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For the “average” student, choosing between the ACT and SAT is often moot. However, in choosing the ACT vs SAT for students with a learning disability, these tests can be drastically different. While both tests offer similar accommodations, there are fundamental differences within the tests that force a clear winner.

Accommodations Very Important When Choosing the ACT vs SAT for Students with a Learning Disability

Apply for accommodations as soon as possible. The ACT and SAT can be the hardest part of applying to college for a student with disabilities. If your student has a learning disability, psychological disorder, or physical disability, you should apply for accommodations.

These accommodations can be paramount to succeeding on these tests. The ACT and SAT are not written for individuals with language impairments or learning disabilities, so the ACT vs SAT for students with a learning disability can disproportionately affect these students.

Accommodations can make all the difference to a student’s testing experience and his or her score. Contact your students’ school early to start this process, as accommodations can take months to be approved by the testing agency. Lastly, no college or admissions officer can see that your student took the test with accommodations, and students should be encouraged to use the full extent of their accommodations.


Typical Accommodations Details
Extended Time ●     Time and a half

●     Double time

●     Multi day tests

Computer Use ●     Word processors for essay portion (typically spelling and grammar check must be disabled)
Extra and Extended Breaks ●     Extended breaks between sections

●     Unlimited breaks as requested by the student

Reading and Seeing ●     Large print/ Braille test books

●     Audio format test

●     Reader

Separate Testing ●     Private room

●     Small group setting

●     Preferred seating

●     Alternate testing site

SAT for Students with a Learning Disability

The SAT is a critical thinking test. Despite its recent changes in 2016, the SAT continues to be a highly language oriented test. Understanding what the question is asking is a fundamental part of the test, and therefore the questions are written to be confusing. The SAT does not particularly test speed; it provides you with a considerable amount of time to complete each question. The most difficult part of the SAT is often understanding what the questions themselves are asking for. This stems from the difficult use of language and diction on the test and the distinct emphasis on critical thinking.

ACT for Students with a Learning Disability

The ACT is a problem solving test. While incredibly fast in its pacing, the ACT is a literal and straightforward test. The ACT does not attempt to trick you in their wording of questions; they are more interested in your ability to solve the problem then to interpret the question. The ACT includes a Science section which is really a secondary Reading section using charts and graphs. Students are not expected to be familiar with the scientific content discussed in these passages.

More on Accommodations for the ACT vs SAT for Students with a Learning Disability

Understanding your extra time accommodation. While the ACT for students with learning disabilities can be very difficult to finish in the amount of time given, and generally difficult to finish even if students do not have a learning disability, if a student is receiving extra time the test becomes considerably easier. When given extra time on the ACT, you are essentially removing one of the major difficulties of this test. With the SAT, a student with slower reading speeds will benefit from extra time; however, extra time will not significantly help a student who continues to struggle on the general wording of the questions.

No amount of extra time will help a student decode the language on a SAT question. With considerable practice and prep students of all abilities can improve both their SAT and ACT scores.  However, it should be known, that with certain language impairments and learning disabilities, the ACT can be a better fit.

As a student, you do not want to be fighting against a test that was written to exposes your greatest language weaknesses. This does not hold true for any and all learning disabilities but is a general recommendation for second language learners, students with dyslexia, dysgraphia, and auditory processing disorders.