The Unforeseen Disadvantages of Extended Time Accommodations

Extended time is a common and potentially helpful accommodation granted to students who struggle with attention difficulties and anxiety disorders. The prevailing idea behind the extended time accommodation is that affected students are too easily distracted or overwhelmed to be successful when tasked with timed assignments. Thus, extending the amount of time offered to students will result in improved performance and better academic outcomes. While this may be true for a number of students, the extended time accommodation has several unforeseen disadvantages that are often overlooked. 

For students with attention difficulties, extended time may actually prove to be a hindrance. Impacted students often struggle to maintain their focus for significant periods of time, have issues refocusing on a task after becoming distracted, or feel the need to periodically disengage and move around. When faced with the prolonged time now allocated to the assignment, these students may actually see decreased performance, as they now must try to stay put, focus, and refocus over a greater amount of time than before. In the classroom, the extra-time accommodation often cuts into students’ recreational periods, such as lunch, gym, recess, and after-school hours. This results in impacted students constantly catching up with peers, often at the expense of their social growth and access to extracurricular activities. Paradoxically, by giving students with attention difficulties more time to focus solely on schoolwork, these students may find themselves robbed of critical break periods that provide a reprieve from the rigor of the classroom and an outlet to expel built-up energy. 

For students with anxiety, extending the amount of time offered on assignments may serve a temporary respite more than a long-term solution. When confronting examinations with the additional time, students who struggle with anxiety and time-management often adjust to the new time constraints and continue to run up against extended time limits. As opposed to learning and perfecting skills and techniques that are designed to reduce the amount of time spent on particular tasks or problems, students with extra time tend to take longer and less intensive routes that inhibit the development of academic and time-allocation skills. As an LSAT tutor for several years, I have noticed dozens of students with extended time accommodations for anxiety neglect the common shortcuts and skills employed by students under tighter time constraints. In my experience, the notion that the extra time circumvents the need for these more-refined approaches results in consistently lower scores on sections such as LSAT Logic Games. 

The extended time accommodation may also be administered in lieu of more meaningful interventions that can have more direct impacts on student performance. According to the nonprofit Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities, the extended time accommodation is often a band-aid solution that comes without “teaching students what to do with the extra time nor addressing the deficits that result in the need for more time” thus rendering the accommodation “unlikely to improve the rate of work completion or the quality of the work.” According to researchers Esther F. Akinsola and Augustina Dubem Nwajei, test anxiety frequently coexists with other forms of psychological distress such as depression. In their study, the researchers analyzed the academic outcomes of over 400 students aged 13-19 and found that providing students with cognitive therapy and relaxation treatment resulted in a significant improvement in test scores under time constraints. Therefore, extra-time accommodations should be considered alongside other strategies to treat students’ anxieties and other underlying conditions, as reliance on the extra-time accommodation alone may prove to have unintended negative impacts.

About the Author