Getting Accommodations for the ACT and SAT: What are your options?


Just the thought of standardized testing can cause undue stress and anxiety in students with learning challenges, and often their parents as well. Even more daunting and confusing is the process of applying for accommodations to take these tests. 

There are so many questions:
• How do you know when to apply or what to apply for?
• How do you know if you should apply at all?
• Would it look better to colleges to take the SAT or ACT without accommodations?
• Which test is a better match for your child’s learning style?
• Is extended time always the best option for a student with ADHD?

The following information will give you a better understanding of testing accommodations so that you will feel less intimidated by the process.  

Do Colleges Know When a Student has Used Accommodations?

In 2003, the College Board (SAT) and the ACT decided to drop the “flagging” of non-standard testing because it was discriminatory against students with disabilities. Since that time, colleges have had no way of knowing who uses extended time in testing. All tests – those taken under standard and non-standard conditions – are viewed in the same way.

Are Accommodations Fair?

You might have heard people say that it is an unfair advantage for some students to have extra time. However, a study done by the College Board in 2003 showed that students who did not need extra time improved their scores by no more than 10 points in Verbal (CR) and 20 points in Math when given extended time, whereas students who had diagnosed learning disabilities increased their scores by 45 in Verbal (CR) and 38 in Math with extended time.

Accommodations serve to level the playing field for a student who cannot concentrate for extended periods of time, needs to have the test read to him, needs a long time to read and comprehend the exam, or needs to get up and move around to be able to regain focus. The purpose of these tests is for students to demonstrate their knowledge, not to show how fast they can work. Colleges want to see what your child can do, not what he can’t do. As a parent, you should not have to defend your child’s right to use the accommodations to which she is entitled.

What accommodations are available?

The most common accommodations offered for students with documented learning disabilities and ADHD (depending on the specific diagnosis) are:
SAT
  • 50% extended time
  • 100% extended time (over two days)
  • Answer in test booklet
  • Reader
  • Small group setting
  • Use of computer for essays
  • Extra breaks (5 minutes) in addition to standard breaks
  • Extended breaks (10 minutes)

ACT

  • 50% extended time (one day or multiple days)
  • 100% extended time (over multiple days)
  • Multiple day testing (3 week window)
  • Answer in test booklet
  • Reader
  • Distraction reduced setting
  • Use of computer for essays

Which accommodations should I request?

It is important to consider what the student actually needs, rather than automatically applying for 50% extended time. The goal is to find the accommodations that are best suited for the student, not the diagnosis. For example, students with inattentive ADHD might need extended time because they lose focus and need to take “mental breaks” during the test, while students with hyperactive ADHD might be able to finish each section within the standard time frame but need extended breaks to clear their head and move around. If your child has difficulty tracking, you can request that she answer in the test booklet rather than on the Scantron (bubble) form. If your child has difficulty comprehending what she reads, she might need to have parts of the exam read to her, or she might prefer to be in a quiet room alone so she can read aloud.

What is multiple day testing and how does it work?

Another accommodation to consider is multiple day testing, available for the ACT. This is tailor-made for students with learning differences or ADHD who fatigue easily when sitting for any length of time. A separate form, “The Request for ACT Special Testing,” serves as both the registration and request for accommodations. Here’s how it works, once it is approved:

  • The student takes the ACT in her home school with a designated proctor
  • There is a 3 week window in which to complete the ACT
  • The tests must be taken in a specified order
  • The student can take each section of the ACT on a different day

This opens up possibilities not only for those who need the extended time, but for students who do not need any extended time but work best in short, concentrated periods of time. It also allows students with poor working memory to review each section of the ACT individually, focusing on one subject at a time. Students who could not sit for the 5 hours 45 minutes, even with breaks, also benefit from the multiple day option. As soon as the student is finished, provided he is the only student testing, he is allowed to leave the room.

How does extended time work? 

The way extended time is administered is an important factor to consider for students with ADHD. On the SAT, students have extended time for each section, and when finished, must wait until the full time is up for that section before moving on to the next section. This can be very frustrating for students with ADHD who cannot sit quietly for extended periods of time. It also can cause fatigue, because the student is taking the last section of the test more than 4-1/2 hours from the time he started. The SAT extended time testing lasts 5 hours, 3 minutes. For students needing 100% extended time, the test is administered in the student’s home school over two days. The total time for 100% extended time is 6 hours, 40 minutes.

On the ACT, the extended time testing is self-paced, which is a better option for most students with specific learning disabilities or ADHD. The student can use her extended time in the way that benefits her best. She can spend double time on the reading section, for example, and use the equivalent of standard time for the math section. If the student finishes in less than the 5 hours, 45 minutes, she still has to sit, but at least she does not have to gear up again to do more testing.

Results are worth the effort

For children with learning disabilities or other challenges with Executive Function, accommodations for the SAT and ACT allow them to demonstrate their capabilities fairly.

If your child has a documented disability, but you’re not sure if your child is eligible, it is probably worth the effort to apply for accommodations. Sometimes, a parent will receive a letter stating that not enough information was provided to grant the requested accommodations. Do not view this as a denial! It just means that you need to provide additional documentation to show the need for the accommodations. The appeal process takes a minimum of 7 additional weeks for the SAT, but only 2 -3 weeks for the ACT, so make sure to allow enough time for that. If it is granted, you’ll know that your child needed it!

Either way, accommodations are an opportunity to help your child shine. You may be surprised by the results.