Changes to ACT Extended Time Take Effect with the September 2018 Exam

The ACT is changing the way it offers extended time for testers who have a diagnosed disability. These changes will take place with the September 2018 exam. If you have a student or know someone who needs extended time for their testing, you need to know about these changes.

What Is The New Policy?

The first thing to understand is the new policy will affect students who have national test date extended time. This is the most common testing accommodation of one and a half times time—commonly known as extra time.  Instead of being given an five and a half hour window and being told use it however they need, ACT is now going to give students exact times for each section:

  • English – 70 minutes (standard time 45 min.)
  • Math – 90 minutes (standard time 60 min.)
  • 15 minute break
  • Reading – 55 minutes (standard time 35 min.)
  • Science – 55 minutes (standard time 35 min.)
  • Optional Written Essay – 60 minutes (standard time 40 min.)

The previous policy did not force students to follow a rigid schedule for individual sections or breaks. Students were able to work the ACT in a self-paced way, taking more or less time than the new approach. Now everyone with extended time is going to have exactly one and a half times the time in each of these sections and will take breaks only at the scheduled break time.

Why Is ACT Extended Time Changing?


The first reason given by ACT is to increase fairness. I understand that it’s very important to protect the needs of students with diagnosed learning differences or psychological differences, but it’s also really important to protect those who don’t have extended time so that they aren’t put at a disadvantage.

Help Testers Pace Themselves

The other motive is to help extended time testers appropriately pace themselves. ACT found a lot of students with extended time weren’t using their time effectively. Some would finish without using any of the extra time their medical or psychological reports said they should have. Others failed to measure how much time to spend on each section and could make it to the last section of the test with only minutes left.  In other words, ACT is saying what was intended to be a benefit for students, extra time, was an added distraction.

Loss of Flexibility

As someone who coaches students on how to improve on the ACT I’m disappointed. My students clearly understood how much time to spend on each section so that they could allocate time as needed. For these students, the new policy reflects a loss of flexibility and an approach that treats all students with mental and physical differences as if they were the same.

Over the past twenty-five years I’ve worked with students who had extended time for a wide range of reasons: ADD/ADHD, severe arthritis, dyslexia, severe brain injury / concussions, insulin dependent diabetes, processing speed issues, narcolepsy, and many more. Each student had his or her own special need for extra time. The new policy does not recognize their differences.

Downsides to the New Policy

Long Periods with No Breaks

Setting aside the issue of treating all students’ needs the same, there are other downsides to the change. First, students are going to be working a long time without breaks. An extended time student is expected to come in, sit down, go through all of the regular administrative tasks like  bubbling in the answer document, focus intently for 70 minutes of English and 90 minutes of math, before the first break. These kids are sitting there for three solid hours, maybe longer, for before they’re allowed a 15 minute break!?? This is horrible news for students who have ADD / ADHD, for students who have any medical need that might require more frequent stretch breaks, bathroom breaks or even breaks to have a snack to replenish and monitor their blood sugar. This is not beneficial.

Then students will finish another two hours before they can get a brief break and work an additional hour on the essay. So what we’re essentially saying is we’re expecting kids who have all sorts of learning differences and psychological or physical differences to sit for five plus hours of an extended time exam with only one 15-minute break. And any student who needs more frequent breaks will have to lose time from a portion of the exam.

Lack of Flexibility

This is where I’m really sad to see that the ACT taking the same approach as the SAT because for years ACT provided an extended time alternative. Now students cannot choose a standardized admissions exam that allow them to exercise good judgment and allocate time according to his or her unique situation.

I’ve worked with a lot of extended time students, but in describing the unique time needs of different testers, I often describe Julia. I worked with Julia in private tutoring and she could do ACT English with barely any extra time needed. She was great in math probably didn’t need any extended time. I was beginning to wonder, “why do you have extended time?” until we

sat down to do the reading. Julia’s reading and processing was her true testing need. It took her 20-30 minutes to read and answer the 10 questions for a single passage. The ACT reading section has four passages and regular testers are asked to complete those 40 questions in 35 minutes.

Under the old extended time method Julia could take just a little bit of extra time in English and Math, and really focus on reading where she had a diagnosed need for extra time.  If she were taking the ACT in September she would only get the 55 minutes for reading, barely enough time to do 50% of the work, but she would be forced to sit for an extra 30 minutes in math where she did not need additional time.


You’ve probably determined I’m not in favor of the changes to extended time for the ACT. The good news is there are some alternatives so if you’ve got a student or you work with students who have a extended time and are going to be negatively impacted by this policy.

All the changes I’ve presented are for the national administration for extended time which is the most common accommodation. But other accommodates are available. If you have a student whose needs are not going to be met under these new policies, work with your school’s guidance counseling department to make a request for different accommodations.

ACT provides a variety of special accommodations including two or three times standard time, testing over multiple days, and even a reader to read test material aloud. If your student will not be able to successfully test with limited breaks or the 1.5 time limits, apply for special testing.

All testing accommodations should come from your school’s guidance counseling or exceptional education department. Your school may not know they can request anything other than the standard extra time, but with appropriate documentation of a mental or physical need, they can.  If you are in a homeschool setting, make sure you have your diagnostic materials together from your medical practitioners explaining why you need more than just one and a half times the regular time.


The new ACT extended time policy is not going to be a problem for many students, but some students are going to have to look at getting special accommodations going forward.

