SAT Accommodations for Students with ADHD

Bonus Material: PrepMaven’s SAT Accommodations Checklist

ADHD affects almost 10% of US children between the ages of 3 and 17. For many of these students, ADHD presents additional difficulties with academics and especially with standardized tests. 

The truth is that for most students, a standardized test (the SAT or ACT) is an absolutely critical part of the college admissions process. If you’re targeting selective universities, a strong SAT score can make you stand out from other applicants. A weak SAT score, on the other hand, can get your college application rejected. 

Because the stakes are so high, students should do everything possible to maximize their chances of success on the SAT. For most students, this just means extensive test prep and studying. Students with ADHD will need to do that too, of course, but they’ll also want to carefully investigate what accommodation options the College Board provides.

In this guide, we’ll break down those options, as well as what you need to do to qualify for them. Because we bring over two decades of test-prep and academic coaching expertise to the table, we’ll also offer some advice on how to use these accommodations most effectively to boost your score. 

Below, you can download our free SAT Accommodations Checklist, which will outline all the documents you need to have before requesting accommodations.

Jump to section:
Qualifying for SAT ADHD Accommodations
How to Request Accommodations
What Accommodations does the SAT Offer for ADHD?
Benefits and Risks of SAT ADHD Accommodations
Next steps

Although it takes some paperwork, you may qualify for accommodations on the SAT without even being aware of it! College Board’s website has an extensive breakdown of what you need to do, but we’ll give you a simpler, more concise summary below. 

  1. You need a clearly stated diagnosis of ADHD by a qualified professional who references the DSM V. 
  2. It must be clear that the diagnosis is current, meaning not more than 5 years old. 
    1. Any medical or psychiatric tests, however, should be from within the last year. 
  3. Educational history (especially including existing accommodations at school and teacher observations) can be helpful in making clear the effects of ADHD on your student’s learning. 
  4. The diagnosis should be supported by testing, including a narrative summary of evaluation results and the test results themselves. 
  5. You should make clear what functional limitations are caused by your student’s ADHD. This can come from teacher reports, medical or educational history, or test results. This should show specifically what your student struggles with. 
  6. You need to justify why you’re requesting the accommodations, explaining the connection between your student’s ADHD diagnosis, their academic needs, and how the accommodations would help. 
  7. All evaluators (psychiatrists, educational professionals, and so on) referenced should be licensed, and their credentials should be listed. 

This might sound like a lot, but it really boils down to just a few things–most of which you’ll already have if your child receives accommodations through their school. 

If not, that’s no problem: you can still receive accommodations. But you will need an ADHD diagnosis, and you will need to speak to school counselors at your child’s school. 

As you can see, it’ll help quite a bit to start applying for accommodations early. Oftentimes, this can be done through your student’s school: always check with them first!

All of this information is succinctly summarized in our SAT Accommodations Checklist below, so feel free to use that make sure you have everything you need! 

The easiest way to request SAT Accommodations is simply to speak to your school’s SSD (Services for Students with Disabilities) coordinator. This coordinator will already know the process for applying for accommodations and will take charge of the process. 

If you don’t want to or can’t do that (for example, if you’re requesting accommodations for a homeschooled student), you can mail a paper request form to College Board, including all supporting documentation. 

Make sure you do this early: accommodation requests can take up to 7 weeks to process. 

College Board is fairly flexible and open when it comes to what possible accommodations they’ll offer to students with ADHD, and they ask that you request (and justify) the accommodations your student needs. They do list common accommodations requested, and it’s usually easiest to select from this list when making your own request: 

  • Extended time
    • This can be time-and-a-half or double time. 
  • Breaks as needed
  • Extended Breaks
  • Extra Breaks
  • Limited time
    • This one can be confusing: it doesn’t decrease how much time you have to take the test, but it sets a limit on how long you can be made to test at once. So, if you receive an accommodation that says you can only test for one hour at a time, you would take test for one hour on one day, then test for another hour on another day, and so on until you finish the test. 

While there are many other accommodations available on the SAT for other disabilities or learning differences, these are the most commonly requested ones for students with ADHD. 

If your student receives these or similar accommodations already through their school, these may be a huge benefit when it comes to taking the SAT. 

In any case, you should discuss with your student which of these accommodations can help them remain focused and do their best on the SAT. If they need additional time to read and answer questions as a result of their ADHD, or if they need the opportunity to pause the test and get their focus back, these accommodations can make a world of difference. 

In general, SAT Accommodations for students with documented ADHD provide enormous benefits. The additional time or opportunities to rest mean students with ADHD can mitigate some of the challenges they face when it comes to focus and attention span. 

In a nutshell, the benefits are obvious: more time and more breaks mean more opportunities to answer the questions to the best of your ability. 

But people often forget that these accommodations do have drawbacks. 

The most common challenge we’ve seen students face has to do with extended time. Yes, having extra time on a section does give students the breathing room to relax a bit. However, it also means the test is itself longer! 

Especially for students who struggle with attention and focus, the mere fact that the test now drags on for up to twice as long can have negative effects on their performance on later sections. Often, these students find themselves confidently handling the earlier stages of the test, but then simply running out of steam by the time they get to the end. 

The same is true for additional and extended breaks: these can be helpful, but they also tend to mean the student is in the testing environment for longer, putting a greater strain on their energy and focus. 

Breaks as needed offer a different problem: if a student overuses these, they’ll constantly be pulling themselves out of the test-taking mindset, which means resetting every time they come back from a break. Some students don’t struggle with this, but others do. 

Overall, there is an easy way to mitigate these drawbacks while still taking advantage of the benefits offered by ADHD accommodations: make sure your student preps for the test using whatever accommodations they’ll be granted on it. 

A huge problem occurs when a student with ADHD accommodations practices with regular time limits, but then gets the extra time on the day of the test. If students diligently test prep while mimicking real test day conditions, they’ll go a long way to ensuring they won’t be unpleasantly surprised on test day. 

Of course, the best way to ensure that your student is preparing for the SAT in a productive way is to work with an experienced private SAT tutor. We’ve put together a list of the best online SAT tutoring services for this year, which you can read here. 

We ourselves have over two decades of experience in everything from test prep to academic coaching for students with learning disabilities, and we’re proud of our perfect track record of 5-star reviews working with these students. 

If you want to see the difference a real expert tutor can make for your student’s SAT score, contact us today. 

If your student has ADHD and plans to take the SAT, the best thing you can do is start proactively exploring accommodation options. These accommodations often make all the difference for a student’s score–and that can mean the difference between being admitted to a dream school and being rejected by one. 

Because the SAT accommodation process does take time and paperwork, you want to start early. Ensure you have everything you need, speak to your child’s school counselor, and contact College Board to get the process started. 

When your student actually begins the process of preparing for the SAT, talk to us: we can pair your student with a personalized SAT tutor who can help them master the content while tailoring the instruction to the specific challenges presented by ADHD. 

If you are requesting ADHD Accommodations for the SAT directly through College Board, make sure to use our free SAT Accommodations Checklist below!

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Mike is a PhD candidate studying English literature at Duke University. Mike is an expert test prep tutor (SAT/ACT/LSAT) and college essay consultant. Nearly all of Mike’s SAT/ACT students score in the top 5% of test takers; many even score above 1500 on the SAT. His college essay students routinely earn admission into their top-choice schools, including Harvard, Brown, and Dartmouth. And his LSAT students have been accepted In into the top law schools in the country, including Harvard, Yale, and Columbia Law.