We get a lot of questions from clients regarding how to get academic accommodations on standardized tests.  Clients are often very anxious or stressed because they have to take a standardized test in order to get into graduate school, law school, or medical school.

Clients generally have great grades, a well-crafted personal statement, and solid references. Unfortunately, they are still required to take a standardized test in order to get into the programs they are applying for.

This process can be especially stressful if they have a mental or physical disability. Many clients don’t realize that they are entitled to reasonable accommodations not only in school but also on standardized tests like the following:

The purpose of this article is to provide a brief overview of the laws that entitle individuals to reasonable accommodations, why academic accommodations are so important, and how we can help you get reasonable accommodations on standardized tests.

How Does the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Apply to Testing Accommodations?

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), individuals are entitled to reasonable academic accommodations if they have a mental or physical disability.

According to the ADA, an individual with a disability is an individual who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity (such as seeing, hearing, learning, reading, concentrating, or thinking) or a major bodily function (such as the neurological, endocrine, or digestive system).

I highlighted “substantially limits” because this point is very important in determining whether an individual qualifies for reasonable accommodations.

“Substantially limits” doesn’t mean that an individual is unable to perform an activity.

The individual can still perform an activity but their performance needs to be compared to other individuals in the general population that don’t have that disorder or disability. Another important thing to consider is how long it takes the person to complete the activity.

I’ll simplify things by including two quick examples:

  • An individual whose back or leg impairment prevents them from sitting for more than two hours without pain would be substantially limited in sitting because most people can sit for more than two hours without significant pain.
  • An individual can be very successful academically but might still be entitled to accommodations under the ADA. They can have high levels of academic success but still be substantially limited because of difficulties with reading, writing, speaking, or learning. For example, they might need additional time or effort to read, write, speak, or learn when compared to people in the general population.

The most common disabilities that cause “substantial limitations” that we assess for as neuropsychologists are learning disorders and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

What’s considered a “Reasonable Accommodation”?

A common misconception that is that just because an individual has a learning disability or ADHD then that means that they are entitled to any accommodation that they request.

The important thing to note here is that individuals are entitled to reasonable accommodations.

Reasonable accommodations are modifications to tasks or the environment so that an individual with a disability has an equal opportunity to fairly compete and participate in an academic program or job.

To put it simply, reasonable accommodations are changes that allow an individual with a disability to play on a level playing field with their peers and perform at their true potential.

Standardized tests are designed to accurately assess an individual’s aptitude or achievement level on whatever skill the test is trying to measure.  An individual can’t be given an accommodation that will impact the tests ability to accurately measure their achievement or aptitude.

For example, if an individual has a mathematics-based learning disorder, they might request to use a calculator on a test.

If the goal of the test is to measure complex math skills (such as algebra or calculus) then the ability to solve basic math computations (such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division) is secondary to the main goal of the test.

In this situation, it would be reasonable to provide a calculator as an accommodation.

On the other hand, if the goal of a test was to measure basic math computation skills, then a calculator would not be appropriate since it will no longer allow the test to accurately measure the individual’s basic math abilities.

Do I Really Need Academic Accommodations for My Test?

The reality is that many children, teenagers, and even adults struggle academically because of a learning disability or ADHD.

Around 4.4% of the adult population in the United States has ADHD (that’s over 10 million people).

Over 2.8 million students in the United States are receiving services for a learning disability.

These disorders are developmental conditions, meaning that you are born with them.  You might have had difficulties with reading, writing, math, or attention, but you’ve never needed academic accommodations.

The problem with standardized tests is that they bring on their own unique set of challenges which can be very overwhelming and cause you to perform poorly on them.

Standardized tests are becoming more and more difficult, you are required to take these tests under time limitations, some tests are given over several days, and you are often required to take them in large rooms with large groups of people.

These factors can be stressful for someone that doesn’t have a disability let alone someone with a learning disability or ADHD.

The testing situation itself can amplify the symptoms of the disorder and negatively impact your ability to perform at your true potential.

The Common Problems Students Report While Taking Tests

We’ve been evaluating individuals for learning disorders and ADHD for many years and we regularly hear the same complaints come up repeatedly.

Do any of these problems sound familiar?

