How to Apply for ACT and SAT Accommodations

July 28, 2021

Every year, more than 160,000 high school students apply to receive accommodations on the SAT; more than 85% of those requests are granted. Even with the high odds of approval, navigating the application process can still be rather intimidating. To assist parents of students with IEPs and 504 Service Agreements, we have put together a comprehensive Q&A that should give you a firm grasp of the entire standardized testing accommodation landscape.

In this article, the College Transitions team will cover:

  • Which disability categories qualify a students for SAT/ACT accommodations?
  • What types of accommodations are allowable on the SAT/ACT?
  • When you should start the process of applying for accommodations?
  • What documentation you need in order to procure accommodations on the SAT?
  • What documentation you need in order to procure accommodations on the ACT?
  • How much extended time you can receive on the SAT and ACT?
  • How to decide whether or not to seek accommodations on the SAT/ACT

Let’s begin by examining what types of disabilities can qualify a student for standardized testing accommodations.

What types of disability categories can qualify for accommodations?

Students may qualify for standardized testing accommodations if they have been diagnosed with any of the following:

  • Specific Learning Disability
  • ADHD
  • A Psychiatric Disorder such as a Mood or Anxiety Disorder
  • Visual Impairment
  • Hearing Impairment
  • Executive Functioning Disorder
  • Autism
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Speech and Language Disorder
  • Medical Condition
  • Tic Disorders/Tourette’s
  • Physical Disabilities

What types of accommodations are offered on standardized tests?  

Typically, students will already have school-based supports via IEPs or 504 Service Agreements in place prior to applying for accommodations on a standardized test. Extended time is far and away the most commonly granted accommodation on the SAT and ACT (as it often is in IEPs and 504s). This can come in a few different forms as we’ll see in a later section. Examples of other accommodations include:

  • Enlarged answer sheet for those with visual or fine motor skills challenges
  • Small group setting for students with ADHD to help to reduce distractions
  • Extra breaks for students with conditions such as diabetes
  • Use of computer for students with dysgraphia or a physical disability
  • Audio test for students with severe learning disabilities
  • Large print test for students with visual impairments
  • Use of four-function calculator for students with a learning disability in mathematics

Note that modifications such as reducing the number of test questions, answer choices, or level of rigor of the test are not allowable in any circumstances. This can sometimes come as a surprise to some parents and students who have specially designed instruction in their IEPs to this effect.

When should I apply for accommodations on the SAT or ACT?

The College Board recommends submitting your application at least seven weeks prior to the examination date. If you are planning on sitting for the upcoming October test, ask your guidance counselor to submit all necessary forms before students and staff leave in June. The ACT sets a more optimistic turnaround time of just two weeks but it is still wise to take care of everything a month out, just in case you hit any snags.

SAT – How to get approved for accommodations

Typically an online submission will be made by a student’s guidance counselor to the College Board’s Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD), although the option also exists to submit the application yourself, without the assistance of school personnel. Documentation in the form of an evaluation and IEP/504 should lead to “automatic approval,” a policy the company adopted in 2017 that automatically grants accommodations that are already part of a student’s school-based educational plan.

However, the level of documentation required by the College Board varies by disability category. For example, an ADHD diagnosis must be made by a medical or psychological professional based on the DSM-V and the report should be no more than five years old. If the basis for seeking accommodations is a psychiatric condition, a current psychiatric update no more than one year old is required. Once you’ve been approved by the College Board for accommodations on the PSAT or SAT, you will receive a seven-digit code that will be reusable on future test dates as well as for AP tests which are administered by the same company.

ACT – How to get approved for accommodations

Like the College Board, the ACT recently revamped their application procedure to simplify the process and ensure that more students receive the accommodations that their school team has already put in place. As such, they will want to see the accommodation pages from the student’s most recent IEP or 504 Service Agreement. Submissions are made through the organization’s Test Accessibility and Accommodations website.

For students citing an ADHD diagnosis, the ACT wants to see documentation of the condition prior to age 12. This is because it is widely known that some parents try to get their children this diagnosis in late-middle or high school solely to get extended time on college entrance exams. As with the SAT, documentation required on the ACT differs depending on the disability category. Students with learning disabilities will need to submit cognitive testing while those with a visual impairment would need to submit documentation from an ophthalmologist or other medical professional.

How much extended time do I get on the SAT?

On the SAT, the menu of extended time options is as follows:

  • 50% additional time for the SAT is 4 hours and 30 minutes.
  • 100% percent additional time is 6 hours on the new SAT.
  • 150 percent additional time (this is only granted in rare cases) is 7 hours and 30 minutes.

Keep in mind that the typical amount of allotted time for the exam is 3 hours of actual testing time.

How much extended time do I get on the ACT?

All exam-takers granted this accommodation will be provided 50% extended time for each section of the ACT. As of 2018, test-takers will no longer have to self-pace through the four multiple choice sections over the allotted 5 hours. The breakdown by section is as follows:

  • 70 minutes to complete English
  • 90 minutes to complete Mathematics
  • 55 minutes to complete Reading
  • 55 minutes to complete Science
  • 60 minutes to respond to complete Writing (optional)

This total amount of exam time for those with the 50% extension is five hours without the essay and six hours with the essay. Without extended time the test takes 2 hours and 55 minutes without the essay and 3 hours and 335 minutes with the essay.

Deciding whether to pursue accommodations on the SAT or ACT

There are a few pervasive myths about this process that need to be dispelled so you can make your decision with all facts in clear view. Here are some helpful truths: 1) Colleges cannot see whether or not you took a given test with accommodations—all they will see is the final score. 2) You do need to stay for the entirety of the extended time you are granted. It’s a long enough day without extended time—with it, the day is going to be a true marathon. Those that truly need the time will benefit greatly but those who do not may find the whole process draining which can lead to suboptimal results. 3) It is not more difficult to get approved for accommodations on the ACT than on the SAT. While this was once the case, both companies today have equally friendly processes. Therefore, you should pick the test you feel better suits your skills and not let the perceived ease of receiving accommodations be a factor in your decision-making.

College Transitions’ final thoughts

Hopefully you now you possess all of the requisite knowledge to make an informed choice about whether or not to pursue extended time or other standardized testing accommodations. Bottom line: If you are a student with a disability who is aiming for admission into competitive colleges down the road, accommodations are absolutely worth pursuing on the SAT and ACT.