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Testing Accommodations on the SAT
By Jeffrey Dalton
The SAT is a timed exam. Part of the difficulty of the test is the fact that students have only a limited amount of time in which to answer the questions. SAT courses and other test prep will condition students for this reality. For some students, this is enough, while for others, there simply is not enough minutes allocated to a section in order to complete all of the questions to the best of students’ abilities. This is simply the nature of the SAT.
Yet still other students, with a documented history of learning disabilities, may be afforded testing accommodations by College Board, the organization that writes and administers the SAT. Education consultants work with students and parents to determine if such a course of action is appropriate, given the format of the SAT exam and the student’s medical history.
This typically results in an extended period of time in which to write either one or all of the sections of the SAT test—including the Reading, Writing and Language, and Math No-Calculator and Math Calculator sections—but could also include additional breaks and specialized test-taking materials.
Read on for more information about College Board’s policies on testing accommodations.
Which students are eligible for testing accommodations?
Students apply for testing accommodations directly to College Board. Petitions are then reviewed on a case-by-case basis. The documentation for the disability is carefully considered before College Board makes a final decision regarding the accommodation requested.
The key point here is that there must be documentation. This refers to a paper trail spread over years reflecting a clinical diagnosis of a learning disability. Newly-detected conditions may or may not be approved, and any petition lacking input from the medical community will absolutely be rejected.
College Board investigates each claim and certifies the information presented, which includes statements from both licensed medical professionals and the student’s own teachers and school administrators. Each petition for testing accommodations must demonstrate both the historical nature of the condition and its accurate and timely diagnosis at some point in the past. This is to discourage the falsification of conditions, which would present a student with unfair advantages—cheating.
What do these testing accommodations look like?
The most common testing accommodation is additional time. Among these, the typical student who is granted additional time receives time and a half. This means, for example, that a student would have 97.5 minutes (up from 65 minutes) to complete the Reading Section, 52.5 minutes to complete the Writing and Language Section (up from 35 minutes), and so on.
College Board also offers double time and even greater durations of time during which to complete the SAT in select circumstances. Each student’s petition is reviewed individually.
Furthermore, College Board, depending on the circumstances, may only award additional time for certain sections of the exam. For example, a student with calculation difficulties may only receive additional time for the two Math sections. As a text-based exam, any reading challenges would, conversely, require additional time for all sections of the SAT.
Other, less common, testing accommodations include different answer sheets, small-group test administrations, and extra breaks. College Board makes some effort to accommodate conditions and circumstances based on the best possible alteration to the typical SAT format and administration. Consequently, computers may be provided in certain circumstances, as well as special test booklets or other modifications to the physical administration of the SAT.
What other policies are in place with these testing accommodations?
Students may also receive more breaks in addition to (or as a substitute for) additional time.
Also, when at least double time is offered to students, the SAT is split over two days and is administered at the student’s school, not at a designated testing center as it is for the regular-length SAT.
Moreover, students must sit for the entire allotted additional time; if they finish early in one section, they cannot, just as for the regular time SAT, move ahead to the next section.
Other test offerings from College Board, such as the PSAT/NMSQT, are subject to similar requirements and accommodations as the SAT.
If, even after SAT classes and test prep courses, above and beyond diagnostic exams and drill papers, students are unable to complete sections of the SAT in the allocated time frame, these students will still be required to strive for the greatest number of correct answers within the time limit. Such a case is not qualification for a testing accommodation.
College Board takes test integrity very seriously, which is why each petition for a testing accommodation is reviewed separately and thoroughly and why a documented history of the condition is necessary. Just because a school has made testing allowances for a certain student—however well-intentioned or grounded in diagnosis—does not mean that College Board will also grant the student a testing accommodation.
Those who are considering applying for a testing accommodation for the SAT should consult the website of College Board and reach out directly for further clarification.
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