Do you qualify for testing accommodations on the GMAT? Or do you think you might?
Broadly speaking, the term accommodations refers to altering the testing conditions for a particular student in order to “level the playing field” for that student. Someone who is blind, for example, may need some kind of altered test format in order to read the test questions. These accommodations do not make the test easier for the student; rather, they make the test possible at the same level as for a regular student.
Other potential issues are less obvious but no less valid. Someone with a severe reading disorder might qualify for extended time while someone with a mild form might not, because a severe reading disorder might slow someone’s reading speed to the point that it is no longer reasonable to expect this person to get through the test in the standard length of time.
Where is that line drawn, though? What is the process for applying for testing accommodations and how are the decisions made?
That’s what we’re going to talk about today. I’ve spoken with representatives from GMAC (the organization that owns the GMAT) as well as a psychologist who works with students to determine whether they qualify for test accommodations. I’ve also reviewed all of the application materials and in general kept an ear open to hear what students and teachers are saying about this process. Consider this your unofficial GMAT Testing Accommodations Encyclopedia!
Note: The official GMAT Testing Accommodations handout explains the overall process. Later in this article, I also provide additional links to resources relating to specific conditions.
I spoke with two people at GMAC who are experts in this field. Teresa Elliott, Ph.D., Senior Manager of GMAT Exam Accommodations, was kind enough to talk me through the process, start to finish, and patiently answer interminable questions about hypothetical scenarios and how things work. In addition, Kendra Johnson, Ed.D., Director of GMAT Exam Accommodations, took time out of her extremely busy schedule to clarify the trickiest aspects and to advise me as to the best way to convey these details.
I also spoke with Tova Elberg Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in private practice in Israel and New York. I first became acquainted with Dr. Elberg more than 5 years ago when we were both answering questions on the Beat the GMAT forums. She was also kind enough to answer my interminable questions and help me break the intricacies of the process down into more manageable steps.
Please note that GMAC does not endorse or recommend the services of any specific evaluator in relation to any disability. The information provided by Dr. Elberg represents Dr. Elberg’s views and should not be interpreted as reflecting official GMAC policy
What categories of conditions are covered?
GMAC lists five main categories (in alphabetical order) on its website. Click on the link to pull up the PDF in a browser.
It is also possible to submit something in the category of “Other” if you feel your particular issue does not fit into one of the five categories listed above.
The general application process is the same for all categories, but the material required to document your condition can vary. We’ll cover each of the categories in greater detail during the second half of this article.
What does qualify… and what doesn’t?
There isn’t an easy answer to this question. Even people with the “same” issues may receive differing accommodations depending upon the particular issue and the severity of that issue. The applications really are handled on a case-by-case basis.
The overarching issue, according to both Dr. Elliott of GMAC and psychologist Dr. Elberg, is a condition that results in some kind of impaired functioning in daily life that meets the criteria of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and the DSM-IV or DSM-V. For some categories of disability, that impaired functioning is more straightforward: if you’re blind, then you may not be able to read the screen in “standard form” and may need some kind of appropriate accommodations to take the test.
What about someone who has a less obvious issue? If the only criterion is working more slowly than the average person during a test situation, that may not be enough to qualify, nor would the ability to get a significantly better score if you have more time. Most of us wish we could have extra time on any standardized test, but as I mentioned earlier, the goal here is not to make the test easier for us to take. Rather, the goal is to level the playing field for people with pervasive conditions that significantly impact life and work situations in general, not just testing situations.
A diagnosis by itself is not enough, though. The condition must be shown to impact current functioning and this impact must be documented carefully.
Finally, Dr. Elliott of GMAC stressed that a differential diagnosis is key. Many conditions have similar symptoms, so it is important to show, where applicable, that the diagnosing clinician performed tests to rule out other, related conditions (or to show that you have multiple conditions).
Everyone was very clear that a diagnosis does not necessarily mean that someone qualifies for testing accommodations. Dr. Johnson offered an example of a paraplegic who has full use of the upper body and no cognitive issues. This person will clearly be diagnosed as a paraplegic. Such an individual may need a wheelchair-accessible facility and might need longer breaks in order to, say, go to the bathroom. This person may not, however, need accommodations during the test itself, if the specific disability does not impact the way in which the person takes a computer-based, standardized test.
On the other hand, it might. Perhaps the injury that led to the paraplegia also caused some kind of cognitive issue. This is precisely why it is so important to be able to explain how a particular issue or disability affects your current functioning across work and academic settings.
What is the basic application process?
You will need to fill out the GMAT Test Accommodation Request Form, which you can find in the official GMAT Testing Accommodations handout. You will also need to fill out a form that explains the particular condition(s) you have, as well as what accommodations you are requesting, and you will need to attach supporting documentation from a licensed professional (more on this later).
You will fax or mail all of this in with payment for the test itself (250 USD); that is, you will pay for the test at the time that you submit your application. If you are ultimately accepted, you will receive instructions for how to register for the test. If your application is ultimately rejected, you will be able to take the test under regular conditions or you can request a refund of the testing fee if you decide not to take the GMAT after all.
