Navigating the World of SAT/ACT Accommodations

SAT or ACT?  Which one should I take?  For students with learning disabilities and ADD/ADHD (I’ll use LD going forward with the understanding that it is meant to capture both), answering this question is not so straightforward.  I usually counsel LD students to apply for accommodations on both tests. Then, we evaluate the differences in approved (or declined) accommodations to determine which test to take.  Sometimes students are approved for identical accommodations on the tests, but often they are not.

It’s essential that the LD student plans ahead. Well before applying for accommodations, students and parents need to know who at school serves as the disability coordinator with College Board (PSAT, SAT, AP) and ACT.  Then, make sure to reach out to that person in Grade 10 to start the process rolling.  You should refer to the SAT ( and ACT  ( websites for documentation guidelines.  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.


In recent years, the College Board has moved to an online 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.  Approvals may be turned around in as few as ten days, but it can take up to seven 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 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.  However, 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.


ACT, Inc. does not have an online system to apply for accommodations; instead, the student, parents, and school must partner to complete the necessary paperwork.  Which form you should complete depends on the type of accommodations you need:

  • Extended Time National Testing– this form should be completed by students who need additional 50% extended time (most common).   With this accommodation, students take the ACT at a test center in a separate room with other students approved for extended time.  Students self-pace through the exam.  If you are seeking this type of accommodation, first register for the ACT online.  Second, complete the student and parent portion of the accommodations request form.  Third, forward that form and a copy of the registration to your school’s disability coordinator for final processing.  You will hear back from ACT, Inc. in about four weeks.  Once approved, you can register for subsequent ACT tests using the online registration system.

  • School-based Testing – this form 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 the form, which the student and parent both must sign.  This form serves as both 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, but with the reference number, only the registration portion of the form must be completed for future tests.  A student approved for school-based testing has three weeks from the national test date in which to complete the testing.


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.

Final Reminder

Accommodations will only be granted for professionally diagnosed disabilities.  ACT, Inc. requires a professional report that is no more than three years old.  The 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 use 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. You may need to push for accommodations that require school-based testing if you think you need them.

  • Apply for College Board accommodations in grade 10.

  • Apply for ACT accommodations in the year you plan on taking the ACT.

  • Allow at least 7 weeks for requests to be processed. I suggest applying in the fall for spring testing.

  • Review and compare the accommodations approved by the College Board and ACT, Inc. 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 a practice audio version of the test.

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 your learning needs.


Hannah Serota has served as College Counselor at McLean School in Potomac, MD since 2000. She also serves families in Loudoun County, VA, as an Independent Educational Consultant. Her career in college admission began at Oberlin College in Ohio,where she worked as Assistant, then Associate Director of Admission between 1991 and 2000. Hannah holds a B.A. in Philosophy from Oberlin College and M.Ed in Counseling and Development from George Mason University. Over the years she has counseled hundreds of students and families, including many with learning disabilities and ADHD, through the college admission process.

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  • Kathy Walker

    Thank you! Very helpful regarding our current questions. Even though my daughter is only in 8th grade, this information is important regarding her test taking over the next several years.

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