My first piece of advice is to apply for accommodations on both tests.
Then evaluate the differences in approved (or declined) accommodations and consider which test to take.
Sometimes SAT and ACT approve identical accommodations; but, often they do not.
Planning For SAT or ACT Accommodations
It’s essential that students who need accommodations plan ahead.
Well before applying for accommodations, students and parents need to know who at school serves as the disability coordinator with The College Board (PSAT, SAT, AP) and ACT.
Unless the necessary documentation is on-file at school well ahead of time, it is unlikely that any testing accommodations will be approved.
From there the process takes two different paths.
The SAT Accommodations Process
In recent years, The College Board has moved to an on-line accommodations request system. After parents sign a consent form the school disability coordinator can proceed with the request.
If the school has all of the disability documentation on file, the student has an IEP, 504 or other accommodations plan at school, and the student has been using accommodations regularly, then the process is typically a smooth one.
Sometimes the approval process is fast with a ten day turn-around, but it can take up to eight weeks for The College Board to review and respond to accommodations requests.
The beauty is, once approved, the student receives a code (SSD number) to use when registering for all future PSAT and SAT tests. That code also applies to AP exams, ensuring that those tests will be taken with proper accommodations in place.
It’s important to note that the accommodations request process is different from the actual test registration. The school initiates the accommodations request; the family initiates test registration.
Most students with accommodations take the SAT on the regularly scheduled Saturday in a separate room. But, some accommodations bump the student to school-based testing which takes place at the school’s discretion between the regularly scheduled SAT Saturday and the following Wednesday.
The ACT Accommodations Process
ACT does not have an on-line system for applying for accommodations; the student, parents, and school must partner to complete the necessary paperwork.
Also, the form completed depends on the type of accommodations needed.
Extended Time National Testing: Prior to September 2018, extended-time students were permitted to split their time between sections as they wished.
Now, students instead receive 50% extra time on each section, with a hard stop at the end of each one for a total of six hours to work on all five tests.
These students now take the test under the following time limits:
English – 70 minutes (compared to 45 minutes standard)
Mathematics – 90 minutes (compared to 60 minutes standard)
15 minute break
Reading – 55 minutes (compared to 35 minutes standard)
Science – 55 minutes (compared to 35 minutes standard)
5 minute break
Essay: 60 minutes (compared to 40 minutes standard) — this is optional
School-based Testing: Some students also receive accommodations for multi-day testing.
ACT grants a generous three-week testing window in which to complete the exam under the supervision of their guidance counselor.
This is for students who need more than 50% extended time and/or other accommodations that cannot be provided at a test center. For these accommodations, your school’s disability coordinator must complete a form that the student and parent both sign.
This form serves as an accommodations request and a test registration. Once approved you will receive a “reference” number. That same form will be used each time you register for an ACT test even though your accommodations are already approved.
Sat and ACT Appeals
If you are not approved for the accommodations you seek, you may appeal the decision.
Both SAT and ACT allow appeals.
For an appeal to be successful you will need to provide new information, such as a more detailed letter from your school’s disability coordinator explaining why the request is reasonable.
This is another reason to start the process early – you need to build in time for a potential appeal.
Accommodations will only be granted for professionally diagnosed disabilities.
ACT requires an evaluative report that is no more than three years old.
College Board will accept a report as old as five years.
I always recommend waiting until age 16 to update the psycho-educational testing report so that the tester can administer adult scale instruments.
This report will satisfy the documentation requirements for college disability offices and will carry the student through the college years.
While accommodations on the SAT and ACT are important, what really counts is having proper accommodations in place in college.
- Update the psycho-educational or neuropsychological report at age 16.
- Work with school disability coordinator to ensure that all necessary papers are in the student’s file.
- Talk with school disability coordinator about types of accommodations. Be aware that some schools are unfamiliar with the school-based testing option.
- Apply for College Board accommodations in grade 10 (or grade 9 if taking SAT subjects tests)
- Apply for ACT accommodations in the year you plan on taking the ACT.
- Allow at least 8 weeks for requests to be processed. I suggest applying in the fall for spring testing.
- Review and compare the accommodations approved by College Board and ACT to determine which is best for you.
- Prep for the chosen test using your accommodations.
- If you are approved for the audio version of the test, ask your school disability coordinator to order practice audio materials.
Finally, remember that testing is one piece of the college admission process.
In your college search you should identify colleges and universities that best meet and accommodate you learning needs.
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Written by Hannah Serota, College Counselor at McLean School in Potomac, MD since 2000. She also works as an Independent Educational Consultant, based in Loudoun County, VA.