On the ACT, students with disabilities or other conditions might need accommodations, such as extra time or frequent breaks. But how do you get accommodations like extra time on the ACT?
This in-depth guide will teach you about the process of applying for accommodations and which accommodations are most common. You want to do your best on the ACT—disability or other condition aside—so read on to learn about how to get the ACT accommodations you need.
The Basics of ACT Accommodations
To get ACT accommodations, you must work with your school to submit a request. Unfortunately, this means that requests can unfortunately take a little while to process—usually at least two weeks.
Furthermore, getting accommodations approved isn’t easy. In most cases, you have to submit extensive documentation and even be prepared to resubmit information or appeal a decision.
The documentation needed, the type of accommodations you request, and the process will vary by condition and/or disability. While we can’t list the ins and outs of documentation for every single disability category, we can provide a detailed overview of the process as well as information about documentation to help you get started.
What Accommodations Can I Get on the ACT?
There are four broad categories of accommodations you can get on the ACT:
- Accommodations but no extra time: Common accommodations include large-print test booklets, small group testing, rooms with wheelchair access, stop-the-clock timing, medical supplies or food in the testing room, and visual time signals.
- Extended time, or specifically, time and a half for the test: This comes out to five hours for the ACT, and five hours and 45 minutes for the ACT Plus Writing. Extended time may be combined with accommodations from the list above.
- Special testing: This includes more than extended time. These accommodations including a different test format such as Braille, use of a scribe for your essay, or testing over multiple days. For special testing, the testing is done at your school instead of a National Testing Center and is proctored by a coordinator who meets ACT qualifications.
- English learner supports: As of 2017, test takers whose native language is not English may request special ESL support on the ACT. These accommodations include extra time, the use of an approved bilingual dictionary, and translated test instructions; they do not include translated test questions.
Special testing is reserved for very serious disabilities and conditions, or for students who need accommodations outside the US and Canada.
For example, if you have a condition that prevents you from writing independently, if you need the test in a different format such as Braille, or if you typically receive more than time and a half for regular tests at school as part of your IEP (Individualized Education Plan) or 504 Plan, you may qualify for special testing.
Essentially, if your condition prevents you from taking the ACT in a National Test Center in one sitting, or without significant format changes, you may qualify for special testing.
So which accommodations should you request? This will depend on your needs. Obviously, special testing is the hardest to obtain as it is reserved students with testing needs that differ the most from usual ACT testing procedure. A good guide as to which ACT testing accommodations you will receive is to consider the testing accommodations you already receive at school. Your ACT testing accommodations will probably match the accommodations you already receive. For example, if you're usually given extra time for tests, you'd likely benefit from extended time on the ACT.
If you're able to test in a National Testing Center as long as you have certain accommodations, you should request one of the first two options, as the approval process will be somewhat easier.
How Do I Qualify for ACT Accommodations?
Only students with documented disabilities or conditions (including non-native speakers of English) qualify for accommodations on the ACT. The qualification process and documentation needed will vary by disability/condition and when you received your diagnosis.
As a basic rule of thumb, the more recent your diagnosis is and/or the fewer accommodations you receive in school, the more detailed documentation you'll have to provide.
There are two broad categories of documentation you will need:
- Record of your accommodations in school: You’ll need to have qualified officials at your school send documentation of your IEP (Individualized Education Plan), Section 504 Plan, or other Official Accommodations Plan you have in place. If you haven’t been receiving accommodations, you'll have to provide a detailed explanation as to why you haven’t used academic accommodations in the past and why you need them for the ACT.
- Complete diagnostic documentation of your disability or condition: Documentation must be up to date, and the timeline varies by condition. For instance, if you are seeking accommodation for ADHD, the diagnostic results cannot be more than three years old, and you must also include evidence that you were diagnosed before the age of 12.
You won't need to give complete diagnostic documentation if your diagnosis was reconfirmed within one year prior to your request and it's more than three years old. In this case, ACT, Inc. will accept your school’s verification of having documentation on file, though they reserve the right to request that documentation at any point.
Basically, if you’ve had your condition for a long time, your IEP or 504 Plan was updated in the past year, and you received diagnostic testing that reconfirmed a persistent diagnosis, ACT, Inc. will not request complete documentation.
The disability categories that ACT, Inc. approves requests for are as follows:
- Learning Disabilities
- Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
- Psychiatric Disorders (Mood or Anxiety Disorders or Serious and Persistent Mental Illness)
- Visual Impairment
- Hearing Impairment
- Autism, Asperger's Disorder, Pervasive Development Disorder or Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Speech and Language Disorders
- Medical Conditions
- Traumatic Brain Injuries
If you don't see your condition here, be sure to visit the ACT's website to view a complete list of eligible conditions (and the documentation you'll need to submit for each).
As previously mentioned, non-native English speakers may also request English learner support on the ACT. You'll need to meet one or more of the following in order to qualify for special language support on the test:
- Trouble speaking, reading, writing, or understanding English
- Enrollment in an English-language support program at school
- Receipt of requested supports on classroom tests through a formalized plan
- Results from a suitable English-language assessment that indicate the student's limited proficiency in the language
You might need to submit supporting documentation as well, such as an EL Plan, confirmation of your attendance in an English-language program, or an official accommodations plan. For more information about English-proficiency documentation, see the official ACT English Learner Support Documentation guide.
Example of ACT Documentation for a Learning Disability
The documentation required is different depending on what condition you are applying for, but generally it follows seven basic guidelines:
- The diagnosis is clearly stated.
