extra time to 50 percent in most cases. The manner in which this extra time is distributed, however, differs on the tests. For the SAT, the extra time is distributed evenly among all sections, while the ACT allows students to allocate the time as they see fit across the different sections. Students should think about which structure of extra time suits their needs better.
What accommodations can I ask for?
The SAT offers a range of accommodations that allow students flexibility in the test’s timing, presentation, response format, and setting. When it comes to the duration of the SAT, students can receive both extended time and extra breaks. In terms of presentation, they can ask to take the test in a variety of formats, including in larger text, on colored paper, in Braille, by audiocassette, or read by a reader. Likewise, students can request that their responses be recorded on large-block answer sheets, audiorecorders, via scribes, or on a computer for the essay or short answer portions. Finally, students can ask for adjustments in the test location, such as a small group setting, a private room, or special tools, lighting, or acoustics.
In addition to providing students with extra time, the ACT provides accommodations in the test’s presentation and response formats. For presentation, the test can be printed in larger text, in Braille, read by a reader, or viewed on a DVD. For recording responses, students are allowed to use a scribe or computer, or to respond orally. Additionally, in certain circumstances, ACT takers are allowed stop-the-clock breaks and may bring food, drinks, or special medical equipment into the room as necessary.
How do I get my accommodations?
Both the SAT and ACT require that students present documentation of their learning disability. This must include an evaluation performed in the last three years by a qualified professional — such as a neuropsychologist or other learning specialist. Students must also demonstrate prior use of the requested accommodations at their high school.
Learn more about what a 504 plan is and about the process for students to qualify for learning accommodations.
At least two months (or more, depending on where you live) before the testing date, visit your school guidance counselor, case manager, or special needs coordinator to talk about the process to request accommodations. Most students work with their school to apply, since the staff have the documentation, prior experience, and tools to submit the application. Note that not all testing sites accommodate students with LDs, and many fill up early; it’s important to submit your application and sign up for the test as early as possible in order to have the greatest range of options.
Okay, I got my accommodations. Now what?
You should have been issued a Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) number to use each time you register for the SAT or ACT; there will also be a note on your admission ticket indicating your accommodations. The test center will be notified in advance, and if they aren’t able to provide what you need, usually your second choice will. But because the alternative (not providing reasonable accommodations) is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, testing centers are nearly always prepared to deliver what you need — though, again, your top choices may be full if you wait until the last minute. Once you are approved for accommodations, the same ones will be automatically granted if you decide to retake the test.
How should I study?
Hopefully, you’ve found a study method that works for you, whether it’s reading, taking notes, or quizzing with a friend, but if you’d like recommendations for study guides specifically for those with a learning disability, LDonline has a good list.
You can also use Noodle to search for tutors by test subject and/or learning disability specialization.
Will colleges know that I had accommodations on my test?
Up until 2003, scores earned by students with accommodations were sent to colleges with a red asterisk next to them. This was judged to unfairly single out people with disabilities, and since then, scores earned through both standard and nonstandard administration of the test have been indistinguishable from one another on score reports. Accommodations are meant to level the playing field anyway, not to put you at an advantage. Admissions officers won’t know.
If you're looking for a university that is explicitly welcoming to students with learning disabilities, consider these four colleges that offer extra support and guidance.
Ok, but do I really have to take the SAT/ACT?
Increasingly, schools are recognizing that test scores aren’t the only measure for success, and some have even dropped them as a requirement. You can find a list of these schools at Fairtest.org.
Further Reading: 6 Reasons Why You Should Not Take the New SAT