Testing Accommodations for the SAT and ACT
The SAT and ACT can feel overwhelming for any test taker, but for students with learning differences or disabilities there can be an additional piece to the testing puzzle: obtaining appropriate accommodations in order to have the best chance of reaching their goal score on test day.
For students on IEP or 504 plans, both the SAT (administered by the College Board) and the ACT provide a variety of accommodations to the timing and format of the tests. However, both the process and the types of accommodations offered differ between the two. Most families are aware of 50% extended time options for these tests but there are a range of other accommodations to consider, as well as whether extended time is a help or perhaps a hindrance to performance for your student. Keep reading to learn more about the testing accommodation options for students taking both the SAT or ACT.
SAT and College Board Accommodations
Gaining accommodations for College Board exams (including SAT, PSAT, and AP Exams) begins with your high school’s guidance department. Students must apply to Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) at least 7 weeks before test registration to allow time for processing. However, students can apply at any time for College Board accommodations, so you can get this process started well before any specific test date. If approved, these accommodations remain in effect for one year following graduation.
The College Board does not ‘bundle’ accommodations and there is a wide range of accommodations that are available ‘a la carte’ for students with varying disabilities. You may get 50% or 100% additional time which are the most common, but College Board may also grant a scribe, a reader, testing in a separate environment, extra breaks, Braille, or large print test books or computer use for the essay, or some combination thereof. The list of accommodations is not limited to these, however. The College Board may consider any accommodation for a documented disability. For complete information on accommodations available through College Board, eligibility requirements, and a review of the process see the SSD page on the College Board website.
Generally speaking, ACT accommodations can be a bit more difficult to obtain than the College Board. Again, the process is done via a school counselor who submits an application to the Test Accessibility and Accommodations system at ACT. ACT requires documentation showing a diagnosed disability in order to grant these accommodations. One major difference for ACT test takers is that students must first register for a specific test date before beginning the accommodation approval process though their guidance counselor. The formatting for accommodations also varies and is divided into National and Special testing. National testing centers can accommodate students who have been granted 50% additional time and some other visual and auditory needs, whereas other accommodations will require special testing dates and/or centers than those offered to the general public. Information on ACT accommodations is available on their website here. There is also very helpful video on ACT’s site that walks through the full process.
Breaking Down Timing
By far the most commonly requested and granted accommodation is extended timing. Both the SAT and ACT challenge test-takers to complete mostly multiple-choice questions within constrained time periods, which is also something test preparation pacing strategies tend to focus on. Consequently, having additional time on the exam may help students with disabilities perform better on these tests. Of the two tests, the ACT is much more time-constrained with 33%-45% less time per question than the SAT. However, both are extremely long tests (at about 3 hours each, without optional essays) so with 50% additional time, that can mean almost 5 hours of testing, which may work against stamina and attention span. However, it should be noted that even if you are granted accommodations, you do not necessarily need to make use of the accommodation on test date.
Since 2003, the SAT and ACT have stopped noting whether or not a test taker received accommodations in order to protect the privacy of the students taking the exam. Any College Board or ACT scores sent to colleges will not indicate that the testing was done with accommodations. Very recently, ACT also changed a practice of disclosing this information outside of score reporting as a result of a suit brought and won by students with disabilities. Students should feel empowered to request the accommodations they need without worrying about a college reviewing this part of the process.
Whether you are planning on requesting accommodations for a learning disability or not, the SAT and ACT can be challenging exams that benefit from practice and preparation. If you are currently studying for a standardized test and looking for one-on-one help, our team of tutors can help you feel confident on exam day.