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Understanding Accommodations

If your student regularly uses accommodations at their school, or if you suspect that they might have a learning difference, it might be helpful for them to have accommodations when they take the ACT or SAT. Testing accommodations are designed to allow students with disabilities, learning differences, and language barriers an equal opportunity to do well on the SAT and ACT. The test material and scoring methods are the same, but the test-taking conditions and test formats are different for students with accommodations. Getting accommodations can be a confusing process, so we have outlined a few of the major points for you!


Types of Accommodations for the SAT and ACT

  • Extended time: If your student has a learning or developmental difference, such as ADHD, dyslexia, or autism, they may need extended time. Students with impaired vision sometimes benefit from extended time as well. 
    • ACT: National Extended Time provides students with 50 percent additional time. Double and triple time are also available, but these fall within the Special Testing category and are not available at national test centers and instead must be used at the student’s school. Students may also qualify for extended time on the writing portion only, which also qualifies as Special Testing.  
    • SAT: The SAT offers 50 percent additional time, double time, and triple time. Students who are approved for additional time automatically receive extra breaks. 
  • Testing over multiple days: This is another good option for students with ADHD and some medical conditions. It typically includes extended time and involves taking different sections of the test on different days.  
  • Extra or extended breaks, or breaks as needed: Extra or extended breaks are typically given to students with ADHD or medical conditions. Breaks may be longer or greater in number, but they follow a set schedule. Breaks as needed allow students to stop the clock at unscheduled points and may be necessary for students with medical or neuropsychological disorders such as diabetes, epilepsy, or narcolepsy.   
  • Enlarged font, readers, audio tests, magnification devices, and Braille: These are generally beneficial for students with visual impairment or severe dyslexia. Students with dyslexia tend to benefit more from readers or audio tests than from test booklets with enlarged font.
  • Extra calculator use (SAT only): Students with specific mathematical learning differences such as dyscalculia are permitted to use approved four-function calculators on the non-calculator section of the SAT. This does not apply to the ACT because the ACT does not have a non-calculator math section. 
  • Scribes, computer use, and assistance with bubbling in answers: Students with dysgraphia, impaired motor skills, or severe language-based learning disabilities can get help notating answers and transcribing the essay portion of the test. Messy handwriting and difficulty with spelling do not qualify students for these accommodations. 
  • Testing in small groups: This can be a great option for students with high distractibility or psychiatric diagnoses such as anxiety. 
  • Special seating and sign-language interpreters: Students with hearing impairments can sit closer to the front of the room so that they can better hear or lip-read spoken instructions. 
  • Approved word-to-word dictionaries: These are available for English language learners who need access to translations. Students taking the SAT may only use word-to-word dictionaries during SAT School Day tests. 
  • Students do not need to apply for accommodations for Epi-Pens. Epi-Pens must be placed in a clear plastic bag and set beneath the student’s chair during testing.


ACT Accommodations: National Extended Time v. Special Testing 

  • National Extended Time and National Accommodations: This route is for students who can test at a national testing center with their granted accommodations. These accommodations include +50% time (National Extended Time), wheelchair accessible rooms, test booklets with enlarged font, assistance with bubbling, special seating arrangements, sign language interpreters, and use of an approved word-to-word ESL dictionary 
  • Special Testing: This route is for students with accommodations that cannot be provided through a national testing center. They include more than +50% time, testing over multiple days, alternate test formats (Braille, audio, read-aloud), the use of a scribe or computer for the writing test, or extended time on the writing test only



  • While the application for the ACT is shorter and less intense, it is usually easier to get accommodations for the SAT. 
  • Accommodations approval timeline:
    • The approval process for the SAT typically takes less time, thanks in part to the thoroughness of the initial application. You can expect to hear back from the College Board within 1-5 weeks, although it can occasionally take up to 7 weeks if additional documentation is needed. 
    • You can expect to hear back from the ACT after about 6 weeks. 
  • Be sure to gather all the documentation you need and submit your application by the end of sophomore year, regardless of what test your student is taking!


504s, IEPs and other school-based accommodations plans

  • If your student attends public school and needs accommodations for the SAT or ACT, you will need to provide proof of a 504 Plan or an IEP. These individually tailored plans are designed to help students with disabilities or learning differences participate in their school’s general curriculum, but they do not automatically include SAT or ACT accommodations! Students with 504s and IEPs still need to formally apply for testing accommodations, and they need to send in documentation of their 504 or IEP as part of that process. 
  • Private schools may not offer 504s or IEPs, but they do have their own accommodation plans that can be submitted as part of the application for standardized testing accommodations.
  • If your student does not yet have a 504, IEP, or general accommodation plan set up with their school, they will need to get one by sophomore year. Some families are able to get accommodations approval with plans that are in place as late as junior year, but the results vary significantly. Having a longer history of school accommodations goes a long way toward getting approval for the same accommodations on these exams.


