Tova Elberg, Ph.D.

Testing accommodations are changes to the regular testing environment and auxiliary aids and services that allow individuals with learning disabilities, medical illness, and/or ADHD to better demonstrate their true knowledge on school tests, standardized exams or other high-stakes tests.

The standard accommodations include extra time (a 25%, 50% or 100% time extension), a separate room to minimize distractions, extra breaks, extended breaks, test reader, and test writer. Some testing boards also provide other accommodations, such as large print text booklets or paper based test as opposed to internet based test and there are additional accommodations available too for medical or other needs. An application for these accommodations requires an evaluation and/or medical documentation.

Auxiliary aids such as having a large font when testing is on computer at a test center or use of noise cancelling earphones provided by the test center do not require an application for accommodations or a learning disability evaluation. If one wishes to bring in one’s own earphones, that is considered an accommodation, requires a learning disabilities evaluation and an application for accommodation.

If you believe that you need accommodations, please keep in mind that the purpose of the evaluation is diagnostic. The weaknesses presented must then qualify as a disability and not simply a “relative difficulty.” Please keep in mind that even if you received accommodations in high school, high-stakes tests, colleges, professional schools, and licensing boards have or may require a higher level of proof, and may not grant the same accommodations you received in the past.

Please keep in mind that undergoing an evaluation does not mean you have purchased accommodations.

Just because someone reads or processes information slowly or occasionally makes careless mistakes, he or she is not necessarily learning-disabled or has a serious attention deficit. Difficulties could result from educational deficits, emotional and temperamental factors, and vision-related or other difficulties. To obtain accommodations for the testing boards, diagnosed disabilities must meet DSM or ADA criteria for learning disabilities, ADHD, psychological or psychiatric disorders. Accommodations can also be granted for impairment due to medical conditions like diabetes, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, orthopedic problems, and specific psychiatric disorders which may not require a formal evaluation, and supporting medical documentation may suffice.

The results of an evaluation may surprise you. Going into an assessment, you may think that your functioning is very impaired, but your test scores may show otherwise. In addition, because testing techniques have improved, and some evaluations are more comprehensive than others, a more recent evaluation may generate conclusions different from those found in previous evaluations. For example, someone who thinks he has a reading disability sometimes is found to have an attention deficit, while someone who thinks she has an attention deficit may actually have an anxiety or depressive disorder.

Documentation must be submitted several weeks in advance of the date on which you’d like to take the test, so plan accordingly. For example, for the GMAT, documentation must be submitted three weeks before the test; for the GRE or TOEFL, documentation must be submitted six weeks before; for the SAT, documentation must be submitted seven weeks before.

An evaluation generated for the SAT, GRE, GMAT, MCAT, and other standardized tests will also be accepted by universities as an application for accommodations.

An evaluator should also know how to make a qualitative assessment of the evaluation’s data and be able to “read between the lines,” because the answers aren’t always in the numbers. An evaluator should be familiar with the full spectrum of learning disabilities and psychological disorders in order to make an appropriate differential diagnosis. An evaluator should also have some medical knowledge to make appropriate referrals and get confirming or contradicting information. For example, slow reading speed could be the result of vision-focusing deficits, and poor concentration could also be caused by anemia or other medical or psychological issues. When choosing an evaluator, look for one with a broad range of experience and wide breadth of DSM knowledge.