- The information is current
- Educational, developmental, and medical history is presented.
- The diagnosis is supported.
- The functional limitation is described.
- Recommendation accommodations are justified.
- Evaluators’ professional credentials are established.
As an example, let’s look at the documentation required for a learning disability—one of the most common disability categories in schools. You'd need to submit all the following to document your condition:
- A description of your learning disability and its developmental history. This includes a history of how your learning disability has affected you in school and a diagnostic history.
- A neuropsychological or psychoeducational evaluation that includes results of an intellectual assessment using a "complete and comprehensive battery." If you’re on an IEP at school, the testing you did to be placed on the IEP would likely meet this requirement. If you’re not on an IEP or didn’t get this testing, you might have to go to an outside source to get the complete the appropriate testing.
- Results of a complete achievement battery. Again, the testing you were given for your IEP would likely include this, though it’s possible to get this testing done outside of school as well.
- Other assessments for consideration of a differential diagnosis from co-existing neurological or psychiatric disorders. ACT, Inc. doesn’t just want to know how you were diagnosed with your learning disability; they also want to know about any other assessments you received for different possible disorders.
- Specific diagnosis and evidence that alternative explanations for your disorder were ruled out. Again, ACT, Inc. doesn’t simply want evidence of your learning disability but also proof that other possibilities were considered and then discarded.
- Description of your limitations and a rationale for the recommended test accommodations. This part of the documentation is incredibly important because it's where you'll explain how your learning disability limits you in school and why you need the accommodations you’re requesting. It’s basically your argument for why you need ACT accommodations.
Whew! That’s a lot of paperwork. And that's just the documentation required for one disability. Be sure your documentation is complete and has been verified by professionals, including your doctor(s) and school officials. Remember, the documentation needed changes based on the disability.
For a complete guide, including the exact documentation needed for each condition, see ACT, Inc.’s Policy for Documentation.
If you’ve never had an IEP meeting, accommodations might be more difficult to get.
How to Get Accommodations on the ACT, Step by Step
Now that you know what documentation you need and the qualification standards, let’s learn how to actually submit your request for accommodations on the ACT. (You can also get an overview of how accommodations work by reading ACT, Inc.'s Quick Start Guide.)
- Step 1: Register for the ACT online, making sure to list your preferred test center, and sign up before the deadline of your preferred test date. When you register, you'll indicate which kind of accommodation you need for the test.
- Step 2: Once you’ve registered for the ACT, you'll receive an email from ACT, Inc. This email will explain how to work with your school to submit a request for accommodations on the test. Forward this email to your school official, along with a filled-out Consent to Release Information to ACT PDF.
- Step 3: Your school official will submit your request to ACT, Inc. Within two weeks of your submission, your school official will be notified first of ACT, Inc.'s decision; he or she will then contact you with the results and explain the next steps.
ACT, Inc. offers a convenient checklist of the entire accommodations request process that you can use as you work your way through the steps above.
What Happens After I Submit My Request for ACT Accommodations?
First of all, make sure that your school official submits your request, including all documentation, no later than the late registration deadline for that particular test date. In fact, the earlier you get your documentation submitted, the better—in case ACT, Inc. requests extra materials or documentation, which can slow the approval process.
Once ACT, Inc. receives your materials, they'll pass them on for review. If you're missing important documentation, they'll notify you, and you can submit the extra materials.
Your request will either be approved, sent to a specialist for further consideration, or put on hold as you're asked to supply missing materials. Basically, if they don’t think they can approve your request, they will give you a chance to provide more evidence.
The specialist will either approve or deny your request, provide a written reason why, and notify your school official of the decision (who will then notify you). If you are denied, you will be given a chance to appeal the decision and submit new materials.
The entire process can take a few weeks, so be patient!
Extra Tips for Getting Accommodations on the ACT
As you can probably tell from the above, it's somewhat tough to get accommodations on the ACT. Because ACT accommodations are based on the accommodations you receive at school, it will be very difficult to get accommodations on the ACT if you aren't already receiving services of some kind.
It should go without saying that you won’t be able to get extra time or special services if you do not have a documented disability or condition (or if you are a native English speaker).
Keep in mind that there are no additional fees for accommodations. So even though it’s a complicated process to get accommodations, you should definitely request them if you need them. The ACT is a tough test, so if you typically get accommodations in school, you'll definitely want them on the ACT as well.
And a final bit of advice? Ask your school for help! Don't be afraid to consult your school official and/or guidance counselor with any questions you have about ACT accommodations. Especially if you live in a state where all students are required to take the ACT, it’s highly likely that your school has helped previous students with getting accommodations.
Even once you get your accommodations, it’s still important to study for the ACT to maximize your score. Avoid this common ACT mistake to improve your score, and check out our strategies to raise your ACT Writing score.
Learn more about the national ACT average score and ACT score percentiles to get an idea of what score you should be aiming for. You might be curious as to what scores are considered good by various colleges. To find out, check out our guide to developing a target ACT score based on the schools you want to apply to.
Wondering about what that composite ACT score represents in terms of right and wrong questions? Check out our guide to learn the ins-and-outs of ACT scoring, and get expert tips to help you use this information to your advantage.
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Halle Edwards graduated from Stanford University with honors. In high school, she earned 99th percentile ACT scores as well as 99th percentile scores on SAT subject tests. She also took nine AP classes, earning a perfect score of 5 on seven AP tests. As a graduate of a large public high school who tackled the college admission process largely on her own, she is passionate about helping high school students from different backgrounds get the knowledge they need to be successful in the college admissions process.