Managing any physical or learning difference or disability can make the prospect of preparing for your first SAT or ACT a bit daunting. But exploring potential accommodations will likely lead you into a complicated sequence of bureaucratic hoops to jump through. You are probably all too familiar with similar hurdles, whether it be establishing an IEP at school or coordinating specialized transportation.
We can’t wait until Elon Musk abandons his rockets & flying cars and steps in to overhaul the whole standardized testing system. So while Elon is conquering space, we'll guide you through everything you need to know to get your SAT and ACT testing accommodations!
Some students with diagnosed disabilities, of all sorts, are eligible for accommodations on the SAT. Disabilities are not limited to cognitive or physical impairments, and can be a wide range of diagnoses. Only disabilities that will impact performance on an SAT-style test should be considered, meaning those that result in functional limitations in reading, mathematics, writing, or sitting with attention for extended periods of time. A student’s request for accommodations needs to be approved by the College Board’s Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD).
The SSD is going to come up a lot from here on out. Here is their contact information!
College Board SSD
P.O. Box 7504
Students who have short-term injuries or conditions are typically not eligible for accommodations. If you are facing an injury like a broken wrist that is making it difficult or impossible to write normally, the College Board expects that you will postpone your test, registering for another test date after your injury has healed. If, and only if, you are in your senior year, you may fill out the “Support for Students with Temporary Physical/Medical Conditions” form. This form requires information from a school official, the student’s doctor, and a teacher. If you are a senior and plan to apply for temporary accommodations, you should do so as soon as possible. The College Board will expedite the processing of these forms, but do not have a guaranteed turnaround time, and they warn that if you submit too close to your test date, it is unlikely that special accommodations can be arranged.
In the rare case that a student in their junior or sophomore year has developed a physical condition which will result in limitations that will not resolve within a year, they should apply for accommodations using the regular request process (not the temporary form, which is reserved for seniors with short-term injuries).
There are a plethora of potential accommodations. The most commonly requested accommodations are extended time, computer-use to type the essay, extra or extended breaks, reading and seeing accommodations, or use of a four-function calculator. Specific details about each of these common requests can be found through these links:
Others, such as use of a highlighter, mp3 audio test format, preferential seating, or permission for food/medication, are available if approved. It should be noted that keeping an EpiPen in the testing room is always allowed, and no application for accommodation is needed in these cases.
In a word: early! Even-earlier-than-you-would-normally-think-would-be-early early. To be specific, the College Board will take up to 7 weeks to come to a decision. This means you need to submit your complete request, including all supporting documents, at least 7 weeks before the deadline to register for your SAT. Let’s say I wanted to take the June 2, 2018 SAT. The registration deadline is ~ 1 month before, on May 3, 2018. In order to receive a decision by the time I need to register, I should submit a complete request for accommodation, including all supporting documents, no later than March 13, 2018.
Check the College Board’s SSD Calendar for a complete list of deadlines to submit your request and documentation for accommodation. Always check this calendar, because just back-calculating seven weeks often doesn’t take into account holidays.
To make matters more annoying, if you are asked to add additional documentation to your submitted request, this 7-week timeline may restart from the date the additional documents are received by the College Board.
You should absolutely apply for accommodations through your school if possible. Most schools have a designated SSD Coordinator, who is usually a special education administrator or school guidance counselor. These coordinators will use the “SSD Online Disability Accommodation Management System” (SSD Online) to request accommodations. SSD Online is only available to approved educators, and is not available to families or students directly.
Step 1. Your school’s SSD Coordinator must request access to SSD Online if they don’t already have access. If your school needs to set up an SSD Coordinator, you can direct them to this page.
Step 2. A parent/guardian, or the student if they are age 18 or older, must send a signed Parent Consent Form to the school’s SSD Coordinator.
Step 3. The SSD Coordinator then uses SSD Online to open a request for accommodation for the student. This process is described in detail for the SSD Coordinator here if needed, though they have probably done this dozens of times before. This step will require the student’s contact information, information regarding their disability, which accommodations are requested, and information about the student’s IEP, 504 Plan, or other formal school plan. If the student has one of these formal plans, it is likely that accommodations will be automatically approved at this point in the process. If this is the case, you get to skip to Step 5!
