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How Long is the ACT with Extended Time?

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Posted by Rebecca Safier | Aug 10, 2015 6:44:00 PM

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Students with documented disabilities who would like extended time on the ACT can request one of two options: National Extended Time, which entails 50% additional time, or Special Testing, which varies by student, includes more than time and a half, and tends to take place over multiple testing days.

This guide will take a deeper look at the options for extended time on the ACT, and how long the test-taking experience is for students with these accommodations. To begin, who qualifies for extra time?

Who Qualifies for Extended Time on the ACT?

In order to qualify for extended time on the ACT, students must have a documented disability. Usually students will have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 plan at school, though this alone doesn't automatically qualify them for ACT accommodations.

A school coordinator will have to make the request, making sure to specify the accommodation needed and provide in depth documentation. Processing takes about four weeks, so requests should be made early. If the request is denied for some reason, it's possible to appeal - another good reason to apply as early as possible!

Eligible students may have documented learning disabilities, ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, or medical conditions. Whatever the reason, these students will benefit from having extra time on the test, whether it be the 50% National Extended Time or a greater time allowance with Special Testing.

Let's take a look at the differences in testing schedules between these two options.




How Long is the ACT with Time and a Half?

Without extended time, the ACT lasts 2 hours and 55 minutes, or 3 hours and 35 minutes with the optional 40 minute essay. The sections are always given in the order of English, Math, Reading, and Science, with the choice of the essay at the end of the test.

With time and a half, students are allowed 5 hours for the ACT without Writing and 6 hours for the ACT with Writing. They receive the sections in the same order, but with one important difference: students with National Extended Time are allowed to self-pace throughout the test.

Instead of having to stick to a certain section, they can distribute their time as they like between English, Math, Reading, and Science. Students not taking the essay have 5 full hours to complete these sections as best fits their test-taking style. In this way, this accommodation both eases the intense time pressure of the ACT and helps students choose how to divide their time most effectively.

Extended time does not necessarily mean extended or extra breaks. If students need more than the typical 10 minute break after Reading and 5 minute break before the essay, then they will have to make a separate request for this. 

Students taking the ACT with 50% additional time will test at a national test center on an official testing date (a Saturday morning). Given the additional time, what will their test day schedule look like?


Test day will have an early start.


Test Day Schedule with Time and a Half

Unless students arrange to have an alternative testing date for religious reasons, they'll take the ACT on a Saturday morning at a national testing center (often, but not always, their own high school). Students are typically required to be at the testing room by 8:00 AM. I would advise getting there by 7:45 at the latest! Doors close at 8:00, and latecomers won't be admitted.

The test itself begins between 8:30 and 9:00, since it takes time for proctors to check everyone in, get them seated, distribute materials, and have students fill out their biographical information on the scantrons. Once all the logistics are wrapped up, the test will begin! 

Students without accommodations are typically dismissed around 12:15 (or 1:15 with the essay). Students with time and a half, on the other hand, will be dismissed around 2:30 (or 3:30 with Writing). Their time for check in and set up may be reduced, since they usually take the test in a small group of no more than 10 students in an extended time testing room.

While time and a half is the most common time-based accommodation, Special Testing is also granted to some students. This additional time alters both the schedule and the location of the ACT.



Location change for students with Special Testing!


How Long is the ACT with Special Testing?

Instead of testing on Saturday morning at the designated testing center, students who qualify for Special Testing and more than 50% additional time will test at their school. They'll take the ACT over the course of two or more days under the supervision of a staff member. The ACT will either be administered individually or in a small group of students with similar accommodations.

While Special Testing extended time options vary, the most common is 100% additional time. In this case, students would take a single ACT section per school day before returning to their regular classes. Spreading the test out like this can be especially helpful for students with attentional issues, plus it gives students the chance to prepare specifically for each section the night before they take it.

All in all, students with 100% extended time would have 90 minutes for the English section, 2 hours for Math, and 70 minutes each for Reading and Science. That adds up to a total of 5 hours and 50 minutes spread out over 4 days, or 7 hours and 10 minutes with the essay. 

Since students with Special Testing take the ACT at school, they don't necessarily share a specific testing date. Instead, they just have to complete all testing within one of the 3 week testing windows listed on the accommodations request form. For 2015 to 2016, these windows are

  • September 12 - October 4, 2015
  • October 24 - November 15, 2015
  • December 12 - January 3, 2016
  • February 6 - February 28, 2016
  • April 9 - May 1, 2016, and
  • June 11 - July 3, 2016.

Because they have some more flexibility in testing dates, students with Special Testing should register for the time that best fits with their schedules and any college deadlines. Apart from 100% or more additional time, Special Testing may include alternate accommodations like braille, DVDs, or a computer for essays.

Students applying for accommodations do so for all different reasons and to support all different needs. To best meet their needs and improve their ACT experience, students, parents, and school coordinators should start planning early for time extensions, as well as determine exactly what accommodations they should request.



Planning for Accommodations

Extended time on the ACT can significantly help a student have a better test-taking experience and achieve a stronger score. The self-pacing option can be especially beneficial for a lot of students, as it reduces the stress of time pressure and allows them to divide the material as meets their needs. 

Since the approval process takes a while, and there's always the chance of getting denied and having to appeal, school coordinators should research accommodations, collect all the relevant documentation, and make their request as early as possible. By planning and preparing, coordinators can make sure students get the extended time they need through National Extended Time or Special Testing to perform their best on the ACT.


What's Next?

Are you deciding between the ACT and the SAT and wondering how extended time works on the SAT? Check out this article to see the options College Board offers (hint: more options, but no self-pacing).

Exactly how long is each section of the ACT? Check out our expert guide on timing and pacing on the ACT.

Rumor has it, the ACT has been getting more challenging and fast-paced over the past few years. Is this true or just hearsay? Read more about these claims that the ACT has been getting consistently harder in recent years.


Disappointed with your ACT scores? Want to improve your ACT score by 4+ points? Download our free guide to the top 5 strategies you need in your prep to improve your ACT score dramatically.

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Rebecca Safier
About the Author

Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.

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