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Helpful tips about college admissions, test preparation and just being a better student, leader and person from ILUMIN Education.

Getting Extra Time on the SAT or ACT (for Students with Learning Disabilities)

Elton Lin

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Test Accommodation:: What are they? Do I qualify? How do I get them?

Imagine that you are about to take a test that will have a major impact on the opportunities that are available to you in the future. You made sure to get plenty of sleep the night before, had a big (but not too big) breakfast, had your parents drive you to the testing center to avoid any stressful fender-benders while parking, and have made dozens of other choices in the days and weeks leading up to this moment to give you the best chance possible to succeed. The proctor stands at the front of the class and tells you that you may begin, so you open the test booklet to the first page and work feverishly for the next sixty-five minutes, at which point the proctor tells you that time for the first section is up. You look down at your paper and note, with alarm, that you have barely been able to answer half of the questions in the section.

The above experience is not as rare as it should be. Preparing for and taking standardized tests are harrowing experiences for any student, but, to a student with special needs, they can be difficult to the point of being unfair. To help level the playing field, both the SAT and ACT offer accommodations to students with special needs to ensure that they are on an even footing with their peers. It is essential for students who have special accommodations in their classes at school to also seek out accommodations for these standardized tests.

What are accommodations?

Accommodations are special considerations afforded to students with documented disabilities. The most common accommodation for both the SAT and ACT is extended time (either 1.5 time or double time). However, both the SAT and ACT are able offer other types of accommodations to students with disabilities. This includes offering tests in braille, a reader for students with visual processing issues, a test with larger text, or any number of other accommodations to meet the needs of each student.

Are there any differences between the SAT and ACT accommodations?

While both the SAT and ACT offer similar accommodations for students with special needs, there are two major differences worth noting. First, for extended time on the SAT, students receive the extended time by section. Meaning, the reading section, which is normally 65 minutes long, would be extended to 92.5 minutes for a 1.5 time test. On the other hand, the ACT manages extended time by giving students an overall allotment of time that they can use however they like. For example, a student with 1.5 time on the ACT would be given five hours to complete the English, math, reading, and science sections, divvying up the time as they saw fit rather than simply extending the length of each section. This is an important distinction that should be considered by students who have extended time and difficulty in one or two sections but not others, as the ACT would allow them to conceivably spend more than 1.5 time on sections that give them difficulty while moving through the other sections in normal time.

The second difference is that it is possible for students with accommodations on the ACT to take the test over multiple days. If a student chooses (and qualifies for) this option they would need to complete the sections in 1.5 time rather than getting the bulk time discussed earlier, but it is often a good option for students who have difficulty with the endurance required to take the test in one sitting.

Do I qualify for accommodations?

The easiest way to determine whether a student would likely qualify for accommodations on the SAT or ACT is whether or not the student has been diagnosed with a learning difference, has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan at school, and already uses the accommodations they are seeking at school. If so, the student should be able to reach out to the Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) Coordinator at their school to start the process of applying for accomodations for the SAT and/or ACT. If not, then meeting with the SSD Coordinator is a good first step to discuss possible options to have the student evaluated for learning differences.

How can I request accommodations?

The SSD Coordinator at the student’s school would be able to walk the student through the process of applying for accommodations. However, both College Board and ACT have detailed pages outlining the process.


While it will take time to apply for accommodations, it will be time well spent. Standardized tests tend to sacrifice accurately evaluating students with unique circumstances in exchange for efficiency, and accommodations are a way to put students with special needs on an even footing with their peers. However, they can only be of help to students who know they exist and how to get them.

Article Contributed by David Massey, Menlo Park Office Director for AJ Tutoring.