Step 4 (if needed). If automatic approval did not happen, typically because the student doesn’t have a formal IEP or 504 plan, the SSD Online may require that documentation be submitted. This can also happen if the student has a more uncommon accommodation request such as more than 100% extended time, or if the student does not have a diagnosed disability. All documents must be uploaded to SSD Online or else faxed to SSD by the deadline. Documents deserve their own section, so scroll down to check out all of the documentation details you ever wanted to know.
Step 5. SSD reviews all information submitted, and notifies both the SSD Coordinator and the student of the decision up to 7 weeks later. SSD Coordinators are notified via email when the decision letter is available to read on SSD Online. Students and their parents will be notified by physical mail, or through the My Organizer section of the student’s online College Board account (the student will receive an email when the decision letter is made available on My Organizer).
It is strongly recommended that you apply for accommodation through your school. The rare exceptions are if you are homeschooled, or if your school is not able to access SSD Online. If the your school doesn’t have access, they should contact SSD to determine the best course of action.
If you fall under this category, here’s how to apply for accommodation:
Step 1. Request a Student Eligibility Form by contacting SSD - this paper form will be mailed or faxed to you. It’s not available online.
Step 2. Fill out the Student Eligibility Form. Use a pen for the entire form. There are a few sections that the College Board explains you should leave blank if you are applying without going through your school; leave blank the Confirming Information and Signature area in Section 17 (as this section is meant just for school coordinators to use). Do not leave any other required sections blank, or your form won’t be processed. In the Requested Accommodations section (Section 13), only include accommodations you need for the SAT itself. If any of your requested accommodations have not been used for your school tests in the past four school months, you must indicate this in Section 14.
Step 3. Prepare all documentation. Scroll on down to Documentation for all the details.
Step 4. Submit the completed Student Eligibility Form along with all disability and accommodation documentation to SSD.
Step 5. SSD reviews all information submitted, and notifies the student of the decision up to 7 weeks later, via physical mail or email.
Documentation is needed if 1) you are applying through your school and the SSD Coordinator has been asked to provide documentation, typically when the student does not have a formal plan like an IEP or if the accommodations are uncommon, or 2) you are applying directly, without using your school, which should only done if necessary, typically in the case of homeschooling. Documentation must provide evidence of three factors: the disability itself, the functional limitation (degree to which student activities are affected), and an explanation of need for the specific accommodation).
Documentation is split into Disability Documents and Accommodation Documents.
Disability Documents are more easily accepted if they meet the College Board Documentation Guidelines: 1. Diagnosis is clearly stated, 2. Information is current, 3. Educational, developmental, and medical history are presented, 4. Diagnosis is supported, 5. Functional limitation is described, 5. Recommended accommodations are justified, 7. Evaluators’ professional credentials are established.
Reports or letters from diagnosing professionals (MDs, therapists, tutors, teachers, etc.) must be specific, including descriptive details about the individual student, specific measurements from an evaluation, history of the impairment and how it would directly be aided by this accommodation, and a description of how frequent and severe symptoms are.
Helpful tips for filling out documentation for common student disabilities can be found here:
The most common accommodation documents are explained here:
If you have received some, but not all, of your requested accommodations, you may either find the accommodations sufficient or else will need to submit additional documentation to appeal to include the remaining accommodations.
An explanation for the reason behind denying a request will be provided in the decision letter. If the reason cited is that more information is needed, you should provide any additional documentation and allow 7 weeks of additional processing time to hear back. If the reason cited explains that your documentation does not support the requested accommodation, you should consider submitting any new documentation that you did not originally submit.
