Should my kid take the extra time if he doesn’t need it?

Parents often ask me questions about how they can best support their child with what they’re learning. Many feel they aren’t doing enough, or aren’t doing the right thing, to help their child succeed. I see a lot of these questions more than once, so I’ve decided to collect them and post them here for other parents to read, in case that advice is helpful.

All my advice is based on my own experience from almost 10 years of working with students with learning differences, and on my M.Ed. training at Villanova University.


We just got off the phone with [my son’s] college counselor about testing accommodation. She said he will probably get 50% extra time on the ACT for his ADHD. I wanted to talk to you before we decide to turn it down.

[My son] doesn’t need extra time on the test. He finishes all the sections early, and he’s usually done with his ACT homework before the timer goes off. Should he turn down the extra time accommodation. We are concerned it will reflect poorly on his application.

Tim N.

Hey Tim,

Thanks for reaching out. I have a pretty strong opinion on this topic that I think might surprise you, so please hear me out before you make your decision either way.

I have noticed [your son’s] great speed on the assignment’s I’ve given him, and I agree that he works quite quickly. I can see why you’d think that he doesn’t need the extra time if he finishes so quickly.

But it sounds like your primary concern is that the colleges he is applying to will see that he had testing accommodations and treat his application differently because of it. I can assure you that this is not the case.

The ACT doesn’t report any accommodations to the colleges in the score report–neither the type of accommodation nor if there were any accommodations at all. In fact, a California court recently ruled that reporting accommodations on the score report is discriminatory, and the ACT has a policy not to disclose accommodations in any of its reporting. So please know that accepting these accommodations won’t affect [your son’s] college application in any kind of negative way.

That means your decision here should be based solely on how it will affect his test performance. My opinion (and as I warned you, it’s a strong one) is that you should always take the accommodations offered. They can never hurt. You’re right that he finishes his work quickly, but we also see that he makes plenty of careless errors. Extra time actually helps with that, since we can use that extra time to take breaks and refocus instead of just checking work endlessly.

Imagine that instead of doing 60 math questions in 40 minutes and then sitting there, starting at the ceiling, [your son] was able to do 20 questions, take a 5-10 minute break to get some water and move around, then another 20 questions and another break, etc.

That kind of pacing could have a huge effect on his score, and we just don’t have the time to do it right now. If he had the extra time, we would.

Also, I’ve been collecting data on this for years now, and I see students with accommodations score higher than they did without accommodations, especially on the ACT, in basically every case. On the ACT in particular, the number of minutes you have seems to directly correlate to the number of points you get, since the test is much more about timing and working fast than it is about problem-solving. I’m happy to send you my spreadsheet if you like, it’s pretty interesting data.

Anyway, my recommendation would be to pursue the accommodation with the ACT officially. It’s all upside and no downside.


This student ended up securing the accommodation, not for the first test (unfortunately this conversation happened too close to the deadline), but for the second test. That test hasn’t happened yet, so I don’t have definitive numbers yet on his performance, but his homework and practice test scores have seen significant improvement with the breaks we can now build in to them.

Don’t underestimate the power of taking a break to get the wiggles out, especially for active kids. Getting up to move around can help tremendously on test day, especially for students who stim to help deal with stress and anxiety (so, all of them).