How to Get ACT and SAT Accommodations for ADHD, Part 1


Guest Expert

How to Get ACT and SAT Accommodations for ADHD, Part 1

It can be incredibly confusing for parents to figure out how to get ACT and SAT Accommodations for ADHD, but Judith Bass makes it seem clear and (almost) easy in this two part series.

Just the thought of standardized testing can cause undue stress and anxiety in students with ADHD, and often their parents as well. Even more daunting and confusing is trying to figure out how to get ACT and SAT Accommodations for ADHD.

There are so many questions:

The following information will give you a better understanding of testing accommodations so that you will feel less intimidated by the process.

Do Colleges Know When a Student has Used Accommodations?

In 2003, the College Board (SAT) and the ACT decided to drop the “flagging” of non-standard testing because it was discriminatory against students with disabilities. Since that time, colleges have had no way of knowing who uses extended time in testing. All tests – those taken under standard and non-standard conditions – are viewed in the same way.

Are Accommodations Fair?

You might have heard people say that it is an unfair advantage for students with ADHD to have extra time. However, a study done by the College Board in 2003 showed that students who did not need extra time improved their scores by no more than 10 points in Verbal (CR) and 20 points in Math when given extended time, whereas students who had diagnosed learning disabilities increased their scores by 45 in Verbal (CR) and 38 in Math with extended time.

Accommodations serve to level the playing field for a student who cannot stay focused for extended periods of time, or needs to get up and move around to be able to regain focus and concentration. The purpose of these tests is for students to demonstrate their knowledge, not to show how fast they can work. As a parent, you should not have to defend your child’s right to use the accommodations to which she is entitled.

What Accommodations are Available?

The most common accommodations offered for students with ADHD are:


  • 50% extended time
  • 100% extended time (over two days)
  • Answer in test booklet
  • Small group setting
  • Use of computer for essays
  • Extra breaks (5 minutes) in addition to standard breaks
  • Extended breaks (10 minutes)


  • 50% extended time
  • 100% extended time (over multiple days)
  • Multiple day testing (3 week window)
  • Answer in test booklet
  • Distraction reduced setting
  • Use of computer for essays

Which Accommodations to Request?

It is important to consider what the student with ADHD actually needs, rather than automatically applying for 50% extended time.  The goal is to find the accommodations that are best suited for the student, not the diagnosis.

For example, students with inattentive ADHD might need extended time because they lose focus and need to take “mental breaks” during the test, while students with hyperactive ADHD might be able to finish each section within the standard time frame but need extended breaks to clear their head and move around. If your child has difficulty tracking, you can request that she answers in the test booklet rather than on the Scantron (bubble) form.

What is Multiple Day Testing and How Does it Work?

Another accommodation to consider is multiple day testing, available for the ACT. This is tailor-made for students with ADHD who fatigue easily when sitting for any length of time. When registering online for the ACT, click “Yes” to the question about requesting accommodations and select “Special Testing.”  The completed registration will prompt an email to your child’s school counselor, who will then be able to apply online for your child’s accommodations.

Here's how it works, once it is approved:

    • The student takes the ACT in her home school with a designated proctor
    • There is a 3 week window in which to complete the ACT
    • The tests must be taken in a specified order
    • The student can take each section of the ACT on a different day

This opens up possibilities not only for those who need the extended time, but also for students who do not need extended time but work best in a short, concentrated period of time. It also allows students with poor working memory to review each section of the ACT individually, focusing on one subject at a time. Students who could not sit for the 5 hours 45 minutes, even with breaks, also benefit from the multiple day option. As soon as the student is finished, he is allowed to leave the testing room.

How Does Extended Time Work?

The way extended time is administered is an important factor to consider for students with ADHD. On the SAT, students have extended time for each section, and when finished, must wait until the full time is up for that section before moving on to the next section.  This can be very frustrating for students with ADHD who cannot sit quietly for extended periods of time. It also can cause fatigue, because the student is taking the last section of the test approximately 3½ hours from the time he started.  The SAT extended time testing lasts 4 hours, 30 minutes without the optional essay. For students needing 100% extended time, the test is administered in the student’s home school over two days. The total time for 100% extended time is 6 hours.

On the ACT, the extended time testing is self-paced, which is a better option for most students with ADHD. The student can use his extended time in the way that benefits him best. He can spend double time on the math section, for example, and use the equivalent of standard time for the Reading section. If the student finishes in less than the 5 hours, he still has to sit, but at least he doesn’t have to gear up again to do more testing.


For children with ADHD or other challenges with Executive Functions, receiving ACT and SAT Accommodations will allow them to demonstrate their capabilities fairly.

Based on revised criteria for both the SAT and ACT, it is less adversarial to get accommodations for both sets of tests than in the past. If your child has an IEP, 504 Plan, or Accommodations Plan in place, the requested accommodations should be approved based on what she is receiving in school. However, if the request is denied, it can be appealed by supplying additional documentation, so make sure to allow enough time for that. If it is granted, you’ll know that your child needed it!

Either way, accommodations are an opportunity to help your child shine. You may be surprised by the results.

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