Accommodations on the ACT & SAT

Accommodations on the ACT & SAT

As the testing season for juniors begins, many families are wondering how their student with certain learning differences might be able to receive testing accommodations on tests like the ACT and SAT. Students who have documented learning differences can apply and gain access to assistance on test day, and documentation is often the most important component of qualifying for assistance. The most common accommodation granted is referred to as “time-and-a-half,” which means that a student will receive 50% more time for each test section than the standard time limit. 

We highly suggest that students and parents reach out to the student’s school when beginning the accommodations application process. The ACT and SAT organizations encourage families to engage their school partners in the process, and often these partners have helped students acquire testing accommodations for many years. Many high schools have a specific staff partner who coordinates the accommodation process and submits applications for testing accommodations on behalf of students at their school. If your student has worked with a specific counselor at their high school, we recommend reaching out to this staff member first. 

It is highly encouraged that you begin the accommodations application process as early as possible. The ACT and CollegeBoard companies often state that the process can take several weeks (or months) for requests to be processed. For students applying for accommodations with the CollegeBoard (the organization that oversees SAT, PSAT, and AP tests), once their request has been approved, they receive assistance for all future SAT, PSAT, and AP tests–although requests can take up to 7 weeks to be processed. Although, for families who submit all of the correct paperwork and documentation promptly, requests can be approved sooner than 7 weeks. The ACT organization notifies families in 10-14 business days if their application for accommodations has been approved. Once approved, a student will have access to those accommodations for all future ACT tests. Starting the accommodations application process at the end of a student’s sophomore year or the summer before junior year can be a good time to start. It is possible that a family’s initial application could be denied and an appeal process will be necessary to re-apply for accommodations. Starting the process early ensures that a family has time for any necessary appeals. It is not wise for a student to take an ACT or SAT first without accommodations if you believe they will ultimately need them. A “good” initial score  can be detrimental to a student applying for accommodations later. Accommodations are granted to students with a demonstrated need for test assistance; an average or above average score without accommodations may imply that a student does not need the accommodations to be successful. 

The CollegeBoard’s official webpage for Accommodations can be found here:

The ACT’s official webpage for Accommodations can be found here:

ACT AccommodationsSAT Accommodations
Website Information
EligibilityProfessionally diagnosed condition with appropriate documentation provided. Typically includes a current, vaid IEP or 504 plan that documents accommodations in school for one full year. Must prove that in-school accommodations are routinely provided in academic classes and other testing situations.Documented disability where participation in a CollegeBoard exam will be affected. A requested accommodation is necessary, and the student is receiving accommodations in some form on school tests.
School PartnersFamilies should work with their school to submit their application online through the ACT’s Test Accessibility and Accommodations System (TAA). A school official will serve as the school’s TAA coordinator and will submit the application to the ACT.Families must work with the student’s school to submit an accommodation request online. Usually, schools will have a Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) coordinator who works with the student to obtain all necessary documentation. This staff member will submit the application to CollegeBoard.
Application TimelineStudents must register for a test date before their accommodations application will be processed. Families will need to sign a “Consent to Release Information” form and return it to their school. Typically, the deadline to submit a request for accommodations is 6 weeks before their test date.Students can apply for CollegeBoard accommodations at any time. The processing time can last up to 7 weeks, so students are encouraged to apply as soon as possible.
Notification ProcessThe school TAA coordinator will receive the application decision from the ACT online. The decision document will include what accommodations the student has been approved for or the reasons why the student has not been granted accommodations. The coordinator must then share this information with the family.Students are provided with a specific SSD number and letter upon obtaining their accommodations. That SSD number should be listed on all test admissions tickets and future test registrations.
AppealsFamilies can appeal through the TAA, providing additional documentation that was not originally included in the first request. The application can be reevaluated and reappealed.If the CollegeBoard rejects an application for accommodations, the decision letter will list why the documentation does not support the requested accommodations. They will occasionally request more information or partially approve some accommodations, but not the full request. Students, and their SSD coordinator, can submit additional information to appeal.

Please note, when registering for an ACT, students will first be asked to complete the prompt: “Do you have a disability that requires accommodations to access the test, or do you need English Learner supports?”Students seeking accommodations should select “Yes, Accoms/Supports Needed,” although this does not necessarily automatically qualify a student for accommodations. From there, students will need to identify which type of accommodations they need: accommodations at a national testing site on a Saturday or Sunday or a special testing site (usually for multi-day testers). We recommend that families consider what diagnoses a student has and what kind of assistance they require in school before deciding which type of accommodations they need to request. Families should discuss this choice with a counselor or staff partner at the student’s school. Here are some key differences between National Testing and Special Testing:

National Accommodations: This means students will receive accommodations at a national testing site on a national test date. These accommodations will closely resemble a standard test-takers experience. They will complete the ACT on the test date they have registered for, but with “time-and-a-half” Students with these accommodations will all take the test in the same room on test day. This is what most students applying for accommodations will need. This is a fairly standard accommodation for students with ADHD and ADD. It is also possible to receive special medical accommodations as a part of “National Accommodations” for diagnoses like diabetes, IBS, Crohn’s Disease, etc.

Special Testing Accommodations: Special Testing is meant for students with more severe learning differences who will need more than a 50% time extension or will need to break up the test’s 4-5 sections over multiple days. This can include alternative testing formats, such as braille, prerecorded audio, a computer for typing, or a human reader. Special Testing can also be essential for students with a combination of learning issues or multiple diagnoses. If a student currently has tests read to them in school or uses audiobooks for assignments in school, Special Testing would be necessary. This can also include students with conditions like Tourette’s who cannot test in the same room with other students. Special Testing allows for multi-day testing for double or triple time accommodations. Students can request a “human reader” in the room to read the test content for them, or even a USB reader to digitally read the test’s questions out loud to the student on test day. There are more types of accommodations too numerous to list here, but we encourage families to work with their school’s staff partner to determine appropriate accommodations for that student’s specific needs. Special Testing must be arranged with a school official and will occur at the student’s home school (even if it is not a test site for that test date. Multi-day testing must occur in a two-week window after a national test date. Students can take 1 section per day, as long as they take the test sections in the correct order, scheduled to fit the student and school partner’s schedules.

When completing registration for an ACT with accommodations, families will receive a pop-up notification that requires the student to click “I Understand” to a statement that reads: “When you finish registering, we will email you instructions to complete your request. You must share that email with your school official, who must confirm and submit your request for accommodations and/or supports by (22 days prior to exam).” Students should immediately connect with their school partner upon receiving the ACT’s emailed instructions.

When considering your accommodations application, we recommend assessing what current accommodations the student is using in school. It is often difficult for students to obtain accommodations on the ACT or SAT that they do not currently have and utilize in their school day. If these kinds of accommodations are not in place at school, or if the accommodations are newly granted in the past year, it can be significantly harder to get these accommodations in place for a standardized test. Families will need to be prepared to collect and organize all of the student’s diagnosis documentation as part of the application.

Students with accommodations should always come prepared to the test day with their accommodations letter and any documentation that accompanies their accommodations information. There have been many incidents in the past where a school or proctor misunderstands a student’s accommodation, and students will need to be prepared to speak on their own behalf and insist on the proper accommodations they have been granted. We know that many students with learning differences can be made to feel insecure, and we highly recommend that parents and tutors encourage a student’s confidence during the test preparation process–confidence that may become essential on test day if a student is not being given the assistance they deserve. 

If you have any questions about the accommodation process for the HSPT, ISEE, SAT/PSAT, or ACT, please contact us at [email protected].