The accommodation approval letter will include an explanation of test accommodations and provide the student’s eligibility code, also called an SSD number. The student must use this eligibility code/SSD number each time they register for an SAT in order to receive their accommodations. Double check the student’s SAT admission ticket to be sure it has been included. Once you have received accommodations, they are valid up to one year after high school graduation, for any College Board test. You do not need to apply a second time. College Board tests include the PSAT, SAT, SAT Subject Tests, and all AP Exams. For instance, if you apply to and receive special accommodations your sophomore or junior year, you do not need to reapply your senior year (you will need to put in your eligibility code/SSD number each time you register for a new test).
Depending on the student’s accommodations, they will take their test at the regular testing site, or at their high school. Typically, 50% extended time, additional breaks between sections, and large print accommodations will have students at the regular testing site. If accommodations are for 100% extended time, use of a computer for the essay section, or require a reader or writer to be present, they will be administered at the student’s high school.
Like the SAT, the ACT offers accommodations for students with disabilities. As of 2017, additionally, the ACT also offers an English Learner (EL) support option for U.S. students who are English learners that would otherwise be disadvantaged by their English proficiency level.
Another difference in applying for ACT Accommodations is that there is a much shorter waiting period. On the SAT, you needed to apply for accommodation 7 weeks before registering for your test. On the ACT, you need to make sure that your school official has submitted your request for accommodation by the regular registration deadline for your test date, which can be found here.
This means you should not wait until the registration deadline to register! Register ~2 weeks before the registration deadline just to be safe, so that you have time to follow the steps below and ensure your school official submits your request for accommodation by the registration deadline. Let’s say I wanted to take the June 9, 2018 ACT. The registration deadline is ~ 1 month before, on May 4, 2018. My school official needs to submit my request for accommodation no later than May 4th, but it will take me time to compile all of the documents needed. Because of this, I will register, and give my school official everything they need by April 17th just to be safe.
Step 1. Create an ACT account online.
Step 2. Register for your ACT. While registering, indicate if you need Accommodations or EL support. Select “National” if you need EL support, or have an accommodation that can be provided at a test center (for example, 50% extended time, wheelchair-accessibility, large font, preferred seating, ASL interpreter, use of an approved dictionary). Select “Special” if you have an accommodation that cannot be provided at the test center (for example, 100% extended time, braille, use of a scribe or computer for the essay). Once you’ve registered, you will receive an email with detailed instructions on how to work with your school to officially request the accommodations.
Step 3. Fill out a Consent to Release Information to ACT form
Step 4. Forward the email you received from the ACT after registering along with your completed Consent to Release Information to ACT form to your school official.
Step 5. Your school official will submit your request for accommodation to the ACT. They will need to submit specific documentation. Scroll on down for Documentation details.
Step 6. A Decision Notification will be emailed to your school official. They should contact you with the decision.
If you are not applying with the use of your school, which will only apply to 100% homeschooled students, you will need to complete and send 1) a “Request for ACT-Approved Accommodation” form 2) all supporting documentation 3) a statement from your homeschool teacher or parent indicating your current accommodations (what accommodations, under what conditions are they applied, and how often they are used), and 4) a copy of your admission ticket, to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Documentation must show that the diagnosed condition “limits life activities”, and that request for accommodations are “appropriate and reasonable.” Documentation must meet seven ACT criteria: state the specific impairment as diagnosed, be current, describe relevant history, describe substantial limitations that are supported by test results, describe rationale for accommodation requested, establish professional credentials of evaluator, include dated comprehensive assessments and evaluations that contributed to diagnosis. Pages 4-7 of this ACT Policy document describe some specific relevant documents for common disabilities, ranging from Autism Spectrum Disorder to Visual Impairment.
The required documents are
Step 1. Give us a call!
Whether you choose to work with a tutor or study independently, it’s important to get started well in advance of your first test and be patient with yourself. Aside from the formal testing accommodations available, learning some personal accommodations you can make to your test-taking strategy can be a huge help. When working one-on-one, all of our tutors personalize lessons and study plans to best fit each individual, and have experience working with students with all kinds of learning differences. There are always multiple ways to approach each question, and we love to tailor our strategies to fit each student’s unique learning style.