The time of year is starting to come around again where a number of students around the country are preparing for the college application process. There is a lot that goes into that process for high school seniors and juniors. One of the major factors is standardized tests— which have been designed to tests a student's skills in math, reading, writing and the sciences. The tests serve as a marker to determine where you are as a student. 

While this causes students' pressure to receive the highest score, it is even more daunting for a student with learning differences.

 I have dealt with learning differences all my life, but was only diagnosed before high school. Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and a math disorder made tests like the SAT an anxiety trigger. Many students have learning differences, and while they have become more known, standardized tests have not made the effort to recognize them.

The first SAT test I took was the beginning of my junior year. I had received extra time on my test due to my differences, which I assumed would help. As students, we are encouraged to study for tests like the SAT so we are fully prepared. During my high school career, I took an SAT prep class. It was my senior year and everyone around me was convinced it would help raise my score.

Upon finishing the class, I finally realized how ignored students like myself were by the college application process. 

The prep class didn’t teach me anything that was helpful as a student with ADD and a math disorder. I never learned how to pace myself with extra time or how to navigate the math section when numbers have never made sense to me. All of this meant that my SAT scores weren’t going to be what I wanted and the college process would be even harder. Universities depend so much on your tests scores and see them as a representation of you are as a student. For students like myself, standardized tests don’t represent us as students. Instead, our grades and overall performance in school are what truly display our intellect.

The dependency on standardized tests has made learning differences an unacknowledged factor in the application process. SAT scores are presented as an important, if not the most important, major keystone in acceptances to college. Students with learning differences are often taught differently from their peers. It takes a unique approach to support students who have academic obstacles and it's imperative to acknowledge it. Since students like myself need academic support through the way we are taught, it only makes sense that we are tested differently. The SAT is not designed for students with learning differences and excludes them from the preparation for the tests. Students need to learn how to pace themselves with the extended time they have been given and how to study for the tests according to their needs. 

Some schools have begun to recognize this spectrum of students and have provided alternative classes that develop skills for learning differences. This kind of support does ease the stress of standardized tests and proves that these students can be included in the process of higher learning. Universities have also offered the option of waiving test scores, which means a student's academic prowess will be considered much more. This method is more inclusive for all students and showcases more important aspects of a student.

Having a learning difference shouldn’t stop you from applying to any university. 

Schools should adapt to the landscape of students, not the other way around. As you prepare to take the SAT or research schools, make sure that they offer waived test scores and academic support. Considering we are still in a transition period of the existence of standardized tests, it is important to prepare for the tests in whatever style is conducive to your learning differences. As someone who struggled with learning differences throughout middle and high school, I was able to get through the college application process by making sure schools could support me with my accommodations. 

What did I learn from taking the SAT? The test didn’t reflect who I was as a student, and with my circumstances, I could only try my best.

For future test-takers, standardized tests have to become more inclusive in how they design the tests. Tests do not define who you are and what school you are worthy of attending.  

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