SAT for Learning Differences
Taking the SAT is a daunting task for anyone, but it can be especially challenging if you are a student with a disability. The good news is that, in the professional world, you will rarely (if ever) have to prove your worth by sitting down for several hours in silence and taking a pencil and paper test under strict time pressure. But, though they are only one part of your application process, standardized tests are not going away when you apply for school.
Fortunately, the College Board offers accommodations for students with a documented disability, such as ADHD or a specific learning disability. Your test scores will not be flagged or labeled any differently than students who take the test under standard conditions. Once your accommodations are approved, they will apply to all College Board tests, including the SAT, SAT subject tests, PSAT/NMSQT, and/or AP exams, and they remain in effect until a year after graduation.
Unfortunately, applying for accommodations can be a lengthy process that requires more than just an Individual Education Plan, 504 plan, or doctor’s report. Because most test takers (not just those with disabilities) would find the test easier with certain accommodations, such as extra breaks and extended time, the College Board has strict documentation and eligibility requirements.
The College Board’s website is the place to check for the most updated information, but some answers to frequently asked questions are included below, or give LA Tutors a call to speak to one of our educational consultants.
How much time does it take for approval?
It takes approximately seven weeks to obtain approval for accommodations—if they are accepted with the first application. The best approach is to apply as early as possible.
Who is eligible for accommodations?
According to the College Board, students who receive accommodations must meet at least four criteria:
1. Student has a documented disability
2. Participation in a College Board exam is impacted
3. Requested accommodation is needed
4. Accommodation is received on school tests
BEWARE: You may meet resistance if you have gone through school without needing or using certain accommodations (such as extended time), then you suddenly claim you need them on the SAT. Most people could use extra time on the SAT, but you have to prove that you’ve needed it and used it throughout school. And if you do use certain accommodations at school but do not have appropriate documentation or do not have a diagnosed “disability,” you may also not be approved. Also, accommodations might be granted for certain sections of a test (or certain tests) but not others. For example, a student with a math disability might get extended time on the math section but not on the verbal sections.
What are the most common accommodations?
- Extended time (usually 50% or 100%)- untimed tests are not an option
- Additional or extended breaks
- Use of a word processor for essay and short answer responses (with grammar, spell check, and cut and paste disabled)
- Large block answer sheet (allows student to mark with an X instead of a full bubble)
- Large print test book
A variety of other accommodations are available for students who meet the criteria. Some of these are available only if students take the test at their own school.
How do students obtain approval?
The easiest way to obtain approval for College Board accommodations is to work through the SSD coordinator at your school. The first step of the process is to request a paper Student Eligibility Form. The College Board has a procedure for families who homeschool and/or wish to apply outside of their school, but school SSD coordinators have knowledge and expertise to guide students through the process, along with access to the College Board’s online system.
What documentation is required?
As detailed on the College Board’s website, documentation must include evidence of:
- The disability
- The degree to which the student’s activities are affected (functional limitation)
- The need for the specific accommodations requested
Documentation might include doctor’s reports, assessment results, a student’s IEP or 504 plan, and/or teacher observation. The College Board Web site lists specific documentation instructions that go along with each disability and with the requested accommodation.
Why might a request be denied?
The most common reason for the College Board to deny an accommodations request is because more documentation is needed or because the requested documentation does not match the requested accommodations. A request might also be partially approved, granting some accommodations but not others.
What can you do if your request is denied?
If a request is denied, students can re-submit it with additional documentation.
WARNING – Extended Time: While an extended time accommodation can be helpful for many test takers with disabilities, it also means a longer test, and students must stay for the duration of the entire test. Students with 50% extended time test for 5 hours and 3 minutes, and those with 100% extended time test for 6 hours and 40 minutes. If you have difficulty with sustained attention, you should carefully consider whether the extra time will be helpful or if you might burn out before the end of the test.
How does one prepare to take the test with accommodations?
Students with approved accommodations can incorporate them into their test preparation. For example, students can incorporate extended time while practicing the pacing for the test and deciding whether to answer all questions or leave some blank.
With or without accommodations, however, it’s important to learn the concepts and strategies specific to the SAT and other College Board exams. A private tutor can be especially helpful for students with learning differences because the tutor can account for individual learning needs and help each student achieve the highest score possible. LA Tutors can help you find the best tutor to meet your needs.