Have questions about extra time on the SAT and ACT? Here are answers to the frequently asked questions we receive.
How do I qualify for extended time on the SAT and ACT?
Students can qualify for extra time on the SAT and ACT if they have either an IEP (Individual Education Plan) or a 504 plan that grants them extended time in school. What is the difference between the two plans?
- An IEP typically has a much higher threshold in order to qualify for accommodations. In order to qualify, students are typically evaluated by a county testing psychologist, and the testing typically must show a very apparent disability (technically one or more of the thirteen disabilities covered in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). This testing is typically given for free as long as it is ordered by a student’s school.
- In contrast, a student with any disability can secure accommodations with a 504 plan, so it covers broader needs and protects students under a different law, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. (For a rough comparison, think of an IEP as a special education plan and a 504 as an accommodation plan – the former qualifies students for specialized instruction; the latter is aimed at removing barriers to help students perform at their potential in a general education setting.) Testing for a 504 plan is typically conducted by private testing psychologists and paid for by a student’s family. Because qualifications for a 504 plan are less selective and more subjective, schools significantly vary as to what they deem qualifies as a disability and what accommodations they will give.
Why does the SAT approve extra time more easily than the ACT does?
Updated – As of July 21, 2021, the ACT is now granting extended time to public school students just as easily as the SAT does. For private school students, it’s still much easier to get extended time on the SAT than it is for the ACT. See the press release here for the changes: ACT Press Release.
Why, at least in the past, does the SAT grant extended time more easily to any student? The SAT is designed so that the average student can finish within the allotted time. The test intentionally does not test students on how quickly they can read, analyze, calculate, and answer questions. In essence, extended time does not help the average student on the SAT: students are either going to get the answer, or, even with infinite time, they will not get the answer because the reading analysis is so complex or they do not know the content to answer the grammar or math questions. Because extended time on the SAT will not significantly help the average student, the SAT grants extended time quite easily as long as a student gets extended time in school.
But, while extended time on the SAT only helps students who need extra time, extra time on the ACT would help every student and would remove arguably the hardest aspect of the Reading and Science sections (because those sections are designed so that the average student will run out of time). For that reason, the ACT used to be exceedingly careful about who it allows to qualify for extended time so that students with extended time are not gaining an unfair advantage over the average student. Now, however, any student with a 504 plan that grants extended time at a public school will likely qualify for extended time on the ACT, so the barrier to extended time on the ACT has been greatly diminished. Because private schools typically provide formal accommodation plans — not official 504 plans — to students who need accommodations and the requirements for formal plans are not nearly as stringent as those of 504 plans, the ACT is much more hesitant to automatically grant extended time to a private school student who gets extended time in school — especially if that extended time in school was just recently granted to the student.
For public school students, however, basically any accommodations written into a student’s 504 plan will be automatically granted to them on the ACT. For example, if a student’s 504 plan says “[Student name] may not be required to take more than 3 tests per day in school,” then this limitation on the amount of testing in a school day will automatically qualify that public school student to qualify for multi-day testing on the ACT (if the student would like that accommodation). And a track record of accommodations is also then unnecessary for a public school student: they could be approved by their public school for accommodations and that very same week apply and be approved for accommodations on the ACT. In contrast, private school students who were recently approved for extended time in school should (unless they have an extremely strong case for accommodations, a track record of formal or informal accommodations, etc) wait at least 3 months — and ideally one-year — before applying to the ACT for extended time.
How do I know if my child needs extra time on the SAT and ACT?
