Testing Accommodations on the GMAT, Part 2

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Do you qualify for testing accommodations on the GMAT? Or do you think you might? In the first half of this article, we talked about the general application process for testing accommodations. If you haven’t read it yet, go ahead and do so before joining us again here.

As I mentioned in the first part of the article, I spoke with two experts from GMAC: Teresa Elliott, Ph.D., Senior Manager of GMAT Exam Accommodations, and Kendra Johnson, Ed.D, Director of GMAT Exam Accommodations.

I also spoke with Tova Elberg Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in private practice in Israel and New York.

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

As we discussed during the first part of this article, GMAC divides possible accommodations issues into 5 main categories (as well as an Other category):

1. Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder

2. Learning and Cognitive Disabilities

3. Physical and Systemic Disabilities

4. Psychological Disabilities

5. Sensory Disabilities (Vision and Hearing)

All Conditions

All quotes in the sections discussing specific conditions are copyright GMAC and come from the organization’s testing accommodations materials posted on its website, unless otherwise cited.

Any condition has to be documented in the following ways:

    1. A diagnosis by a licensed professional, including a complete description of the tests used to make the diagnosis
    2. Documentation of the “severity of the functional impact” in both “academic / testing settings” and “other life realms.” All tests used to determine this information must be described in detail and the test results provided to GMAC
    3. The specific accommodations recommended by the professional evaluating you, along with an explanation as to how the requested accommodations will address whatever issues you have
    4. A list of current medications that you or your doctor believe may impact your performance on the GMAT, along with an explanation as to how you believe they impact your performance. (You do not need to disclose any medications that would not impact your GMAT performance)
    5. Full identifying information of the professional conducting your evaluation; this person also needs to attest that s/he is not a family member of yours

 

In addition, the individual categories have certain requirements. Note that the following text about the 5 categories has some redundancies because I’m assuming that many people will read only the category that applies to them.

Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder

This category requires a DSM-IV or DSM-V diagnosis and the professional who diagnoses you must rule out alternative explanations for the symptoms that you are displaying.

GMAC also requests a history of your grades and prior testing issues in school, in addition to information about the impact your ADHD continues to have in adulthood and employment situations.

The following tests are listed in GMAC’s guidelines. Many other tests are acceptable as well.

– Self-report and Other-report: Connors, Brown

– Performance-based: TOVA, IVA, CPT

– Adult intelligence: WAIS-IV, Scholastic Abilities Test for Adults

In general, your evaluator should use “age-normed, performance-based measures of skills of clear relevance to the GMAT,” according to Dr. Elliott. She continues: “For example, if a person is asking for extended time due to concerns with reading speed, he would need to use well-validated, timed measures of speed and accuracy when reading lengthy, complex material. On the other hand, untimed measures, measures without solid age-based norms, measures that rely on subjective scoring, measures that emphasize oral reading, or measures that do not use lengthy, complex material would not tell us much about a person’s need for extended time on the GMAT.”

Learning and Cognitive Disabilities

This category includes conditions such as dyslexia and requires a DSM-IV or DSM-V diagnosis. The professional who diagnoses you must rule out alternative explanations for the symptoms that you are displaying.

GMAC also requests a history of your grades and prior testing issues in school, in addition to information about the impact your learning or cognitive disability continues to have in adulthood and employment situations.

The following tests are listed in GMAC’s guidelines. Many other tests are acceptable as well.

– Age-normed measures: Scholastic Abilities Test for Adults

– Adult intelligence: WAIS-IV

– Other age-normed performance-based measures (e.g., where appropriate, “measures of phonologic and symbolic processing are often helpful”)

In general, your evaluator should use “age-normed, performance-based measures of skills of clear relevance to the GMAT,” according to Dr. Elliott. She continues: “For example, if a person is asking for extended time due to concerns with reading speed, he would need to use well-validated, timed measures of speed and accuracy when reading lengthy, complex material. On the other hand, untimed measures, measures without solid age-based norms, measures that rely on subjective scoring, measures that emphasize oral reading, or measures that do not use lengthy, complex material would not tell us much about a person’s need for extended time on the GMAT.”

Physical and Systemic Disabilities

These issues include mobility impairments and diseases or medical conditions that affect physical functioning, such as multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, systemic lupus, and others. (A full list can be found in the PDF for this category, linked at the beginning of this article.)

Because this category includes permanent disabilities, some impairments can be demonstrated via documentation that is more than three years old. While examples are not given in the documentation provided by GMAC, we might imagine that someone who is paralyzed and not expected to recover any function may not be required to supply supporting documentation dated within the past three years. If the particular condition is or could be variable, however, then more recent documentation will likely be required.