How long does the process take
GMAC aims to have a response to students within 30 calendar days of submission of the application (and, in fact, many students receive a response with 7 to 10 business days, on average).
If the initial application contains all of the necessary documentation to make a determination, then students typically receive a response by or before the 30-calendar-day mark. If GMAC has to request additional documentation, then the clock “resets,” with a goal of a response within 30 days after the additional documentation is received.
Note that there is no “expedited” review—you can’t pay an extra fee to have your application jump to the top of the list. In other words, plan ahead! If you know or suspect that you will need accommodations, get your application started before you even start preparing for the test.
This is especially true because, at times, it can be harder to schedule your test date. For instance, if you have to take the test over a 2-day period during the busiest time of year, then your testing center may take longer than typical to find a test date that fits your schedule. Every student is having trouble scheduling right now—autumn is the busiest time of year! Even in this kind of scenario, though, you likely won’t wait any longer than other students who are registering for regular tests.
What happens if my application is approved?
If your application is approved, then you will receive written notification as well as instructions for how to schedule your test date.
If applicable, you will also receive a special code that will allow you to use the same accommodations on your GMATPrep test software. For example, if you are approved for 50% extra time, then you will receive a code that will then let you take GMATPrep tests with 50% extra time as well. (This code will also work with the two new Exam Pack tests.)
Finally, when you do take the test, the schools will not know that you received accommodations. Your score report will look just like everyone else’s report. If, later, you want to disclose this information to the school (perhaps, when you’re admitted, you want to ask for accommodations during school), GMAC can release information with written approval from you.
What happens if my application is rejected?
First of all, Dr. Elliott of GMAC emphasized that it is rare for an application to be rejected outright. If someone’s application falls short, GMAC will almost certainly request that the student submit additional documentation and the organization will help the student to know precisely the kinds of material that GMAC requires in order to make a decision. GMAC does not want to reject someone just because his or her application is incomplete.
Try to stick as closely as possible to the rules when first filling out your application in order to reduce the chances that you’ll be asked for additional documentation. Don’t fear, though, that if you make a little mistake or forget to include something, then you will be rejected outright. The most likely outcome is that you will be asked to provide additional documentation—lengthening the process, but not killing your chances of being approved.
If your application is ultimately rejected, you will receive written notification and instructions about how to appeal the decision, if you wish to do so. You can also register for a regular test administration or request a refund of your test fee.
What accommodations am I qualified to receive?
We hear this question all the time. GMAC can’t tell you what you “should” apply for (nor can we!); rather, you need to decide (in conjunction with your licensed clinical advisor, medical doctor, or other professional) what accommodations are appropriate for your particular situation. An experienced professional will be able to advise you as to the appropriate accommodations for your diagnosis and you will then request those in your application. You may be approved for some, all, or none.
I can assure you that Dr. Elliott and the professionals at GMAC know how nerve-wracking this process can be, but they do need to see your full application in order to decide what might be appropriate for you. There is not a one-size-fits-all answer for everyone, not even for everyone diagnosed with the same condition, so it is impossible for her team to discuss such questions over the phone and without any case history available.
So here’s your short answer: you will need to work with a licensed professional who will be able to diagnose and document your particular disability. This person will help you to decide what you should request. Any back-and-forth with GMAC on this topic will occur only after you have submitted your application.
What kinds of accommodations are available?
The GMAC Handbook lists certain accommodations but also indicates that you can request any accommodations that you think are appropriate for your situation (with no guarantee that you will be approved, of course).
The following are already on the “official list” (quoted directly from the GMAC Handbook; anything in parentheses is my own explanation):
- Enlarged font
- Additional Time: 50% more or 100% more
- Additional rest break (more than 2)
- Extended rest breaks (more than 8 minutes each)
- Two-day appointment (vs. 1 day)
- Wheelchair accessibility
- Reader who can read the test items to the candidate
- Recorder to enter responses
- Sign language interpreter for spoken directions and candidate instructions only
- Trackball mouse
- Allowance of a medical device into the testing room
Certain minor accommodations do not require advanced notice or application for accommodations. The examples listed in the Handbook are:
- Eyeglasses and hearing aids
- Pillow for supporting neck, back, or injured limb
- Neck brace or collars
- Insulin pump, if attached to your body
- Ear plugs or headphones to block noise (these are provided by the testing center)
- Switching the mouse from right-hand to left-hand operation
How do I find a “licensed professional”?
You will want to work with someone who has significant experience in the world of standardized test accommodations, particularly for high-stakes tests such as the GMAT, the GRE, the SAT, and so on. Because the GMAT is given on a computer, you may want to make sure that you’re working with someone who has experience with computer-based tests.
The professional should be experienced in making differential diagnoses (as we discussed earlier) and should also be very familiar with performance-based measures that are used to document those diagnoses.
If you qualified for testing or other accommodations at university, you may also want to contact the Disability Support Services office and ask for their help. (You can also try calling them even if you didn’t qualify then, but they are more likely to be helpful if they already have a case file on you and are familiar with your history.)
In the second part of this article, we’ll talk about the kinds of information GMAC requests with an application. We’ll also take a look at the application process from the point of view of a professional helping a student to document the disabilities.