If you’re planning on taking the ACT in the fall of 2018 and you’ve had extended time approved in the past, make sure you understand these new changes. Know the test proctor will be cutting you off at the end of each section and telling you to move forward to the next one. You are no longer self pacing or taking your own breaks.

If you have any questions, go ahead and post them here in the comments or on my Facebook page:

Good luck to everybody taking the ACT or SAT this year!

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Does it hurt to take the SAT / ACT multiple times?

Does it hurt to take the SAT / ACT multiple times?

Will colleges question why I took the test for a 4th time?

Will it help if colleges see I’m improving my scores by taking the ACT / SAT more?

Most students will take the ACT / SAT two or three times. Colleges know this and are not surprised when they receive multiple score reports reflecting a student’s attempts at these standardized tests.

In admission, colleges and universities are looking for reasons to admit a student– in other words, looking for the best results possible. Find out how colleges use scores when a student has taken tests more than once.


When Should I Take the SAT or ACT?

This is one of the college planning questions that has a straightforward answer: take the tests, so that even with re-takes, you are DONE by the end of your junior year.

Avoid senior year panic

Yes, students can take the SAT and ACT as high school seniors. This year (2017) SAT has added an August exam date and next year (2018) the ACT will add a July test. These early fall options provide a safety net for students wanting another attempt at a higher score.

But the reality is that having to test in the fall of your senior year is stressful. (Ask the parents of these students who have contacted me in the last couple weeks when they found the June ACT or SAT results weren’t good enough.) Senior year is busy– fall especially. You will thank yourself later when you plan ahead to do all testing as a junior.

When junior year?


I typically start with a student’s extracurricular obligations and try to work around competition season, major performances, AP exams, etc. Football players, cheerleaders, and members of the band are so busy in the fall that winter or early spring tests might be better. Spring sport athletes and students with a heavy AP class load might want to avoid spring tests because they won’t have as much time to devote to the ACT or SAT. Look ahead and block out the busiest times.

Allow for at least one re-take. Most students take their test of choice two or three times. (A lot will take the other exam at least once “just to see”, but that isn’t necessary.) Both the ACT and SAT offer June exams which are good for retesting, but I wouldn’t wait until June to take the test for the first time because re-takes spill into your senior year.

The current testing calendar includes plenty of opportunities:

ACT: September, October, December, February, April, June, and July (2018)

SAT: August, October, November, December, March, May, and June

There is very little students will learn in the classroom that will help them on the ACT or SAT with one exception– Algebra II. Read more here if you have a student who will be taking Algebra II as a junior or who has consistently struggled in math.

If all test dates are equal, find a time where your student will have the most motivation and free time to prepare. Some students are eager to dive into the college process and will be ready to start in the fall; others do better in the spring when all juniors seem to catch “college fever” as the idea of college starts to become more real.

Would sophomore year be even better?


No, it would not. There is no compelling reason for a student to take the ACT or SAT as a sophomore. If you want to practice, print out the official practice tests from ACT and College Board and take them timed at your kitchen table. There will be plenty of opportunities during a student’s junior year to take these tests.

My daughter is getting ready to start her junior year of high school. She did not take the ACT or SAT as a sophomore. In fact, we are just starting test prep with a goal of some fall exams (PSAT and SAT). If earlier or more was better, we would have done it. And we didn’t.

Keep in mind that the SAT and ACT are challenging. They are constructed with a mix of easier, medium, and hard level questions and the goal of the test writers is to make sure not too many students get high scores. (Why would colleges want scores if everyone had top marks?) Develop your plan to allow for the possibility that not everything will go right the first time. Planning makes this stressful process of college admission easier.


Is It Better to Take the ACT or SAT?

In 2017 it doesn’t matter which test you take. Any college that requires standardized test scores for admission will accept either exam– with no preference given to one over the other.

Old habits die hard.

There are geographical preferences for certain tests that go back decades. Traditionally the ACT was most popular in the Midwest while the SAT was popular here in Texas and on the east and west coasts.

When I took the SAT & ACT (in the 1980’s) some colleges didn’t accept the ACT. That practice died out over a decade ago when all schools — even the elite Ivy League schools– decided to accept the ACT.

The ACT may offer an advantage.

This is one of those little details that might tip the scales in favor of the ACT. Some highly competitive schools ask students to submit SAT Subject Tests in addition to the regular SAT or ACT. (More on SAT Subject Tests here.) However, some schools will accept the ACT in place of the SAT + SAT Subject Tests. In these cases, one ACT can take the place of two Saturdays worth of SAT exams.

So why do I only see SAT (or ACT) averages on XYZ’s website?

Colleges are subject to the same historic and geographical trends we’ve already discussed. You might see only SAT averages on a school’s website if a majority of its applicants submitted SAT scores for admission. That school may not have enough students applying with the ACT to publish those scores. Just because you don’t see ACT (or SAT) averages in printed material or on the school’s website doesn’t mean those scores aren’t equally valued for admission.

Focus on the test that’s best for you.

Because there isn’t a “preferred” exam for colleges, you should take the exam that showcases your strengths. Yes, you can take both, but in my experience students are busy and have better things to do than to prep for two different exams when one will do.

Not sure which one to take? Use the official practice tests from College Board and ACT. Compare scores by comparing your percentiles. You can use this chart.

There is no better test– no favored test for admissions. The best test to take is the one that will allow you to get the highest scores possible.