Standardized Testing with Dyslexia: Why the Digital SAT Might Be the Best Option

Standardized Testing with Dyslexia: Why the Digital SAT Might Be the Best Option

The new Digital SAT might be the best option for students with dyslexia. Explore the unique perspective of a test-prep specialist who has dyslexia before making your decision!

David London
February 29, 2024

Standardized testing is a stressful and arduous task for all students. These tests demand students remain present, astute, and focused for over 3 hours- or closer to 5 hours if a student has accommodations. This is no small task for young adults but can prove especially challenging for those with learning disabilities (LD).


My name is David London and I am the current Triangle Area Director here at Mindspire, and I have dyslexia. I was diagnosed with dyslexia in the 2nd grade and have worked assiduously to rise above my difficulties with word decoding and reading comprehension. As an LD student, I struggled with the typical challenges that surrounded preparing for the SAT and ACT, but as a student with a learning disability these were magnified.  At the time (2014-2017), there was very little information to guide my decision when it came to selecting the ACT or SAT and even fewer meaningful differences in the tests. With the introduction of the new digital SAT this year, I saw an opportunity to offer my personal insight into how this digital platform might prove advantageous to students with dyslexia and other reading learning disabilities.


Advantages of the Digital SAT

1.     Shorter testing time- For those who are unaware, the SAT is now a shorter, computer-adaptive test that can be taken on students’ school-provided computers.  The total testing time has been reduced by an hour,  the total number of questions has been cut by a third, and the math sections of the test are all calculator-active!  Now, the two options students can choose from are a 3-hour paper ACT or a 2.25-hour digital SAT. For me, this is a no-brainer: the shorter test is the logical option. Fewer questions and a shorter test mean each section is less fatiguing. Furthermore, the SAT allows students to move on from completed sections as they finish them instead of waiting for time to be called. If you are looking purely at time per question, the SAT offers more time per question (~1 min 20 sec).


2.     New Question Styles- With the changes to the SAT comes a facelift to the Reading section. The new digital SAT has exiled the passage-based comprehension questions -a 60-100+ line passage with 8-10 questions per passage- and adopted paragraph-based questions instead. This means that now there is only 1 question per short paragraph, alleviating much of the pressure to read and comprehend a full passage in a short amount of time. Now, if a student struggles to understand a passage, they only risk missing 1 questions as opposed to 8-10 questions. For someone with dyslexia: the fewer words on one page, the better! Simultaneously, the SAT has removed line-locator questions because of these short paragraphs. No longer do students have to flip between the passage and question to locate an exact line number and reset their focus in the passage. Personally, I found this type of question to be the most challenging as I had a difficult time placing myself at that exact point in the passage and often had to reread the previous paragraph(s). Presenting all pertinent information on one page and having significantly fewer questions per passage is a tremendous benefit for students with dyslexia.


3.     Better Accommodations- Testing on a digital platform has brought significant enhancements to accommodations for students with dyslexia. Specifically, I am talking about the use of “Assistive Technology” and a screen reader. These accommodations permit students to use electronic magnifying devices, a computer screen reader, and/or raised line drawings on the digital SAT. Previously, students were reliant on test proctors to read the test questions to them. There was no way to account for a proctor who is not a native English speaker, has an accent, or has a learning disability themselves. While this information might only apply to students with severe dyslexia, my hope is that this updated technology will increase access and usage by all students with learning disabilities.  


4.     Desmos Graphing Calculator- Removing the calculator-inactive Math section from the SAT is regarded by some students as a blessing, but the real gift is Desmos. Desmos is an online graphing calculator that has been integrated into the digital SAT Bluebook testing platform. While students can still use their handheld calculators, students with dyslexia should prioritize the use of Desmos whenever possible. Desmos offers a cleaner, more user-friendly interface for students, with text that is easier to read and graphs that can be enlargeable with zoom functions available at the click of your mouse. The Desmos window can be moved and manipulated as the student sees fit, promoting easy translation from question to calculator (and vis versa). Desmos not only offers advancements in calculator capabilities but in literacy as well.

The important caveat to remember here is this: every student is unique, and all students’ disabilities are different. I am limited to my comments on dyslexia based on my own experiences and simply wanted to offer my advice to aid in your test-selection process. At Mindspire, we provide guidance to help each student explore whether the SAT or ACT will best fit their needs, and then we offer the tools and strategies to enhance the student’s testing performance. Contact us to schedule your free baseline SAT today!

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