SAT vs. ACT: Which Should Students With Learning Disabilities Take?

Teens who apply to college in the US will have to take the SAT, the ACT, or both, and this can be a tough choice to make when a student also has a learning disability. Since the application process for testing accommodations can take nearly two months, students will need to make a decision about the exam they’ll take far in advance. To help with this process, teens should think about the different accommodations the exams offer and decide which test will be best for their particular needs.

The SAT and ACT Accommodation Options

Our earlier blog post has a detailed breakdown of both exams, but the most important information is summarized in this article. The SAT and the ACT offer similar accommodations. Both exams have options for extra time, including time and a half, double time, longer breaks between sections, or breaks for food and drinks. However, only the SAT offers small group testing as an accommodation and testing spread out across multiple days. On the other hand, the ACT allows students with extra time to use their increased time as they see fit. Students can leave early if they finish before time is up, unlike the SAT, and students can take breaks of whatever length they want within reason, while the extended breaks for the SAT are set to be double the length of standard breaks. Countdown to College has a comparison of the two exams, and the SAT accommodations and ACT accommodations websites have more information about both tests’ disability policies.

Choosing the SAT or the ACT

Since the ACT allows students to leave once they finish the exam, even if the full time has not passed, some students might want to consider taking the ACT over the SAT. For those who want a quieter setting, the SAT’s small group testing option might be appealing. Other than these differences, both exams have nearly identical accommodations options, students should think about their particular strengths and weaknesses as they choose which test will be a better fit.

The SAT and ACT overlap in a few test content sections: both ask students to answer critical reading, mathematics, and English writing questions. However, the SAT has a mandatory essay (at least until 2016, when it becomes optional), while the ACT has an optional essay and a science section, which is like a reading comprehension section that requires students to pull information from graphs and analyze data. The ACT also gives students less time to answer critical reading questions, which can make teens feel rushed. For students who don’t like to write prompts within a short time limit, the ACT might be a better choice, but other students who think that their essays will boost their scores might want to look at the SAT.

There’s no real way to know which test will be a better match until a student does practice questions (or full-length tests) for each exam. Going through some sample problems is a great way to get a feel for the material and to choose the exam that is the best fit. Once students pick their test, they can move on with their accommodations application and start studying.