SAT Accommodations for English Language Learners

Instructor: Bill Sands
English language learners sitting for the SAT may be able to take advantage of testing accommodations. Read on to learn more about these alterations, as well as other adjustments that may be added soon.

College Board & English Language Learners

As recently as 2016, English language learners had virtually no support when taking the SAT. Fortunately, this is no longer the case. The College Board, the organization that proctors the SAT, recently agreed to grant accommodations and modifications designed to assist English language learners as they take the test.

Examples of Accommodations

In order to provide a more level playing field for non-native speakers, the College Board offers the following alterations for students taking the SAT. These accommodations took effect on January 1st of 2017.

Native Language Test Instructions

Perhaps the most obvious and effective alteration is the issuing of test instructions in a candidate's native tongue. Presently, this option is limited to a few of the more commonly used languages (such as Spanish, Mandarin, and Arabic) but the College Board intends to provide more languages in the near future.


To provide assistance with complex concepts that may not translate well, the College Board provides a word-to-word bilingual glossary for English language learners taking the SAT.

Proposed Accommodations

The College Board plans on implementing additional accommodations in the fall of 2017.

Additional Testing Time

For candidates with an advanced command of the English language, test instructions may not need to be translated. These students, however, still may not work as fast as their native counterparts, and providing a bonus amount of time is a definite and fair means of providing assistance without providing an edge.

Alternative Testing Environments

Rather than taking the test with native speakers, English language learners may be allowed to take the test in an environment with fewer disturbances. This might give English language learners a better opportunity to focus solely on the test.

Issues Facing English Language Learners

Despite these helpful adjustments, the system is far from perfect and is still lacking in several regards.

Lack of Federal Consistency

The accommodations above are only available for candidates who sit for a state-funded SAT during the school day. As of February 2017, only the following states present such an option: Maine, Rhode Island, Idaho, Delaware, Connecticut, Michigan, New Hampshire, Colorado, Illinois, and the District of Columbia.

The College Board has stated its intentions to expand the number of states offering this option, but concrete plans are not yet in place.

Difficulty in Implementation

The College Board admits that further accommodations may be difficult, as attempting to develop accommodations for such a diverse group can be extremely challenging.

Unlike students with disabilities, who often have a detailed summary of their various needs, English Language Learners have a wide range of skill levels, and students may speak only a few words of English or may be nearly fluent.

Accommodations meant for entry-level speakers may provide an unfair advantage for more advanced English language learners. Accommodations for more fluent speakers might be too challenging for novice English speakers.

Preparing for the SAT as an English Language Learner

If you're in the process of learning English and would like to take the SAT, the following resources will certainly be of use:

This SAT Prep: Help & Review guide is a great place to start. This self-paced course provides a comprehensive overview of the test and includes video lessons, quizzes, and other interactive formats that will prove extremely beneficial to students taking the exam.

This Grammar Resources for ELL Students course includes a useful review of fundamental grammatical concepts that will both strengthen your English skills and prepare you for the SAT.

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