  • Having to work longer than your peers to complete the same assignments
  • Skipping letters or words unintentionally when you’re reading (especially if you’re pressured for time)
  • Having to read the same line over and over so you can understand it’s meaning
  • Having to work very slowly on tests and always running out of time
  • Feel that you know the material but have a hard time doing well on tests when they are timed
  • Having a hard time transferring your thoughts or ideas when writing papers
  • Panicking during a test
  • Having your mind go blank while you’re taking a test
  • Performing better on sample tests when you are not timed compared to when you are timed

Standardized tests are designed to measure very specific skills. For example, the BAR examination measures legal knowledge while the USMLE measures medical knowledge.

Unfortunately, the symptoms we just went over can interfere with your ability to take these tests and demonstrate your true knowledge and abilities.  That is why the ADA requires that you be provided with academic accommodations.

What Kinds of Academic Accommodations Can I Get?

The type of accommodations that you may receive depends on the areas that you have impairment in and the degree of the impairment.

Academic accommodations in a school setting can include the following:

  • Decreased amounts of homework
  • Additional time for completion of homework
  • Changes in seating, school, or testing environment
  • Placement in a different classroom
  • Organizational changes in the classroom and home
  • Time management assistance in the classroom and home
  • A tutor or assistant to help with assignments in class
  • Opportunity to provide oral responses on tests, rather than written responses
  • Access to a laptop to type test answers rather than handwrite them
  • Access to assistive technologies (e.g. listening to an audiobook or test questions rather than having to read the book or test questions)
  • Access to a calculator on tests

Academic accommodations for standardized tests (GRE, SAT, MCAT, LSAT etc.…) can include the following:

  • Extended time during testing
  • Use of a computer to type test answers rather than handwrite them
  • Accommodations for students with hearing impairments
  • Extra or extended breaks
  • Adjustments to the presentation of the test (e.g. the tests can be administered orally rather than having the student read the test questions)
  • Alterations in the timing and scheduling of the test (e.g. the test can be given earlier or later in the day)
  • Changes to the testing environment (e.g. the student might be allowed to take the test in a private room or a room with fewer students)

For standardized tests, the types of accommodations that are allowed vary greatly depending on the specific test.

Every standardized test or licensing examination has specific requirements and deadlines regarding requesting accommodations. We’ve included the links to the most common tests below:

What Can I Expect During a Learning Disability or ADHD Evaluation?

We get a lot of questions regarding what a client can expect during a learning disability or ADHD evaluation.

This process can be very anxiety provoking and stressful, especially for someone that has never met with a psychologist. We want to ease some of your anxiety so we’ve included a quick overview of what to expect during an evaluation.

A typical evaluation includes the following:

  • A comprehensive clinical interview to help us understand important psychological, medical, educational, and social background information as well as your current cognitive and psychological functioning.
  • Review of medical, psychological, and school records that help us have a better understanding of your psychological functioning and academic performance.
  • We will administer psychological and neuropsychological tests to evaluate for the following:
    • General intellectual abilities
    • Educational achievement (Reading, writing, spelling, and math abilities)
    • Higher level executive skills such as reasoning and problem solving
    • Attention and concentration
    • Language comprehension and communication
    • Visual-spatial skills and perception
    • Memory impairment
    • Motor and sensory skills
    • Mood and personality
    • Psychological diagnoses
  • After we complete the evaluation, we will write a comprehensive report that integrates our findings and give it to you and your school. We can also send the report directly to any organizations that need the report to provide you with accommodations.
  • We will also conduct a feedback session and go over the results of the testing and our recommendations for treatment.

Conclusion

Many children, teenagers, and adults struggle academically because of a learning disability or ADHD.

These disorders are developmental conditions, meaning that you are born with them.  That doesn’t mean you have to continue to struggle on standardized tests and licensing examinations the rest of your life.

Under the ADA, you may be entitled to reasonable accommodations in order to have an equal opportunity to fairly compete and participate in an academic program or job.

These accommodations will allow you to play on a level playing field with your peers and perform at your true potential.

Every standardized test or licensing examination has specific requirements and deadlines regarding requesting accommodations. We’ve included the links to the most common tests below.

We’re hoping that this overview helped ease some of your anxiety and provided you with helpful information on how you can get academic accommodations in school and on standardized tests.

You can learn more about how we conduct ADHD and Learning Disability evaluations here.

 

Do you have any questions?

Schedule your free 20 minute phone consultation today!

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