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Should Your Child Take the SAT or ACT if They Have a Learning Disability?

The 2023 National Test Prep Association Winter Workshop in New Orleans, LA

By Laura Whitmore

"Oh, your child has a learning disability? They should opt out of testing then."

Does this sound familiar? Has anyone given you this exact guidance?

I just got back from the National Test Prep Association (NTPA) Winter Workshop in New Orelans, LA and this was a big topic of discussion for us! Although opting out is common advice given to families of students with LDs by guidance counselors, test prep professionals, and college planners, this is not helpful guidance.

Firstly, it prohibits students from potentially receiving merit-based scholarships, automatic acceptances, and proper freshman year course placement. Secondly, it sends a message to our students with LDs that we don't believe they can do it, which is so far from the truth! We know this even anedotally, as one of our tutors on our team has two LDs and scored a perfect 36 on the ACT!

I. What we Recommend for Students with Learning Disabilities: The Sub-1000 Rule

If your child tried the PSAT and is scoring under 1000, chances are they will perform much better if they pivot to the ACT. The ACT is considered by many to be a more LD-friendly exam, especially since it is still in the paper format. The biggest issue for students taking the ACT is the time-constraints. However, if your child has the accomodation of extra time, this barrier is naturally removed, making it an ideal test.

II. Tips to Help Your Child with a Learning Disability Succeed on the Test

👉Apply for Accomodations Well In Advance of the Test

Make sure your child's guidance counselor submits the paperwork so that they will be granted the accomodations they deserve! This is part of the IDEAS Act. If their school can demonstrate a history of struggle, then your child should be approved for the accomodations.

How long does it take to get approved for accomodations once your guidance counselor submits the paperwork?

ACT: 8-10 Business Days

SAT: 6 Weeks

👉Be Proactive if You Suspect Your Child Has an LD

If you suspect your child has an LD, but it has gone undetected by the school, get a neuro-psych evaluation right away. It really is beneficial for all students to get an evaluation because it helps their teachers/tutors inform their instruction! Once you get the results, you can apply for accomodations if the evaluation determines it would be of great help for your child.

👉Find a Tutor Who Has Experience Working with Students with LDs

Getting a test prep tutor is beneficial for all students, not just those with LDs. Through working with a test prep coach, your child will build confidence and test-taking skills that they can take with them to college! Ideally, if your tutor has worked with many students with LDs or has an LD themselves, they can be a great fit for your child. Not only can they impact your child with other students' stories or their own story of how they succeeded on the test, but they can understand on a personal level what teaching methodologies may work better for your child.

III. Best Practices for Working with Students with LDs

As experts in test prep instruction, we find there are some key approaches that really help our students with learning disabilities succeed. Please feel free to use these approaches if you are working with your child directly to get them ready for their upcoming test:

⭐️Provide ample wait time after you ask a question

⭐️Allow for longer sessions (think 90 minutes instead of 60), with a break built-in to account for the longer processing time needed to work through questions

⭐️Don't rush to answer the question for them! Let them do the heavy-lifting with thinking. (Be a "guide on the side" instead of a "sage on the stage.")

⭐️Simulate practice tests like they are the real thing. This includes making sure your child takes their meds at the same time before each practice that they intend on taking it before the real test. Medications have different strengths depending on the duration after which it was taken, and can greatly affect student peformance.

⭐️Encourage them to do teach backs, where they explain how to do a question to you. This keeps them engaged and assures that you check for an accurate grasp of the content.

 ⭐️Use guided minfulness techniques during breaks to help them reset and refocus. Build this skill now during practice sessions so they can apply it during the real test.

Thanks so much for reading this blog! Please share with another parent whom you think would benefit from this information!

Please do not hesitate to email me at should you have further questions about this topic! I'd be glad to help!

If you'd like to learn more about what I learned at the NTPA conference, including how to pull data on specific college admissions criteria, please check out my latest YouTube video!



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