Most students who need extended time on the SAT or ACT will already have accommodations in school, either from an IEP or from a 504 plan, before they begin taking the SAT or ACT. But, in the event that a student has a previously unidentified disability and needs extended time, then their baseline test scores typically look like the following:
First, notice all the questions at the ends of all the sections (not just the Reading and Science sections) that the student left unanswered. In total, the students didn’t have time to get to 83 out of the 215 questions, or 39% of the test questions. Second, look at their accuracy on the questions that they did have time for. On the Reading section, for example, they only missed three out of the thirty questions that they had time to answer. That’s an incredibly high rate of getting questions correct. The combination of high accuracy and high number of unanswered questions shows us that this student is extremely smart but needs extended time in order to have any hope of demonstrating their hark-work, skill, and knowledge to colleges on the ACT. This student started with a 19 on this mock ACT test. After he got tested in his junior year for extra time, he was granted not only 50% extra time but actually 100% extra time. His final official score: a 35. Going from a 19 to a 35 on the ACT was life-changing for him, not only because he was later accepted to a fantastic college but also because he understood himself much better and realized how smart and capable he is. If a student’s testing shows high accuracy and a high number of questions unanswered, it might be time to consult a testing psychologist to evaluate whether the student requires accommodations to be able to demonstrate his or her potential to colleges.
What kind of accommodations can a student qualify for on the SAT and ACT?
The SAT more-or-less only gives one accommodation: 50% extended time. It is rare to get any other accommodations for the SAT. In contrast, the ACT has more accommodations for which students can qualify. Here are some of the accommodations:
- 50% extended time
- Multi-day testing: At a school’s discretion, students can take one section at a time over a period of two weeks. In order to get this accommodation, a limit on the number of tests that a student can take in school must be in the student’s IEP or 504 plan (something to the effect of “Bob cannot be required to take more than 3 tests in one day of school.”)
- Use of a highlighter (useful for the Reading and Science sections)
- 100% extended time
- Stop-time: Students can pause the clock as often as they want.
- Private testing: Students can be tested in a room on their own and, at the discretion of the school, in an environment of their choosing (so this could be in their college counselor’s office or wherever they feel most comfortable).
- Transcription: Students don’t need to fill out the scantron; instead, after the test, the proctor will transcribe a student’s circled answers from the test booklet onto a scantron.
How do I get extra time on the SAT or ACT?
The first step is evaluating whether or not a student likely has an undiagnosed disability. Here are some questions to ask:
- Do they often run out of time on tests in school, particularly even when they have adequately prepared for the subject matter?
- Do teachers grant them informal accommodations, such as letting them come after school to finish tests?
- Do they have high accuracy on practice SAT or ACT tests but significantly run out of time on these tests?
If the answer to any of these is “yes,” then you might consider testing. If you do, you will want your child to be evaluated by a psychologist that 1) Specializes in testing, and 2) Has extensive experience navigating the accommodation process for the SAT and ACT. The latter is important because there is, understandably, more skepticism toward students seeking to secure accommodations in sophomore or junior year of high school, so you’ll want a professional who has specifically helped many sophomore and junior students through the process.
Once the testing is done and if the findings support the need for extended time, then families take that psychological evaluation to a student’s school. If the school approves a student for extended time in-school, then a student can apply for extended time on the SAT and ACT (if a school does not approve a student for accommodations, then it’s highly unlikely that either the SAT or ACT will do so).
How long do I need to have accommodations at school before I can apply for accommodations on the SAT or ACT?
There are no absolute cut-offs. A general rule-of-thumb for the SAT is to wait at least 4 months after getting accommodations in school before applying for accommodations on the SAT. However, I would ignore that. One-hundred percent of our students granted extended time by their schools were then, without waiting the four months before applying, granted extended time on the SAT. So we see no reason to wait to apply for extended time for the SAT.
For the ACT, it depends on if a student attends a public or private high school:
- Public high school students: You can request extended time on the ACT as soon as you get extended time in school, and you will almost definitely be approved for the extended time on the ACT.
- Private high school students: Though the ACT’s 2021 changes to its accommodations policies made it a bit easier for private high school students to get extended time, it is still not an automatic process for getting accommodations like it is for public high school students. Unless a student has an extremely strong case for extended time or has a history of informal or formal accommodations, then they should try to wait at least 3-months (but ideally 1-year) after getting extended time in school before they apply for extended time on the ACT. And, especially if they apply for extended time on the ACT within 12-months of getting extended time in school, then they should be aware that they will likely be denied their request for extended time on the ACT, and they will likely have to appeal that decision (potentially multiple times) if the student wants to keep pursuing getting extended time on the ACT. We find that about half of students who appeal the denial of ACT accommodations are eventually approved for those accommodations.
How long does it take to get approved for SAT and ACT accommodations?
If a family realizes that a student likely has a previously undiagnosed disability and decides to pursue testing, then the process and timeline are roughly as follows:
- Schedule an appointment with a testing psychologist: the best testing psychologists could have a 1 to 3 month wait for testing appointments.
- Do the psychological testing: usually the battery of tests are given over the course of two days; some testing psychologists work on weekends so a student will not need to take off from school, but others only work on weekdays so a student might need to take off two days from school.
- Receive the psychological evaluation: this is typically a 30-50 page report that takes around a month after the testing has been completed to compile and write.
- Contact the school: once you have the psychological report and if it supports the need for accommodations, then take this report to the school. Schools vary in their approval timelines – some will literally approve a student that same day; others will have committee meetings that could take about two weeks.
- The school applies for extended time: After a student is approved for extended time in school, then the school can apply for extended time on the SAT and ACT (for the ACT, though, you will need to register for an ACT test and provide the school with this consent form before the school can apply for extended time — you don’t need to actually take the ACT on the date that you register for, but you do need to register for a test before the ACT will start the review process). The approval process for the SAT is usually very quick: sometimes students are approved almost immediately. The ACT approval process usually takes 2-4 weeks.
- If a student is denied accommodations for the ACT, then they can appeal that decision by gathering additional documentation (usually additional letters from teachers, report cards from years past, maybe more testing, etc) and applying again, which will then take another 2-4 weeks to process. In contrast, for the SAT, out of the hundreds of our students who have applied for extended time on it, we have never had a student not be approved for it, so we have never had to go through an appeal process for extended time on the SAT.
In sum, the whole process to secure extended time for the SAT and ACT could be as quick as two months or as long as 6+ months, particularly if one or more appeals are needed before a student is granted extended time on the ACT.
What happens if the SAT or ACT deny a request for extended time?
If you are denied, then you can appeal that decision. You will need to provide additional evidence in the appeal, but the denial letter tells families why a student was denied extended time, so you should use this letter as a guide to fill any holes in the application and just generally to provide even more evidence than was asked for (letters from past teachers, double-check that the school submitted everything correctly on your behalf, etc). For example, the ACT could deny accommodations to a student because a family or school did not provide evidence that the disability is a true disability (that it limits a person’s functioning in a core aspect of life). One way to help prove that a student has a disability is if they receive medication. For example, if they are diagnosed with ADHD but are not prescribed medication, then the ACT could be less likely to grant accommodations because life-limiting ADHD is assumed to require pharmacological remediation, so it is helpful in the appeal to submit a copy of the prescription and ask the school to include that in the application for extended time. The ACT is also looking for a “history of impairment,” but, under the updated ACT guidelines, that “history” could technically be from as recently as 9th or 10th grade. Additionally, evidence of that history of impairment has been greatly expanded to include more than official diagnoses of disabilities. For instance, a history of substantial tutoring could be used to show that a student has been getting accommodations (in the form of lots of tutoring). And, if the ACT continues to deny a student, the family can ask that the ACT to send the application for extended time to an external reviewer (instead of the application continuing to be reviewed by one of their five full-time internal reviewers). So, there are now many options that families can utilize to appeal denials.
Is it worth the hassle to get extra time on the SAT and ACT?
If your child needs extended time, then it is overwhelmingly worth the hassle to get it. Here’s why:
- Confidence boost: Most of our students who go from regular time in school and on standardized tests to extended time realize quite quickly how much smarter they are than they thought they were. For example, the student above who went from a 19 to a 35 on the ACT (after getting accommodations and tutoring) had an enormous confidence boost from knowing he was actually brilliant but simply needed more time. Because students who need extended time and receive it can then actually succeed up to their potential, they feel much better about themselves, they are motivated by their success, and they are motivated by feeling that they will be more successful in life as well.
- Extended time in high school: Even if students have been performing reasonably well, very often we find that students had no idea how rushed they were on tests in school and how much better they can do with extended time. The additional time, as long as they need it, unlocks their potential.
- Extended time on the SAT and ACT: Because these test scores are so important for getting into college, doing better on these exams can dramatically help students in the college admissions process. Students can also then get extended time on their AP exams, which can further help them with college admissions and with course credit in college.
- Extended time in college: After students get accepted to and enroll at a college, they can tell the school that they require accommodations. Thus, their history of accommodations in high school will, in all likelihood, allow them to get accommodations in college.
- Extended time on the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, etc: If a student goes on to graduate school, their history of accommodations will also help support their case for extended time on graduate school exams.
Thus, getting the necessary extended time on the SAT and ACT is important, but the accommodations also set the foundation for unlocking a student’s potential more broadly and help them succeed beyond just the SAT and ACT.
If I get extra time on the SAT and ACT, which one is the better test for me?
The ACT intends to test students on how quickly they can answer questions on the Reading and Science sections. But, the ACT can’t fine tune accommodations to the exact amount of extended time that will provide an equal testing opportunity for each individual student with accommodations by giving them just enough time to be able to finish or almost finish the sections but not so much time that students gain an advantage. As a result, the minimum amount of extended time on the ACT is 50% more time (very few students get more than this percentage of extended time). But, most students who receive extended time do not quite need the full 50% extended time: maybe they only need 30% extended time in order to be as equally rushed as students with the standard allotted time. And thus, although they might not need the full 50% extended time to have equal opportunity, they get the full 50% more time, which means that the extra time beyond what would give them an equivalent testing experience provides them with an advantage on the test.
Because extended time on the ACT usually overcompensates and provides students with an advantage on the test (by eliminating arguably the hardest aspect of the Reading and Science sections of the test), virtually all students with extended time score comparatively higher on the ACT than on the SAT. The only exception is when the 50% extended time on the ACT is not enough; if the student really needs, let’s say, 75% extended time and only gets the 50%, then they will still be rushed even more than students under the standard time, they will not be able to hit their potential on the ACT, and they are likely better off taking the SAT. But the latter circumstance is very, very rare: for the vast majority of students with extended time, they will perform better on the ACT. And, as was discussed earlier, timing is not a significant factor on the SAT (except if a student really needs extended time and does not have it), so there is no advantage gained on the SAT from having more time than one needs.
Will colleges know I got extra time on the SAT or ACT?
No. Your accommodations are your protected health information. Colleges will not know that you had extended time in school or on any standardized exams. Only after you enroll will you tell a college that you have accommodations so that you can receive those accommodations in college as well.
The Format of the SAT with Extended Time
On the SAT, students with extended time also get additional breaks.
Comparison of the SAT with regular time and with extended time:
|Reading||65 min||First Half of Reading||49 min|
|Break||10 min||Break||5 min|
|Writing||35 min||Last half of Reading||49 min|
|Math – No Calculator||25 min||Break||5 min|
|Break||5 min||Writing||53 min|
|Math – Calculator||55 min||Break||5 min|
|Total Time||3 hr and 15 min||Math – No Calculator||38 min|
|First Half of Math – Calculator||42 min|
|Last Half of Math – Calculator||41 min|
|Total Time||4 hr and 57 min|
The Format of ACT with Extended Time
On the ACT, students with 50% extended time actually get more than 50% extended time on three of the four ACT sections.
Comparison of the ACT with regular time and with extended time:
|Section||Regular Time||Extended Time||Actual Percent Increase in Time|
|English||45 min||70 min||56%|
|Math||60 min||90 min||50%|
|Break||10 min||10 min||0%|
|Reading||35 min||55 min||57%|
|Science||35 min||55 min||57%|
|Total Time||3 hr and 5 min||4 hr and 40 min||51%|
Feel free to follow up with us with any additional questions, such as whether students should submit their SAT or ACT scores, when students should take the exams, how many times, etc. It is, as always, our privilege to serve you and to help your children succeed in life.