Students, Think Before You Ask When Requesting Accommodations on the SAT and ACT

Posted by admin on October 8, 2010

Can we talk? I mean really talk? Okay let’s get real. Sometimes individual expectations are just outrageous.

Do you remember the McDonald’s customer that ordered a cup of coffee then sued because it was too hot and burned her? Did she really expect the coffee to be cold when she received it? I don’t think so. It just makes no common sense. So I ask you, how many of the test accommodations you’ve asked for over the years really make sense? C’mon let’s just think about it for a minute. Why would a person with ADHD who reports difficulty sustaining attention over prolong periods of time, ask for double testing time, thus prolonging the SAT from the standardized 4 hours to 8? In many cases, would it not make much more sense to ask for extra breaks to aid in regaining focus? Of course each student is unique in his or her accommodation needs but…I’m just sayin.

And just because you have a problem with flatulence when nervous, a true story by the way, don’t expect to receive double time on the test because you need to walk around until you belch to relieve your gas. Do, however, expect to be accommodated with a separate room on the testing date. I mean really- why on earth should a testing agency give extended testing time to someone with a common problem that everyone has endured at one point in time? Chances are no matter when you take the test someone will pass gas, silently anyway. Trust me-- the test will go on. No matter how painful.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying accommodations are never warranted. The truth is that in many cases accommodations are necessary and students with disabilities should request and hopefully receive, the accommodations they need on the SAT and/or ACT to level the playing field with their non-disabled peers. But there must be a reasonable connection between your disability and what it is that you’re asking for. If your disability is dyscalculia (a specific learning disability in math) why on earth are you requesting extended testing time on all portions of the test, why not just the quantitative section? If you have been diagnosed with an auditory processing delay and the test involves no listening component, what is the logic behind requesting extended testing time? In my experience as an educational consultant, I find that all too often, the accommodation requested has no rationale connection to the disability reported. Students must make a case for how the requested accommodations will serve to mitigate the condition. And oh by the way—simply having received the requested accommodation in previous settings (i.e. high school) is not, in and of itself, sufficient in making your case. Remember grandma’s saying—“two wrongs don’t make a right”.

Additionally, students must make a case that they are indeed “disabled” when requesting accommodations on a standardized test. For example, under the K-12 education system; a learning disability is typically diagnosed using the “discrepancy model” in which the existence of impairment is gauged by comparing his or her potential to his or her performance. If a student’s achievement test scores greatly lag behind his or her IQ score, a clinical diagnosis of LD will typically be considered.

However testing agencies make accommodation decisions within the framework outlined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), not the model used within the K-12 system. In defining disability, the ADA model does not compare the student’s actual performance (achievement scores) to his or her potential performance (IQ scores). Rather, it compares the student’s performance to that of the average person in the general population; not to his or her self, but to the norm. Thus, if a student’s diagnostic achievement sub-test scores reflect performance within the average range (the norm of the population), a learning disability is not typically indicated-- no matter how discrepant the performance may be from the individual’s IQ.

So what’s the bottom line? When applying for accommodations on the SAT or ACT simply having a diagnosis does not mean you have an ADA defined disability, and having a disability does not automatically equate to needing an accommodation. Think before you ask. Request accommodations ONLY if you meet the ADA’s definition of disability AND only if there is a logical connection between the functional limitations posed by your disability and the accommodations requested.

Applying for accommodations on the SAT or ACT still got you stumped! Join our October 22nd webinar. By visiting:

If you’ve completed your ACT and/or SAT and want a detailed analysis on what makes an accommodation un-reasonable on a college campus, read Disability Accommodations on College Campuses under our Transition2College Publications Page at

By Dr. Kendra Johnson, Co-founder, Transition 2College.

Bookmark and Share