Psychological Disabilities

This category requires a DSM-IV or DSM-V diagnosis and the professional who diagnoses you must rule out alternative explanations for the symptoms that you are displaying.

GMAC strongly recommends relatively recent information (typically within 3 years) because psychological issues can change over time. If you underwent a complete evaluation more than 3 years ago, GMAC may accept that report in addition to a more modest “update” evaluation performed recently (typically within the past year). In other words, you don’t necessarily have to undergo another complete (and expensive!) evaluation.

Sensory Disabilities (Vision and Hearing)

This category primarily encompasses any issues dealing with vision or hearing, but can include anything in the “sensory domain.”

Because this category includes permanent disabilities, some impairments can be demonstrated via documentation that is more than three years old. While examples are not given in the documentation provided by GMAC, we might imagine that someone who has been completely and irreversibly blind for many years may not be required to supply supporting documentation dated within the past three years. If the particular condition is or could be variable, however, then more recent documentation will likely be required.

For hearing issues, an audiogram must be provided. For vision issues, “current visual acuity data” must be provided.

What really happens from an “outside” perspective?

So far, we’ve been discussing all of the formal steps, requirements, and rules for the application process. It’s a bit overwhelming. Let’s step out of the “official” role now and talk about what happens from the outsider-looking-in perspective, aka you! Dr. Tova Elberg was kind enough to help me think this through from the student perspective. (All quotes in this section are from Dr. Elberg.)

Dr. Elberg deals only with certain kinds of issues and so she speaks from that point of view. She is not, for instance, a medical doctor and so does not deal with the kinds of tests that would demonstrate issues with seeing or hearing, limited motion, and so on.  Not everyone will need the specific types of evaluations that she performs. You’ll need to research what might be appropriate given your particular situation.

I’m not sure whether I would qualify

There are many nuances to this discussion, so there is no way to say for sure, “Oh, this person will definitely qualify but that other person won’t.” You really do have to go through the process.

As you might expect, it isn’t easy to qualify for test accommodations (nor should it be!). GMAC needs to ensure that the integrity of the GMAT is maintained while also accommodating those who legitimately qualify. All of the rest of us—whether we qualify or not—want this, too, because we don’t want to think that someone with money could just “buy” their way into extra time on the test.

As I mentioned earlier, accommodations aren’t meant to make the test easier for anyone. Rather, they are meant to level the playing field for people who would be at an objective disadvantage if they were to take the test under standard conditions.

Dr. Elberg shared with me that the most common “non-qualifying” statement she’ll hear is along the lines of “I get anxious on tests but I’m not otherwise anxious” or “I don’t do well on these kinds of tests” but  otherwise this person doesn’t exhibit any impairment in real life.

In other words, the student is not discussing a functional impairment that affects her life, employment, and education in general; rather, she’s discussing an issue that appears to affect her only in testing situations. Because the issue doesn’t rise to the level of a functional problem in daily life, this may not qualify as a disability. Dr. Elberg adds, “To be fair, it could be a harbinger of something more serious. I can only know after I perform an evaluation.”

I had heard anecdotally that someone who was not previously diagnosed during high school or college doesn’t have much chance of gaining accommodations for the GMAT. Dr. Elberg set me straight:

“It’s not true that a person who was not previously diagnosed has a slim-to-none chance of gaining accommodations. A person’s circumstances change and there are individuals who have struggled with a disability from early on that, for whatever reason, went undiagnosed and untreated.

“Each case has to be judged on its merits but one criterion must be fulfilled: A person must have a diagnosable disability, judged by both the DSM manual and the Americans for Disabilities Act.

“When someone comes to an evaluation seeking accommodations and she’s never been evaluated before, it does raise a red flag (for GMAC and for me) but it’s not a dead end. People’s circumstances change. Sometimes learning disabilities come to the fore in later life. One can suffer even a minor head injury in later life and develop what’s called acquired ADHD.”

Finally, Dr. Elberg points out that non-native English speakers will not be able to request dictionaries or other accommodations that are designed to address language skills. If such issues are impairing the student’s ability to perform well on the GMAT, that student will have to take the time to improve his language skills.

Getting Started: Find an Evaluator

First, if you don’t already have a licensed professional with whom you have worked on these issues, you’ll need to find one. Look for someone who is already familiar with the topic of testing accommodations and ideally has already worked with other GMAT or computer-based standardized-test students in the past.

Dr. Elberg provided all kinds of advice about what happens next if you do need a psychologist. (Again, quotes are from here. Also, note that I’m going to use the word “psychologist” from now on to refer to the licensed professional with whom you work, but this does not mean that everyone needs to work with a psychologist!)

