How to Weigh Testing Accommodations in Your Test Prep

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

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For Students Requiring Testing Accommodations, It’s Important To Consider Your Options Along With Your Test Prep Plan

According to The College Board, nearly 160,000 requests for testing accommodations were made in 2015-16. For students with learning disabilities or differences (LDs), deciding which college entrance exam – the SAT or the ACT – is the best fit for their needs can be extra challenging as they must navigate additional considerations, like applying to accommodations. While one test isn’t preferable over the other for every LD – everyone is an individual – there are some elements that make one test for preferable over another depending on students’ needs and available accommodations.

At IvyWise, we advise students to first take a full-length diagnostic test of both the SAT and ACT. This is an inclusive and customized process since we evaluate the student’s individual needs based on their performance on the practice tests. It is important for all students, particularly those who have an LD, to take the exams under the timed testing conditions in order to simulate a realistic testing experience to produce accurate baseline scores. From these baseline scores we are able to evaluate how and where the student’s individual needs may be working for or against them during the examination.

Applying for Accommodations: Will This Decide What Test is right for Me?

One aspect that needs to be considered when choosing which test is best for a student to take is the accommodations process for both the SAT and ACT. The unique difference between applying for accommodations with the SAT and ACT is that the ACT requires you to have been professionally diagnosed and for the student to currently be receiving accommodations in your school.

With stigma still surrounding diagnosis, some students may have chosen not to utilize accommodations in previous test settings at school or have not been formally diagnosed in order to maintain anonymity. If this is the case for you, it will be quite challenging (and perhaps not likely) that the ACT will approve the accommodations. It is encouraged to begin applying for accommodations as early as possible. However, there is no deadline cutoff for the ACT to apply. However, for students who are not utilizing accommodations currently in their schools (or have not been using them for the past two years) we recommend a minimum of six weeks in advance. The trick with the ACT is that you need to register for a test date in order to apply for accommodations, which is why it is important to register for your test early in order to be eligible to apply for accommodations.

For SAT accommodations, you can apply as early as your entrance into high school. Hypothetically, on your first day of high school you can apply to be approved. This approval is non-binding, so even if you decide not to take the SAT and go for the ACT, you will at least have the accommodations in place if you change your mind or need to take an SAT Subject Test for college admission. The SAT does have a deadline for accommodations, unlike the ACT, and they need to be submitted 7 weeks in advance of the registered exam. However, we encourage our students to apply for accommodations 8-12 weeks in advance, in the case that their accommodations have not been approved and the family would like to request an appeal.

sat accommodation timeline

act accommodation timeline

Timing on the ACT vs. SAT

Depending on your LD, processing materials in a certain time frame may be more or less challenging. While this is going to depend on how you cognitively process, we’re going to use Dyscalculia & Dyslexia as examples for why a certain test may be more effective than another. For both of these conditions, a student may need extended time on certain aspects of an examination.

Reading52 questions, 65 minutes

(1.25 minutes/question)

English75 questions, 45 min

(36 Seconds / Question)

Writing & Language44 questions, 35 minutes (48 seconds/question)Math60 questions, 60 minutes

(1 Minute / Question)

Math (Calculator)


Math (No Calculator)

20 questions 25 min; (1.25 minutes/question)Reading40 questions, 35 min

(52 Seconds / Question)

38 questions, 55 min

(1.5 minutes/question)

Science40 questions, 35 min

(52 Seconds / Question)

Essay1 prompt, 50 minWriting (Essay)1 prompt, 40 min

How Accommodations Can Help

Looking to understand a little bit more on why accommodations could be beneficial, see below how extended time could impact students with LDs such as Dyslexia and Dyscalculia, or Attention Disorders (ADs) such as ADHD. However, please keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive list of disabilities eligible for accommodation. Accommodations are also commonly granted to the following: executive function disorders, physical disabilities that can impair writing, visual impairment, visual processing, and mood/anxiety disorders.


For students diagnosed with Dyslexia, you’ll see below that the Reading Section of the SAT permits more time per question to students. With reading traditionally being a weakness for students with Dyslexia, it’s important to have as much time as possible to work through strategies that will enable the student to process the information in the allotted time. Within this section, the test will take passages from literature, historical documents, and science-related passages.

The Writing & Language section of the SAT is notorious for not being ‘as direct’ with their questions as the ACT. For some students with Dyslexia, they may find the SAT to be more confusing in its wording, and they would prefer the ACT over the SAT (even with less time). However, this is something that can only be determined when taking a full-length practice test under timed conditions, as well as based on the student’s performance on the Science/Reading/English sections of the ACT. This is why taking practice tests is so important.


In a similar fashion to the English section, the SAT provides additional time for students per math question. Reasoning behind this can be correlated to the ‘wordiness’ of the SAT-related math prompts, as well as some of the SAT Math questions requiring multiple steps to complete. With more work for the students, (having multiple steps) it may actually designate the student with ‘less’ time to complete the problems.

For a student with Dyscalculia, whom reading may not be a weakness for, they may feel more comfortable to ‘see’ the words and phrases (directing the student to what they should be doing). If granted extended time, SAT Math may be advantageous since students are able to visualize the problem more effectively. However, since processing and completion of math problems is challenging for students with Dyscalculia, a student may prefer the more direct questions found within the ACT.

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Although ADHD is not a learning disability, ADs are eligible for testing accommodations. Regarding performance on either standardized test, students may be granted extended time, so they are able to take breaks in order to maintain concentration or even permitted to utilize a calculator (depending on their needs). If a student with ADHD has been granted >50% extended time, they can choose to take the exam at their school (during the school day). Since the student would not be testing in a large testing center with other students and would be taking the exam in a familiar setting could reduce distractions. Please note: any student granted >50% extended time is granted the option of choosing their testing center, this is not limited to students with ADHD.

In cases of students utilizing accommodations, it is necessary for students to take the full-length diagnostic to determine which style of question they feel most comfortable working with. We actually recommend this to all of our students, particularly though with ADs and LDs since it is essential to see how they perform under timed conditions in order to determine which test is the best fit for their individual needs. Putting the diagnostic results into consideration, alongside the considerations regarded by the SAT and ACT to grant extended time or accommodations to the student, students are able to gauge where their strengths are, and which test they should begin preparing for with a tutor.

At IvyWise we work with students to help them determine which test is the best fit for them. Contact us today for more information on our test prep services, especially for students with LDs.

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