With thousands of your peers taking standardized admission tests this year, it stands to reason that at least a few of them will have some sort of disability. What seems like a common rite of passage — test prep and test day — may take on a whole new perspective if you struggle with distractibility, poor vision, physical handicaps, or some other disabling condition. If you're like many disabled students, the biggest hurdle for you may be the test booklet and the answer sheet. For others, the seating arrangements, time limitations, or distraction of others around them will limit their ability to succeed.
It can be hard to sit still for three hours if you have ADHD, or to fill in the small circles on the answer sheet if you experience tremors. However, if you struggle with testing due to a disability, it may help you to know that special accommodations can be made to help ensure you have a fair opportunity to do well on test day. The testing agency will require documentation, so you'll need to enlist the help of your parents and school counselor to pull everything together. If you are eligible, accommodations can be made for the SAT, PSAT, AP exams, and the ACT.
You can take free practice tests for the SAT, ACT, and PSAT online here at Peterson's, so that you can get some general idea of what taking the test is like and whether or not you're going to encounter any particular problems. But the actual testing environment will be very different from the environment in which you'll take these practice tests, so you'll still want to look at the tips and steps below to make sure you're accommodated when you come to take the test.
Your parents can help with your test prep plan
Your parents are your best advocates when it comes to requesting fair access to testing. Don't hesitate to ask for their help — the offices of the College Board aren't the first to hear from parents who only want their children to have the same opportunities as everyone else. In recent years, parents just like yours have swayed schools to provide special education services to those who need it, and have driven efforts that resulted in legislature mandating that all students, including those with disabilities, have the right to a free and appropriate education.
In fact, parent advocacy has brought about federal laws that guarantee you the same access to college as all students, as well as the right to reasonable accommodations for your disabilities. A greater number of disabled students than ever now sit for pre-admission tests and get into college, allowing them the opportunity to attain more education and get further in life — an accomplishment that wasn't always in reach for those who could not be as successful in traditional learning and testing environments.
Get your paperwork turned in as part of your test preparation
You and your parents should work with your school counselors, teachers, and teacher consultants to ensure that your requests for accommodations are submitted completely and on time. Your guidance counselor is a particularly important component of the college-admission-test experience, since he or she has all the information and forms necessary to initiate the process. They will let you know which forms your parents are required to sign for special accommodations on your behalf.
Along with these forms, a School Certification must be completed by the appropriate school official and then be submitted to the College Board's Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) or the ACT office. The earlier you can get this done, the better — materials must arrive at the offices no later than the published registration deadlines. Submitting forms as early as possible ensures that your eligibility processing will be completed before the test date.
Test dates are the same for everyone, but there are some additional deadlines for your eligibility paperwork, so make sure you get them all on the calendar as part of your test prep plan. Test dates and documentation deadlines for the PSAT, SAT, and AP exams can be found at www.collegeboard.com/ssd/student/time.html. For the ACT, your documentation needs to be in by the test registration deadline, but since it will require additional review to get approval for your accommodations, the earlier you get it in, the better.
Arrange for special accommodations
There are a variety of disabilities and conditions for which reasonable accommodations are allowed. In general, eligible disabilities and conditions include:
- Blindness or vision problems
- Deafness or hearing problems
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
- Learning disabilities
- Certain medical conditions
- Physical disabilities
However, you'll need to have sufficient documentation of your disability provided by a qualified diagnostician, such as a psychologist, neuropsychologist, medical doctor, or psychiatrist. They need to submit their name, title, and professional credentials, as well as verification that you have a disability that interferes with your capacity to complete admission testing under normal conditions. Along with this documentation and all of the required signatures, you need to include the proposed test date, the type of accommodation you're requesting, and the name of an alternative test administrator if you are requesting one.
Research eligibility as part of your test preparation
Keep in mind that just because the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guarantees disabled people the right to reasonable accommodation, it doesn't mean that if you have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan in school, you are automatically eligible for special testing accommodations. You still have to meet the eligibility requirements of the testing agency and they may differ from those of your school.
Your school counselor should be able to provide you and your parents with information about eligibility and documentation requirements, as well as how to request special accommodations and what types of accommodations can be made. You can check requirements for the SAT, PSAT and AP exams at www.collegeboard.com/disable/students/html/indx000.html, or for the ACT at www.act.org/aap/disab/policy.html.