Show all prior evaluations to your psychologist, including any diagnoses and test results as well as any documentation of testing accommodations received during your school years or for other tests. Also bring medical records, if applicable, including medications that you take or have taken.

If applicable, include any “school transcripts showing grades before and after accommodations” or “statements from employers attesting to accommodations received at work,” including how such accommodations have improved your work performance. If you don’t have this kind of documentation, that’s okay—but if you do, include it.

If you haven’t worked with this person before, then expect to begin the process with an interview. The psychologist will likely ask questions about your family, school, social, work, and medical history as it relates to educational or work functioning. During this phase, Dr. Elberg says, she is developing hypotheses about the issues faced by this student and posing additional questions to help her confirm or refute various hypotheses. Because she knows that she will need to make a differential diagnosis (as discussed in the first half of this article), she is actively seeking alternative explanations. For example: “A reading difficulty may be tied to ADHD, a vision-focusing issue, or another matter, and I must check each one.”

Dr. Elberg typically holds 3 meetings of several hours each; obviously this can vary by case and different evaluators may have different procedures. For these kinds of intensive psychological evaluations, she has heard that (in New York) “prices start at $1,500 for work done by interns under supervision at hospital-affiliated clinics and can run $2000 to $4000 for independent providers.”

Again, this will vary significantly based on the kind of evaluation you need and will likely also vary by geographical region (New York is expensive!). You may not need to spend anywhere near that kind of money. Someone who already has a well-documented case may only need a minor update or possibly nothing new at all.

(This next bit of advice is mine, from the perspective of a “smart shopper.”) Be sure to ask your psychologist what will happen if GMAC requests additional information. What kind of help is already included in the initial fee and for what kinds of things might you have to pay more? Imagine that you’re shopping for an accountant to do your taxes. What would you expect to be included in the initial quote and what would be extra?

For instance, perhaps something was unclear in the initial report. Will the psychologist clarify the material without charging you more? If it were me, I would think of this as a general service included with the original price. In the same way, if there were an error or communication problem with my tax returns, then I would expect my accountant to fix the problem without charging me extra (assuming the error or lack of clarity wasn’t my fault). I would discuss this at my first meeting with the psychologist, in the same way that I would with a new accountant.

Perhaps, though, another test has to be performed to provide additional information requested by GMAC. Perhaps a second opinion must be sought from another professional, such as a neurologist or psychiatrist. In those cases, I would feel that it’s reasonable to pay for the additional work that needs to be done at that stage.

Last Tips from Dr. Elberg

I asked Dr. Elberg whether there was anything else I should have discussed with her and she told me that she wanted to make two points.

First, “by undergoing an evaluation, the student is not purchasing accommodations. The decision to grant or deny accommodations rests entirely with GMAC. The student, together with the evaluator, must make the case. “

Second, “to students, a huge piece of advice: Don’t fake anything. You know that you’re faking, I’ll know that you’re faking, and GMAC will know as well!”

Finally, this is my favorite piece of advice from Dr. Elberg:

“In the section in which the student is asked to indicate why he can’t take the GMAT in standard format, my advice is to write from the heart and indicate what gets in his way. Don’t repeat psychology jargon. Don’t repeat your entire personal history. Rather, explain in simplest terms how your problems prevent you from taking the test the way everyone else does and why you need each of the accommodations you are seeking.”

Next Steps

(1) Read through the official GMAT Testing Accommodations handout as well as the handout that applies to your particular disability category (linked at the beginning of this article). You will no doubt have lots of questions as you’re reading the handouts; you can find a list of FAQs (frequently asked questions) here.

(2) Do you need to work with a licensed professional?

First, use the published guidelines to review whatever documentation you already have, including previous assessments or tests you’ve undergone, information from schools or employers, and so on. If your existing documentation meets the requirements listed in GMAC’s materials, then you may not need to work with a clinical evaluator.

If your documentation does not fulfill all of GMAC’s requirements and recommendations, then you may need to find a licensed professional to conduct a formal evaluation, determine the issues that you face and the appropriate accommodations for your situation, and help you to provide the needed documentation to GMAC. If so, be sure to share all of the official documentation with this individual.

(3) Gather your documents and, if needed, schedule your first appointment with your evaluator. Either way, complete and submit your application as soon as is practical. If GMAC does need additional documentation or more recent documentation, they will be more than happy to tell you, but they can’t do this until after you have submitted your initial application.

Don’t put this off! The sooner you get started, the better. Good luck—let us know how it goes!

 

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