Applying for Testing Accommodations: START EARLY!

A student sits down with a mentor/ tutor.

Seek out support as early as possible.

Children who have been diagnosed with a learning disability or a medical issue that affects their learning, or who currently receive accommodations such as extended time or use of a computer at school, should start thinking early in high school about applying for accommodations for the SAT or ACT. Starting early means 9th or 10th grade.

Case Study: Realizing The Need Late In High School

Consider Joey’s story. He was a hard-working, first-born student in a private school with small classes and strong faculty support. Since middle school, he had been telling his parents that he had trouble staying focused in class and when studying. His parents discussed Joey’s concerns with his advisor who felt that Joey was doing “fine.” The advisor’s view was that Joey’s grades were good enough, so, why go down this path?

When Joey entered junior year, his coursework intensified and he sat for the PSAT. He could not complete the test in the time allotted. This realization, along with the struggles he had been experiencing in school, made him appeal more strongly to his parents. His parents scrambled, had him evaluated by a neuropsychologist, and, when the results were presented in January of his junior year, Joey had a clear diagnosis of ADHD and a substantially limited reading rate. He felt validated and, while he was able to begin receiving accommodations for extended time at school, it was too late to qualify for SAT or ACT accommodations. College Board and ACT expect that students are routinely using accommodations at school before applying for standardized testing accommodations. In Joey’s case, he applied but was denied because the extra time accommodation had not been in place at school long enough. Historically, College Board and ACT have been more likely to approve accommodations if they have been in place for at least four months.

Joey’s situation is not an isolated case. We see such scenarios all the time. Usually the students notice something off in their learning profile and maybe the parents do too, but it does not seem urgent until they feel the heat of junior year and standardized tests.

If you suspect your child might have an underlying learning issue or medical problem (vision, hearing, etc.), be sure to check the situation out as soon as it arises.

testing book and pencil

The right test accommodations can be essential to a student’s success.

How does my child apply for testing accommodations?

      • Be sure your child’s neuropsychological/educational or other relevant testing is up to date (within the last 5 years for SAT and within the last 3 academic years for ACT) and includes a diagnosis. 
      • Be sure that your child is actively receiving whatever accommodation he/she requests at school and has been for at least four months (ideally more) for the SAT and one year for ACT (generally ACT has been more skeptical of a recent diagnosis and plan).
      • Apply early. If planning to take your first tests in fall or winter of junior year, apply by spring of sophomore year. Once accommodations are granted, they last through the student’s high school years.
      • The official request for accommodations will come from the high school’s Disability Coordinator (“SSD Coordinator” for SAT and “TAA or Test Coordinator” for ACT) who will submit necessary documentation online. Allow up to 7 weeks for a response for the SAT and no more than 2 weeks on the ACT (once all proper documentation has been received).
      • To apply for accommodations on the ACT, the student must be registered for a specific test date (late registration is not accepted).  If the student is granted accommodations and wants to use them for a future test date, the student needs to request them again and the TAA or Test Coordinator must approve them.
      • For the SAT and College Board, once accommodations are granted, they remain in place until one year after high school graduation and also apply to any PSAT, SAT Subject test and AP exam you take during that time.
      • Allow time for an appeal. Your request may be denied at first but appeals are common. Perhaps they need more documentation from current teachers, an updated letter from a physician, etc.

What accommodations are offered?

Both the SAT and the ACT offer a variety of options that are based on the findings of the neuropsychological evaluation and educational testing, medical report or IEP/504 plans. They may include a quiet room, a reader or scribe, enlarged print, use of a computer, more frequent or longer breaks, and extended time. When applying, you need to request one or more specific accommodation(s). Fifty percent extended time is the most common request. When students take the SAT or ACT with 100 percent or more additional time, the exam is administered over two days and in the student’s school instead of at a designated test center.

Understand the pros and cons of accommodations

Be careful what you ask for. For 50 percent extended time on both the ACT and the SAT with Writing, students are allotted 50% more time for each section. For the SAT, this makes the total time five hours and 45 minutes with the essay and four hours and 30 minutes without the essay. The ACT is a little longer: 6 hours including the optional essay and 5 hours without it. The student cannot leave early or switch from one section to another before the time allotted has passed. For some students (especially those with ADHD) this is too long to sit still. A quiet room and more frequent or longer breaks might be a better accommodation. Students move from section to section of the test as directed by the proctor.

Note that fewer and fewer colleges require or even recommend the optional Writing (essay) section on the SAT and ACT.

Request accommodations only if warranted

Finally, accommodations are available for students with legitimate learning or physical disabilities, or medical issues. Do not think of the process as a way to give your student a “leg up” when taking the SAT or ACT. The application process is thorough and strict. Absolutely advocate for your student if there is a sound reason. Start early and be thoughtful about the specific accommodations that would best benefit your child.

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