The SAT and the ACT are stressful tests for all students who plan to go to college. For kids with learning disabilities or other needs, these tests can seem even more difficult to master. Both the SAT and the ACT have policies about testing accommodations, but they can be a little confusing for families to understand. You and your kid may wonder:
• How do students qualify for test accommodations? • Who gets rejected from testing accommodations? • What are accommodations like for the SAT and ACT? • If my kid qualifies for accommodations, should he/she take the SAT or the ACT? • Will taking the SAT or ACT with accommodations boost my kid's score? • Do colleges know if teens use testing accommodations? • How can my kid prepare to take the SAT or ACT?
This article was written to answer these questions and provide some helpful information on the testing accommodations available to kids with disabilities or other needs.
SAT and ACT Accommodations | How Do Students Qualify for Test Accommodations?
If your kid is a high school student in NYC, you probably want to know whether he or she can get testing accommodations for the SAT or ACT, since both exams are high-pressure, lengthy tests. In order to apply to most colleges, high school students need to achieve strong SAT or ACT scores, which can seem like a challenge for students who struggle with standardized testing. Thankfully, the creators of the SAT and the ACT are aware of these challenges, so both standardized test companies have created ways to give testing accommodations to the kids that need them. Many different types of learning disabilities and other complications can qualify for testing accommodation, such as ADHD, fine motor skills deficits, hyperactivity, and OCD. If your child has been diagnosed in the past, he or she will have a solid chance at getting testing accommodation.
The most important thing to keep in mind when applying for testing accommodations is that you need to have a physical record of your kid's diagnosis, or learning disability, or individual learning plan from his or her school. Any other record of previous test accommodation is a plus, since you will want to show that your kid has a history of accommodations at his or her school.
In order to qualify for accommodations on either test, you will need to show evidence of a diagnosed disability, as well as the way this disability impacts your kid's ability to take standardized tests. If there is an IEP, 504 Plan, Response to Intervention plan, or other official school plan in place at your kid's high school, you can expect to see similar accommodations made for your kid to take the SAT or ACT.
Sometimes a formal psychological assessment is required by the testing authorities. Private school students will often use licensed psychologists. While public school students can often engage resources provided by their school, they sometimes also have to seek out evaluations outside the school. This is particularly the case if the child has never required accommodations from the school in previous years. Evaluations for the ACT should have been completed within 3 years, but the SAT accepts reports that are up to 5 years old.
Once you have these documents, you can make the request for accommodations. Usually, the disability coordinator or college counselor who works with your kid will put in an official request, and the family will provide helpful paperwork and information. The qualification process is not too complex, but the timeline is extremely important. If your kid plans to take the SAT or ACT during junior year, he or she should start applying for accommodations in the summer before junior year. Basically, at least six months is ideal when applying for accommodations, in order to get the best possible qualification experience. The ACT testing company and the College Board need ample time to review all the accommodation requests, as well as make arrangements for alternate testing sites, scribes, electronic devices, materials for visually impaired students, etc. The Princeton Review has a detailed timeline of the application process for both exams, as well as a bit more information about accommodations.
A great plan is to apply for accommodations when your kid takes the PSAT, a shortened version of the SAT, or the PLAN, a smaller version of the ACT. Most high schools allow freshman and sophomore students to take these practice exams, and if families apply for and receive accommodations for these pre-SAT and ACT tests, it will be much easier to receive accommodations for the real SAT and ACT.
SAT and ACT Accommodations | Who Gets Rejected From Testing Accommodations?
Since both the SAT and the ACT have relatively streamlined accommodations application processes, some families may be surprised when their kid is rejected by either testing company. Sometimes this is because there is no documentation of a disability, or other times the wrong kind of documentation is sent in. There is an appeals process for both the SAT and the ACT, so families who are rejected have more than one chance.
Keep in mind that it may be easier to get accommodations of the ACT than the SAT. In 2013, the ACT granted 90% of all requests for accommodations (5% of all students who took the test). The SAT appears to intensify the analyze of the applications of students applying for accommodations, as only 2.3 % of all SAT test-takers enjoyed special accommodations last year.
People that tend to be rejected are students with no formal plan on file with their high school about accommodations, or a complete lack of accommodations history before applying for the SAT or ACT. Missing all documentation about a disability can also be a red flag for the SAT and ACT committees. A student who has always performed well without any kind of accommodations may also seem like an unlikely candidate for approval.
The best way to maximize your child's chances of getting testing accommodations is to save all of your documentation. Make sure you have any plans on file at your kid's school, as well as a diagnosis from a professional. Teacher's reports and psychological evaluations can also be helpful during this process. If you gather all of these useful documents and apply early, your kid will have a good shot at getting accommodations for both tests.
For some more information about accommodations qualifications in the past years, check out this New York Times piece about the pros and cons of accommodations and the qualification process.
SAT and ACT Accommodations | What are the Accommodations Like for the SAT and ACT?
Both tests have several different types of accommodations that they can make for students. The most common ones are extended time testing, which usually means time and a half: a student who takes the four hour SAT will get six hours to complete the exam, and a similar timeline follows for the ACT. In rare cases, a student may get double time, which means nearly eight hours for each test. This usually happens when a student has a more severe learning disability, but each case is different. Extra time between test sections or extended breaks can also be an option, and may be especially helpful for kids with attention deficits.
There are accommodations beyond just extending time. For visually impaired students, the tests can be administered in braille or enlarged text. Students with fine motor problems may use a scribe during the tests. Handicapped students may request accessible test sites, and students with health concerns can request special circumstances like snack/drink breaks during the exams. Sign language notification or written test instructions can help students with hearing impairments.
