What are the accommodations available to high schoolers preparing for the SAT or ACT? And how do they differ between the two tests? We’ve provided an overview of the similarities and differences in accommodations on each test, and some guidelines on how to decide which test to take.
I have a learning disability: Which test is better for me?
Plenty of students with learning differences take and score well on both the SAT and the ACT. Although people talk about the two tests as though they’re interchangeable, there are actually some differences that may work in your favor. For students who excel at science or struggle with vocabulary, the ACT may be a better choice; unlike the SAT, it covers science knowledge, and its vocabulary questions are minimal. Meanwhile, the SAT may be better for students with especially strong verbal skills.
In terms of timing accommodations for these tests, both offer extended time, although the SAT offers 50 to 100 percent more time to students (in rare instances, even 150 percent), while the ACT limits extra time to 50 percent in most cases. Up until September 2018, the manner in which this extra time is distributed will differ between the two tests. For the SAT, the extra time is split evenly among all sections; in contrast, the ACT currently allows students to allocate the time as they see fit across the whole test. (Note: ACT just announced updates starting September 2018, which will remove this self-pacing feature). Before registering for a tests students should discuss their needs and options with an expert who can then help them determine where their time is best spent.
What accommodations can I ask for?
The SAT offers a range of accommodations that allow students flexibility in the test’s timing, presentation, response format, and setting. When it comes to the duration of the SAT, students can receive both extended time and extra breaks. In terms of presentation, they can ask to take the test in a variety of formats, including in larger text, on colored paper, in Braille, by audio cassette, or read by a reader. Likewise, students can request that their responses be recorded on large-block answer sheets, audio recorders, via scribes, or on a computer for the essay or short answer portions. Finally, students can ask for adjustments in the test location, such as a small group setting, a private room, or special tools, lighting, or acoustics.
In addition to providing students with extra time, the ACT provides accommodations in the test’s presentation and response formats. For presentation, the test can be printed in larger text, in Braille, read by a reader, or viewed on a DVD. For recording responses, students are allowed to use a scribe or computer, or to respond orally. Additionally, in certain circumstances, ACT takers are allowed stop-the-clock breaks and may bring food, drinks, or special medical equipment into the room as necessary.
How do I get my accommodations?
Both the SAT and ACT require that students present documentation of their learning disability. This must include an evaluation performed in the last three years by a qualified professional — such as a neuropsychologist or other learning specialist. Students must also demonstrate prior use of the requested accommodations at their high school.
At least two months (or more, depending on where you live) before the testing date, visit your school guidance counselor, case manager, or special needs coordinator to talk about the process to request accommodations. Most students work with their school to apply, since the staff have the documentation, prior experience, and tools to submit the application. It’s important to submit your application and sign up for the test as early as possible in order to have the greatest range of test center options.
Okay, I got my accommodations. Now what?
You should have been issued a Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) number to use each time you register for the SAT or ACT; there will also be a note on your admission ticket indicating your accommodations. The test center will be notified in advance, and if they aren’t able to provide what you need, usually your second choice will. Once you are approved for accommodations, the same ones will be automatically granted if you decide to retake the test.
Will colleges know that I had accommodations on my test?
Up until 2003, scores earned by students with accommodations were sent to colleges with a red asterisk next to them. This was judged to unfairly single out people with disabilities, and since then, scores earned through both standard and nonstandard administration of the test have been indistinguishable from one another on score reports. Accommodations are meant to level the playing field anyway, not to put you at an advantage. Admissions officers won’t know.
Related SAT & ACT Resources: