Accommodations Requests: SAT vs. ACT

By January 1, 2019 July 18th, 2019 Accommodations, ACT, College Counseling, Featured, LD, PSAT, SAT

UPDATED May 21st, 2018: Starting September 2018, administration of National Extended Time for ACT is changing. Instead of a large block of time for students to self-pace, ACT will give students 50% extra time per section. This new practice parallels College Board’s approach to 50% extended time students on the SAT.  Test-takers must wait for the clock to run out before proceeding to the next section of the test.

According to ACT, the National Extended Time increments for each section and breaks of the ACT will be:

English: 70 minutes; Math: 90 minutes; Break: 15 minutes; Reading: 55 minutes; Science: 55 minutes; Break: 5 minutes; Writing: 60 minutes; TOTAL (w/ breaks): 5 hours and 50 minutes

College Board and ACT offer a variety of testing accommodations for students with disabilities. Commonly requested accommodations include varying increments of extended time, the use of a computer for typewritten essays, large-print test booklets for visually impaired students, and small group testing for students who have issues with distractibility or anxiety.

Both College Board and ACT continue to make changes to their accommodations policies. In the text below, we provide a side-by-side comparison of the request process for both testing agencies.[/vc_column_text]

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Step 1: Determine Eligibility

Timing: Compass recommends that families consult with school officials and/or private evaluators by the spring of 10th grade to review the terms of eligibility and to schedule more current evaluations.

College Board (SAT)

To ensure approval for accommodations, a student’s request should meet ALL of the following criteria:

  • The disability is documented by formal testing completed by a certified evaluator
  • The disability directly affects performance on CB’s assessments
  • The requested accommodations are specifically needed to perform to potential on CB’s assessments

Students may be approved for accommodations on specific sections of the test rather than the entire test. For instance, if a student’s documentation only verifies a math-based learning disability, that student may be approved for extended time on the Math section but not for the Reading and Writing or Essay sections.


A student is eligible for accommodations if:

  • The disability is diagnosed and documented by a credentialed professional
  • The disability directly impacts performance on ACT’s assessments
  • Documentation for the disability includes information about current or prior accommodations made in similar settings, especially tests in school

After reviewing these criteria, families should consider the two different accommodations packages: National Extended Time and Special Testing.

National Extended Time is most appropriate for students who require no more than 50% extended time on standardized tests.

Special Testing is a “catch-all” for any support request other than 50% extended time.

Step 2: Gather Documentation

Timing: Families should have all documentation prepared for submission by October of 11th grade at the latest. If updated testing is needed, families should schedule testing with their school district or a private evaluator between spring of 10th grade and fall of 11th grade.

College Board (SAT) & ACT

Eligibility for College Board and ACT accommodations hinges on two kinds of documentation: (1) educational and/or neuropsychological testing completed by a school official or a private evaluator, and (2) a record of the requested accommodation(s) implemented by the school.

If testing is obtained at the student’s local school district, the results are distilled into an Individualized Education Program (IEP), 504 plan, or Response to Intervention (RTI) plan. IEPs, 504 plans, and RTIs include a student’s formal diagnoses and accommodations that must be implemented by the student’s school. A student will likely be approved for College Board and ACT accommodations if her disability is substantiated by both educational testing and a long-standing school-generated plan.

If a student attends a private school, she may seek testing at her school district or an assessment completed by a private evaluator. Private schools will typically consolidate the results of private or district-based assessments into a private education plan. The private education plan serves a similar function to the IEP, 504 Plan, or RTI, providing school officials and faculty with instructions for accommodating the student’s disability(ies) in class. A student at a private school will likely be approved for College Board and ACT accommodations if her disability is well-documented by both a professional evaluation and the private education plan.

College Board (SAT)

College Board requires that all educational and/or neuropsychological testing be conducted within the last five years. Testing for visual disabilities must be conducted within two years of the request, while testing for other medical or psychiatric conditions must be completed within one year.


ACT requires that all educational and/or neuropsychological testing be conducted within the last 3 years. Testing for visual impairments and psychiatric disorders must be completed within a year of the request.

Step 3: Submit Your Request

Timing: Students planning to take the SAT in March or the ACT in February—the two most popular exam dates—should submit their requests by October of 11th grade. Ideally, news of approval will come in November or December, which will allow several months of test preparation with the approved accommodations in mind. 

College Board (SAT)

The cornerstone of an accommodations request is the Student Eligibility Form (SEF). The form is essentially a cover letter or abstract of the request that lists identifying information, a description of the disability, desired accommodations, and a summary of documentation.

With SEF in hand, there are two ways a family can submit a request for accommodations:

Option 1: Submit the request online with the assistance of a designated SSD coordinator at the student’s school. In this case, the SSD coordinator completes half of the SEF without the student. (College Board prefers this method.)

Option 2: Independently submit the request without the assistance of the school. In this case, the family will need to complete the bulk of the SEF themselves.

If a student works with an SSD coordinator at her school, she may not be required to submit the entirety of her documentation (i.e. the novella-length evaluation or the complete school-based accommodations plan). The SEF is an incredibly robust form, and if the SSD coordinator is able to complete the majority of its fields, College Board may not need to examine additional documents. This may expedite the forthcoming review process, spreading word of approved accommodations more quickly; but contrary to the language on the SSD website, approval is NOT “automatic.” In fact, most SSD coordinators report that approval may take anywhere from 1 to 5 weeks even without the submission of formal documentation. If documentation is required, approval may take up to 7 weeks. 


In order to begin the request process, ACT requires students to register for a test date online. While completing registration, families will be prompted to specify the type of accommodations for which they are applying: National Extended Time or Special Testing. ACT has created a helpful video that elaborates this process.

When registration is finished, ACT will automatically email instructions explaining how the student should work in collaboration with a school administrator—also known as the Test Accommodations Coordinator (TAC)—to submit an online accommodations request. The online accommodations request system is called the Test Accessibility and Accommodations System (TAA).

Unlike College Board, ACT does NOT permit students to submit documentation requests without the assistance of a TAC (there are exceptions for homeschool students).

Another difference: the online request form for ACT accommodations is far less extensive than the College Board’s SEF. Consequently, students should plan to electronically send the entirety of their documentation—evaluation and school-based education plan—for review. Because the subsequent review requires greater investigation on the part of ACT, news of approval or denial arrives after about 6 weeks. This turnaround is typically more protracted in comparison to the College Board’s request process.

Step 4: Respond to Decision Letters

Timing: If the accommodations request is submitted by October of 11th grade, decision letters should be mailed or emailed to families by December. If requests are denied, students may electronically appeal decisions with the assistance of a TAC or SSD coordinator. Appeals will reset the review process, and responses to appeals may not arrive for another 6–7 weeks. 

College Board (SAT)

If accommodations are approved:

The student will be mailed an SSD Eligibility Letter that stipulates the specific accommodations approved for all College Board Tests (i.e. PSAT, SAT, Subject Tests, and AP Exams). The letter will also include an SSD code, which the student must input while registering for all official test dates. SSD coordinators may locate students’ SSD codes by logging into the online request system, SSD Online.

Once a student’s request is approved, she may use the indicated accommodations for all College Board exams. She does not need to re-apply for accommodations for future test dates.

If accommodations are denied:  

The family may begin the appeal process when CB denies accommodations or approves those that the family deems unsatisfactory. Families should take special care in reviewing and rectifying the rationale for the denial. Usually, College Board requires additional testing or more specific evidence from a school or evaluator to permit the denied accommodation(s).

Be aware that once a denied request is reopened, it will take an additional 7 weeks to process the appeal.


If accommodations are approved:

National Extended Time: The TAC receives an electronic decision notification in TAA with an approval message. Unfortunately, students are not automatically notified regarding the status of their requests and may want to check in with their TACs in the weeks following the original submission. Once National Extended Time is approved, the student should log into ACT and print out her original registration ticket, which should now indicate that extended time is granted. 

The student will NOT need to re-apply for National Extended Time for future test administrations. She simply needs to check a box during the registration process, indicating that she would like to use National Extended Time again.

Special Testing: The TAC obtains an electronic decision notification, reviews the approved accommodations with the student, and makes arrangements for testing (typically on-campus) within the applicable testing window.

If a student plans to take the ACT with Special Accommodations in the future, she MUST notify her TAC after registering for each subsequent exam date. The TAC then assigns the student to a test date in the TAA interface and orders the appropriate testing materials.

If accommodations are denied:

Depending on the reasons for denial, a student may work with her TAC to submit additional documentation or apply for different accommodations. This is called a reconsideration request. Upon submission of a reconsideration request, the review process restarts, and it may take an additional 6 weeks to hear back from ACT. 

Step 5: Use Your Accommodations

College Board (SAT)

After registering for an official CB test with an SSD code, students can expect to have accommodations ready for them on test day. To err on the safe side, testers should bring their SSD Eligibility Letters to the test site.


A student with National Extended Time should print out his registration ticket and bring it to the test center. Accommodations will be ready on test day. Students with Special Testing should have ironed out the logistics of exam day (date, time, room location, approved accommodations, etc.) with their TAC far in advance of the official test date. Many students with Special Testing will take the ACT at their home schools.


As always, we are standing by to answer any of your testing questions and concerns, especially those that pertain to accommodations. If you would like to speak with a director about your student, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Matt Steiner

About Matt Steiner

Prior to joining the Compass team, Matt obtained an M.A. from the University of Chicago and a B.A. from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He has a decade of experience in the field of test preparation, working for multiple well-regarded private tutoring firms. Matt currently teaches a graduate-level course on college admission testing through UCSD Extension. In his instruction and public speaking, Matt endeavors to build transparency around college admission tests.


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