How to get a 504/IEP/Private Evaluation

  • 504s: First of all, it’s important to know what a 504 actually is. A 504 plan is an accommodations plan for students with differences that will allow them to participate in a general curriculum alongside their peers.
    • Step 1: Document your child’s needs. This may include gathering medical diagnoses, private evaluation reports, or school report cards. 
    • Step 2: Submit a formal 504 request to the school’s 504 coordinator.
    • Step 3: The 504 coordinator may need you to provide additional resources, come in for an interview, or set up an evaluation for your student. 
    • Step 4: From here on out, if the request is accepted, you will work with the school to develop a 504 plan for your student. 
  • IEPs: IEPs are similar to 504s in that they are designed to help students with differences participate in a general curriculum. However, unlike 504s, they are part of a special education program and are designed for students with specific differences:
    • Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, auditory processing disorders, and nonverbal learning disabilities
    • ADHD
    • Emotional disorders
    • Cognitive challenges
    • Autism
    • Visual or hearing impairment
    • Speech or language impairment
    • Developmental delay
    • Physical disabilities 
    • Step 1: Gather documentation that supports your request for an IEP. This can include schoolwork, report cards, notes from doctors, or your own observations. 
    • Step 2: File a formal request for evaluation with your school and wait to hear back from your school district.  
    • Step 3: If the request for evaluation is accepted, the school district will evaluate your child to identify any existing disabilities and see if they need special education or accommodations. Testing performed by the school district is not done at any cost to you. 
    • Step 4: If your child meets both requirements, he or she will qualify for an IEP. You and the school will work together to figure out the best plan for your child. 
    • At any point, you may have a private evaluation done by an outside doctor or psychologist. 
  • Private Evaluations
    • Step 1: As for 504s and IEPs, you will want to prepare for a private evaluation by gathering supporting documentation such as report cards, teacher notes, etc. 
    • Step 2: Do your research! Start by asking for recommendations from other parents, family friends, or your child’s primary care doctor. For learning or psychiatric differences, you will probably want to look for psychologists, psychiatrists, or neuropsychologists. Word-of-mouth is one of the best ways to find a quality doctor, but online reviews can also be very helpful. 
    • Step 3: Prices vary, but testing can be expensive! If cost is an issue, talk to your insurance company to see if the testing your student needs is covered.
    • Step 4: Call the doctor you have chosen, talk to them about your concerns, and schedule an appointment. Be sure to ask them about turnaround time for patient reports, as it can take up to eight weeks for doctors to complete their assessments.  
  • Private school students
    • Private school students who need an evaluation may seek free testing through their school district, even if they are not enrolled in public school. This will not lead to a 504 Plan or an IEP, but the results can still be helpful in figuring out an accommodations plan at their own school. 
    • If your student’s school has its own psychologist, he or she might be able to administer testing. Additionally, there is always the option of seeking testing through a private psychologist. 
  • Homeschooled students
    • The general materials that homeschooled students need to send in are much the same as for private and public school students: an IEP, 504, or educational plan; a diagnostic report; and a description of the history or letters from coaches or extracurricular teachers. In addition to these, each test has its own forms and paperwork: 
      • ACT: You will need to send a completed Exceptions Statement to the ACT. For more information on what to send in and where to send it, you can check out the ACT’s official webpage
      • SAT: You will need to request accommodations for your student through the Documentation Review Board process. To get this process started, contact the College Board’s Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) department and request a Student Eligibility form. 


Ideal accommodations request

When putting together the accommodations application for your student, you will need to work with administrators at your child’s school. The requirements for the applications differ based on the test and the reason for needing accommodations, and the application process can be long and time-consuming. School professionals are experienced at navigating this tricky process, so take advantage of their knowledge and expertise! With that in mind, there are some factors that are universal among successful applications:

  • History: Send a description of the condition(s) in question, as well as a description of the disability’s or learning difference’s developmental history. The developmental history should include any relevant educational or medical history. 
  • Results of neuropsychological, medical, or psychiatric testing
    • SAT
      • Neuropsychological evaluation must have been within the last 5 years
      •  Visual impairment testing must have been within the last 2 years
      • Medical or psychiatric testing must have been within the last year 
    • ACT
      • Neuropsychological testing must have been within the last 3 years
      • Visual impairment and psychiatric testing must have been within the last year
    • When putting together materials, keep in mind that doctor’s notes are not adequate substantiation of a condition. Both tests require diagnoses to be supported with detailed medical reports and descriptions of symptoms. 
  • Use of accommodations in school: Special education service or accommodations pages from the student’s current IEP, 504 plan, or official school accommodations plan are essential. If no accommodations have been provided, you will need to submit a detailed explanation of why no accommodations were used in the past and why they are needed now.  
  • Any other materials may be helpful, but are optional. 


How do college admissions officers take accommodations into account?

  • College admissions officers are not able to see whether or not accommodations were used on either the SAT or the ACT, so that is never a factor in the admissions process!
  • Once students are accepted into college, colleges should honor any existing 504s or IEPs. Your student should be able to continue using accommodations throughout their college career. 
Score FAQs

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