There will be a section for you to request specific types of accommodations on the application for both the SAT and the ACT, so write down whatever accommodations your teen already gets at his or her high school, or accommodations recommended by your teen’s college counselor and/or psychologist. There are accommodations available for every type of disability, and since the SAT and ACT try to meet the needs of each individual student, they will have the best setup possible for your kid to excel on the exam.
SAT and ACT Accommodations | Should My Kid Take the SAT or ACT?
If your teen qualifies for testing accommodation, or if you think it likely that he or she will, it's important to decide which is the best test to take. There are plenty of opinions about whether your kid should take the SAT with accommodations or the ACT with accommodations, so there are some things to keep in mind which will help make that choice easier.
First of all, pay attention to any SAT/ACT practice tests or PSAT/PLAN exams that your teen has completed. It is great to focus on testing accommodations, but the most helpful guide will be to know how your kid performs on each exam. If there is a huge score gap between the SAT to the ACT or vice versa, it is probably best for your teen to take the higher-scoring test. Getting accommodations for both tests will not change the fact that one exam seemed more intuitive than the other, so pay attention to how your teen feels about both tests.
Secondly, research and understand how the accommodations work for the SAT and the ACT. For students with extended time, there is a real difference. The SAT is divided into sections, and students must remain in one section until that section's time is up, then move to the next one. On the ACT, students may jump around whenever they want, instead of staying put in one section. This means that a student who gets extended time and needs to boost scores in each area should probably take the SAT, while a student who struggles mostly in one area may want to take the ACT, then spend all the extra time on that one section. Of course, no rule works for all situations, so it is a good idea to speak with your high school's college counselor or disability coordinator in order to get a more detailed look at your kid's situation.
Taking both exams is also an option. It may be a little stressful for your teen to take two long, challenging exams, but if he or she doesn’t have a real preference, or if there’s no noticeable difference in practice SAT and ACT exams, taking both exams, then retaking whichever had the highest score might be a smart choice. Talk with your teen about these options, and perhaps also meet with a high school college counselor to think through each choice. Ultimately, colleges only require one score, so there is no need for your teen to keep taking exams in order to achieve great scores on both the SAT and the ACT: one strong score is enough! (Check out our article on superscoring to see if taking the test again could be useful for your teen).
SAT and ACT Accommodations | Will Taking the SAT/ACT with Accommodations Boost My Kid's Score?
If your teen qualifies for testing accommodations, he or she will certainly benefit from extended time, the use of a scribe, or whatever setup the ACT or SAT deems appropriate. You can rest assured that using accommodations will result in a better score than taking the SAT or ACT under normal conditions, but you should not view testing accommodations as an easy way to boost a score. Just taking a test with different conditions does not prepare your teen for the types of questions on the exam, the test formats, the best test-taking skills and strategies, or other important parts of test prep.
On average, students who qualify for testing accommodations start out with practice test scores of about 100 points lower on the SAT than their peers with no disabilities, but taking the test under these improved conditions halves that difference. For the ACT, students who qualify score on average three points lower than their peers without accommodation qualification on practice tests, but taking the ACT with testing accommodations halves this score difference as well. While neither the SAT or the ACT provides a perfect solution for fairly testing kids with and without disabilities using the same exam, these accommodations help to significantly reduce score gaps.
SAT and ACT Accommodations | Do Colleges Know If Teens Use Testing Accommodations?
Both the SAT and the ACT keep testing accommodation information completely confidential, so it is up to your teen to tell others if he or she took the test under modified circumstances. (Before 2004, the College Board put an asterisk * alongside the scores of students who took the SAT under nonstandard testing condition). No one at your teen’s high school will know about your teen’s test circumstances except the test proctor and college counselors, so your teen shouldn’t feel nervous about being excluded or having to take the test in a different way than his or her friends take exams. All colleges will see is the final test score, so if for some reason you are concerned that everyone will know what accommodations your teen has, you can feel at ease. More importantly, colleges cannot to discriminate against potential students because of disabilities, so you shouldn’t even worry in the first place.
SAT and ACT Accommodations | How Can My Kid Prepare to Take the SAT or ACT?
If you have read previous articles on test prep on our Origins Tutoring blog, then you probably know many of our methods for preparing for the SAT or ACT. Self-study with test prep books, group test prep classes, school-sponsored review sessions, and private tutoring are all great ways to prepare for either test. Since Origins Tutoring exists to bring high-quality prep to kids all over NYC, we strongly believe that private tutoring can be a powerful way to increase your teen’s readiness for the SAT or the ACT.
For teens with learning disabilities, private tutoring can be a helpful way to improve preparedness for the ACT and SAT. Just think about it: your kid already has an individual learning plan at his or her high school, which probably involves specific test accommodations already. It will be challenging to practice taking the SAT or ACT under testing accommodations if your teen decides to do self-study or a group class, but one-on-one attention with a private tutor means that your teen can work with a qualified professional to practice test-taking skills for these specific accommodations. It can also be incredibly helpful to have this individual attention if your teen needs to brush up on certain areas before the test: sometimes one concept might be harder than another, but there might not be enough time in math class or English class to fix this learning gap. Individual tutoring can help fill in these knowledge holes and get your teen comfortable with either test, and that will pay off on test day.
Of course, there are other test preparation opportunities out there, and we don’t want to sound like private tutoring is the only way! What we do want is to offer you the chance to ask questions about your child’s specific needs, and then we’ll come up with the best possible test prep experience for your needs. For a free consultation, call (917) 287-7927.