Standardized testing can be intimidating to any student, but the stress and concern over this type of test are especially pronounced when the individual has a disability. If you struggle with anxiety, ADHD, dyslexia, or other learning disabilities, it’s important to invest extra time and effort into test prep, especially for major standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT. Understanding the available accommodations will give you a solid jumping-off point to begin planning your steps forward. With proper planning, you can put the necessary tools and strategies into play to help you tackle these tests successfully.
Evaluate the Test
Carefully evaluate any standardized test you must take well before the test date. You can prepare for major tests, such as the ACT and SAT, years in advance. Investigate the following:
- What format are the questions in (i.e., multiple choice, short answer, essay)?
- Is the standard test in a written format, audio format, or both?
- What tools are permitted (i.e., calculator, headphones, scratch paper)?
- Is there a time limit, and if so, how much time is allowed?
- How many breaks do you get, and at what intervals?
- Are you permitted to go back to questions that you’ve skipped and answer them later?
Our team at NeuroHealth Arlington Heights can help you determine the accommodations you might need, if any. In some cases, you may find that your disability doesn’t qualify for official accommodations, yet it requires some thoughtful advanced preparation.
Take Practice Exams
Most major tests, including the SAT and ACT, offer ample opportunities to take practice exams. These give you a chance to experience the test format firsthand so you can identify any areas where you’re struggling. Taking practice tests is one of the best ways to cope with challenges such as anxiety or ADHD.
Though the Americans with Disabilities Act does recognize test anxiety as a disability, it must “substantially limit one or more of the major life activities” to qualify you for special accommodations. If you don’t qualify for accommodations such as extra time or a private testing environment, going through a series of practice exams may help you minimize your anxiety to the point where you can function successfully.
Determine Which Accommodations and Preparations You Need
Depending on the test you’re taking, you may have one or several accommodations available. Common accommodations include the following:
- Up to 50% to 100% more time to complete the test.
- Additional breaks during the testing period.
- Reading questions and answers aloud.
- Testing in a quiet, distraction-free environment.
- Allowing verbal rather than written responses.
Whether you’re eligible for these official accommodations or not, you should also consider the special preparations you can take into your own hands. For example, students with dyslexia may benefit greatly from working with a tutor who can help them hone their active reading skills and practice annotation.
Experiment with different study methods to determine which works best for your needs. In a study at Virginia Commonwealth University, students with ADHD indicated that color-coding information, practicing time management, and using organizational strategies to review research articles helped contribute to their postsecondary success.
Reading, highlighting, and rewriting are popular strategies that can help students with learning disabilities break down intimidating chunks of information into digestible bite-size pieces. Combining movement with memorization may help children with ADHD internalize key facts while releasing energy that would otherwise distract them. Think outside the box and develop creative options that will facilitate successful studying.
Gather the Necessary Paperwork
Unfortunately, getting accommodations for standardized testing isn’t as simple as asking for what you want. You must prove that you have a disability that necessitates such accommodations. You must submit detailed documentation that may include the following:
- A history of previous accommodations that you received for tests.
- Records of psychoeducational evaluations.
- Medical records.
- A copy of your IEP, 504, or another formal plan.
This documentation must demonstrate a current diagnosis supported by educational, developmental, and medical history. Any evaluations submitted must include information on the evaluators’ professional credentials to establish their authority on the subject. You need to describe the functional limitation that justifies the requested accommodations clearly. This should make it clear that you have a specific disability that affects your activities to a measurable degree.
If your paperwork is outdated, you must update it before you begin applying for special accommodations for standardized testing. Children are constantly developing, so testers require a recent confirmation of the diagnosis.
Speak With Your School Counselor
Your school’s coordinators have access to the vital systems and services used to coordinate and approve accommodations for standardized testing. The Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) system approves requests for accommodations on the:
- PSAT/NMSQT or PSAT 10.
- AP Exams.
While you can submit your application to the SSD independently, this takes much longer.
For the ACT, your school must submit a request through the Test Accessibility and Accommodations System (TAA). You must sign a Consent to Release Information form with your school so they can send the appropriate documents on your behalf.
Request Accommodations Well in Advance
Getting accommodations approved and arranged is a lengthy process. It can take up to seven weeks to get approval through the SSD when you’re working through your school. For those who submit their documents independently, this timeline is even longer. The ACT will typically review requests in the TAA within 10 to 14 business days.
It’s best to allow time for the testing provider to request additional information as well. In some cases, they may come back to you with further questions. Planning ahead gives you plenty of time to consider and respond to these requests.
It’s essential to have a professional assessment to properly diagnose and manage any disability you or your child are struggling with. Our team at NeuroHealth Arlington Heights can provide assessment and treatment services. We also offer school advocacy when needed to make sure you’re getting the proper accommodations and assistance from your educational facility. Contact us today to make an appointment or learn more.