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How to Apply for Disability Accommodations for Common Standardized Tests

This is the fourth of six resource guides which give information and tips on how to navigate special education and disability services at primary, secondary, and university levels.

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This overview will answer the following questions:

  • How do I apply for accommodations for SAT and Advanced Placement (AP) exams?
  • How do I apply for accommodations for ACT exams?
  • How do I apply for accommodations for IB exams?

While everyone’s high school experience is different, one common thing often ties them all together: The need and pressure to take standardized tests. If you have a chronic illness, disability or mental illness, there’s a chance you may need accommodations on standardized tests like stop-time so you would be able to take care of an illness as necessary or extra time for anxiety or dexterity challenges. Studying for standardized tests are difficult enough, so the added stress of searching for how to receive accommodations for these likely don’t make things easier.

There are different types of standardized tests you may find yourself taking during high school. There tend to be two different categories of tests. The first is often required for university admissions. They test your overall skills. These include the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) and American College Testing (ACT). The second type of test usually follows one or more years of studying a specific subject and may possibly be used toward future college credit. These include Advanced Placement (AP) exams and International Baccalaureate (IB) exams. Here are general instructions for how to apply for accommodations for these exams. 

SAT and AP exams

If you are or your child is taking the SAT and AP exams, I have some good news for you. Both these exams are under the College Board’s umbrella, so you only need to apply for accommodations once. To apply for accommodations from the College Board, a student has to be approved by Services for Students with Disabilities. 

The College Board recommends students apply for accommodations with the aid of their school. For a school to submit an application for accommodations, a parent or guardian has to first sign off giving their permission on this form. A student can also apply for accommodations separately from their school. For both methods of applying for accommodations, students need supporting documents which can provide evidence that a disability, chronic illness, short-term injury, or mental health issue would require a student to need accommodations. These supporting documents, for example, could be a copy of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a letter from a psychiatrist.

The College Board recommends students apply early, as this process can take around seven weeks. If a request for accommodations is denied, a student can reapply. The College Board says accommodations are not fully approved for three reasons: more information is required, the documentation does not support requested accommodations, or the request was only partially approved. 

If your application is approved, your accommodations will continue to be valid until one year after you finish high school. 

ACT exams

The ACT is another exam a student can take for university admission purposes. The ACT does not give a time frame for how soon you will hear back if your accommodations were approved or denied. Like with the College Board, a student should apply for accommodations a few months before their exam. A student needs to register for an exam date before applying for accommodations. 

For the ACT exam, a student, or someone on their behalf, can apply for accommodations using this form, and they need to submit relevant documentation. Students and assisting parties should review the ACT for Accommodations Policy before their application is submitted. In a nutshell, documentation needs to be less than three years old and has to provide evidence of why a student may need a certain accommodation. Like with the College Board, students can apply with the help of their school or independently. If a student’s application for accommodations is rejected, they can reapply with new additional documentation or a different request. 

IB exams

IB exams are subject-based exams which students take at the end of a one-year course (standard level) or two-year course (higher level). IB’s guidelines for applying for accommodations can be found here. The IB recommends students apply for and start discussing accommodations at the start of their program, whether it is for a one-year or two-year course. 

The IB says that IB coordinators at a given high school should apply for accommodations for a student. The IB coordinator has to justify why a student needs accommodations, which requires documentation of a disability, illness, mental health issue, or short-term injury. There are some accommodations the IB coordinator can give themselves without consulting the organization itself, like allowing a student to take an exam in a room with fewer students. 

If a student takes any of these exams and doesn’t perform as well as they wish, it’s OK. For the ACT and SAT, there are many chances throughout the year to retake these exams. If you don’t perform that well on an AP or IB exam, you could retake these the following year. 

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Jump to resource guide 1 | 2 | 3 | 5 | 6College with inclusion programs for students with disabilities

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