Applying for Accommodations on the SAT/ACT

One of the challenges of the junior year in high school for many parents is getting clearance for their children to receive extended time or other accommodations on the SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests, or the Advance Placement tests. Parents frequently ask about various parts of the process, so I wanted to share some basic advice here on fundamental considerations for testing accommodations.

How likely is it that my child is eligible?

This is one of the first questions I often get: Is my child eligible for extended time?

Now, I can't give parents any kind of diagnosis; that's not my area of specialty. But I can give certain guidelines on likelihood.

If your child has a documented history of receiving accommodations at school — particularly if she has an IEP (Individualized Education Program) that establishes a given accommodation — then it's very likely she will receive the same or similar accommodation in whatever test(s) she is taking, especially on any of the tests designed by the College Board (the SAT, SAT Subject Tests, and Advanced Placement tests). ACT is known to be somewhat more stringent about granting accommodations, but in my experience, the vast majority of students with a documented history of receiving accommodations receive them from ACT as well as SAT, though the accommodations are sometimes a bit less generous.

If your child does NOT have a documented history of receiving accommodations at school, receiving accommodations may be somewhat more difficult, especially for the ACT. It's essential that you establish need for testing accommodations as soon as possible if you think your child has need of accommodations, but doesn't currently receive any. College Board and (especially) ACT look on special needs that are suddenly diagnosed in a student's junior year with a great deal suspicion.

What do I need to do: College Board Tests

You can find detailed information on how to apply for extended time and other testing accommodations here and here (this second link is designed for the SSD (Service for Students with Disabilities) Coordinator or College Counselor at your child's school, but has some useful information). Note that applying for extended time must be done in conjunction with a professional, usually the SSD Coordinator at your child's school.

The SAT most commonly grants either 50 or 100 percent extended time. In the case of 100 percent extended time, the test is administered over the course of two days.

What do I need to do: The ACT

The ACT has a reputation for being tougher to get extended time and other accommodations on than the SAT and other College Board tests; in my experience, this is mostly true for students who do NOT have a well-documented history of requiring testing accommodations.

Details on what is required to get accommodations for the ACT can be found here. Again, note that the forms should be filled out in conjunction with a professional at your child's school, usually the SSD (Service for Students with Disabilities) Coordinator.

The ACT only grants 50 percent extended time. For students who require more serious accommodations, the test can sometimes be administered over the course of multiple days, but still with only 50 percent extended time.

One significant advantage of extended time on the ACT over the SAT is that the time is unstructured, meaning that the student can divide up the 5 hours (or 5 hours and 45 minutes, with essay) as she sees fit among the different sections on the test.

Do accommodations hurt my chances for admission?

Short answer: not at all.

Slightly longer answer: SAT and ACT no longer flag student score reports to indicate that students have received accommodations, so there's no way for the admissions offices to even be aware that your child has received extended time. Even when they did flag tests, it was illegal for colleges to treat extended time tests differently than regular time tests.

Final advice

The bottom line when it comes to accommodations is that it's better to get all the relevant paperwork prepared well in advance. If you think your child requires or is eligible for accommodations, you should not wait until junior year to establish that need; if you wait that long, you may find it very difficult to get approved for accommodations, especially from ACT.

Learn more about the differences between the SAT and the ACT.