Extended Time vs. Untimed Tests for My College-Bound Son

It’s a quiet summer morning. I’m sitting in an enormous, empty room at the college my son will attend in the fall.

My son is down the hall at the college’s Office of Disability Services Testing Center. He’s taking the Accuplacer, a skills- and knowledge-based placement test.

The Accuplacer will measure my son’s college readiness in math and English, according to the testing gods.

Students generally take the Accuplacer when their SAT or ACT scores haven’t met college admissions requirements. At many colleges it’s required for students who have never taken the SAT or ACT.

My son took the ACT three times over the course of his senior year. He was given the ACT’s extended time accommodation twice. This allowed him a 50 percent time extension for each one of those two exams.

Unlike the SAT or the ACT, the Accuplacer gives students unlimited time to complete the test. Technically, I could be sitting here waiting for him to finish until the cows come home.

But I’m not complaining—it’s a good day.

My son woke up unusually bright and chirpy this morning. I offered to make him scrambled eggs for breakfast. (I was thinking that a good dose of protein might catapult him out of Elementary Algebra and Sentence Skills 101.)

He declined my eggs with a wink, and poured himself a bowl of cereal.

I watched from the corner of my eye as he ate. He was reading fanfiction on his smartphone, and grinning in between bites.

My eyes shifted upward. I thought about those dark, silent, pre-ACT mornings. Today was different—like night and day.

My son was actually as happy as a clam. And I needed to know why.

So I remarked to my son (in my sly mom way, hehe) that he was in a pretty good mood for a test day.

“Unlimited time,” he said matter-of-factly.

Whoa. Those two words had a magical power over him! I paused for a moment. And then I understood.

It’s the notion of restricted time—no matter how far it’s extended—that’s been rattling my kid’s nerves and clouding his mind.

Kids like mine test like warriors. They hang tough, not wanting to accept defeat. But time is The Grim Reaper in the testing room. He hides in the shadows of his cloak, clutching an hourglass. When the sand runs out, their (extended) time is up.

But today’s test is different. My son has the gift of time. May the testing gods be ever in his favor.

Or at least for the next few years.

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