ACT and SAT: A Guide to College Entrance Exams and Learning Disabilities

College Entrance Exams and Learning Disabilities

Disabilities are Considered a Diversity

When students graduate from high school or reach age 21, their rights under the IDEA come to an end. So what does this mean for students who plan on attending college and must take either the ACT or SAT?

According to David Montesano, admission strategist in Bellevue, WA (College Match Educational Consultants), colleges are looking for diversity. LD and ADHD disabilities are a form of diversity. Mr. Montesano says colleges will often look at an applicant’s grades and test scores such as ACT or SAT differently if they are presented with proper evidence of a learning disability. The learning disability may help put lower grades and class rankings or test scores like the SAT or ACT in a learning disability context.

ACT & SAT Test Accommodations: The Proof is in the Documentation

If your child has a disability, they may qualify to take the ACT or SAT test with accommodations. You will have to apply in advance of the testing date. This needs to be quite a bit in advance because you might be asked for additional information or documentation, and it simply takes time because so many requests for accommodations are filed each year.

If your child was afforded special accommodations in high school, you should ask for the same accommodations during the test. Your school will have the appropriate documentation you need. If you are a homeschooler with a disability, you will need to provide documentation from doctors and those who tested you. If you attended private school and were afforded informal accommodations, you will need to have specific details (from the teachers/principal/counselors) of those accommodations, even it was simply extra time at lunch to finish a test as well as any testing documentation.

The testing organization (ACT or SAT) will require information indicating what accommodation is requested, substantiating the need for the accommodation on standardized tests, and your child’s history with that accommodation. You might be asked to state their specific disability. This diagnosis should be made by a professional with the appropriate credentials, certifications, and degrees. Make sure the evaluation and diagnostic testing is current–within three to five years of your request. For the ACT, the disability must have been diagnosed or re-confirmed by a qualified professional within the 3 academic years prior to the date of the request. You will also want to provide relevant educational, developmental, and medical history making sure to describe the comprehensive testing and techniques used in arriving at your child’s diagnosis (including results with subtest scores [standard or scaled scores] for all tests). If your child’s disability causes learning limitations, describe the functional limitations that result from the diagnosed disability. It is very important to describe the specific accommodations being requested on either the ACT or SAT tests.

Major Categories of Testing Accommodations

The four major categories of testing accommodations are:

  • Presentation (larger print, auditory amplification)
  • Responding (dictating to scribe, using a tape recorder)
  • Thinking / Scheduling (frequent breaks, extended time)
  • Setting (small-group environment, adaptive furniture)

According to Anne B. Carlson, guidance department chairwoman at Walton High School in Marietta, GA, the ACT is considered the tougher of the two when requesting accommodations. She says, “I will do the same documentation for Jane Doe for the SAT and ACT. The SAT will come back approved, and the ACT will come back not approved.”

Many students with learning disabilities, ADHD, and psychiatric impairments such as anxiety or depression, might feel more comfortable with the ACT test because the format is more familiar looking to them. They use curriculum-based topics, and they do not penalize for wrong answers. However, each person is unique and each must make their own decision.

Whichever test your child chooses, you will need to demonstrate that their specific disability will substantially limit their daily functioning and their ability to take the test. You must show that the requested accommodation fits your child’s specific disability — extra time (typically 100 to 125 more minutes) for a student with a reading disability, or breaks between tests for a student with poor attention. Extended time is the most requested accommodation.

Students also must prove they have used similar accommodations in their school, even if informally. “The presumption is that if you’re not using it, you don’t need it,” says Nora Belanger, a disability rights and special-education lawyer in Norwalk, Connecticut.

Legal experts say if you find that the schools will not, or are unable to test your child or update your child’s testing, it is best to make the investment in a comprehensive private evaluation. Micki Moran, a Chicago lawyer with expertise in special-education issues, says, “If you have to choose between a lawyer and someone who can tell what’s wrong with your kid, choose the evaluator,”

Best Advice for Testing with Learning Disabilities

  • Make sure key information such as summarizing why your child needs special accommodations on the test is not buried in pages and pages of documentation. This very possibly will result in a denial.
  • Do Not give up. It might take three or four submissions of documents before your child is approved.
  • Stay organized. Keep all your documents and information in one central location. You may be asked for more documentation and this prevents a delay.
  • If your child is in public or private school, request copies of all of their files (special education records, medical records…from elementary through high school).
  • If your child was not diagnosed with a disability like ADHD until high school, be creative. Gather together documents such as elementary report cards, letters from day care centers or babysitters, Sunday School teachers… that have documentation on them noting your child’s difficulty in the classroom, at recess, playing with others, going on field trips…


Edited ACT Prep Info for November 2019

Recent ACT scores indicate record-low scores in college readiness for English and math.  This recent report suggested four key recommendations to ensure college readiness for your student. 
  1. Academic rigor.
  2. Personalized learning.
  3. Continuous improvement.
  4. Holistic education, especially in social and emotional learning.
These low scores were across all ACT testing so it isn’t certain how homeschooling factors in. These four recommendations though are high on the list of goals we as homeschool parents have concerning our homeschool student’s education. 



Jackie, a former public and private school teacher, enjoys homeschooling her 16 year old daughter via Time4Learning's new high school courses and other supplementals. Jackie keeps busy writing study guides, educational articles, and literature units for various online education companies as well as acting as an online marketing consultant. She is a contributing author at 3 D Learners.

May 27, 2013


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