Frequently Asked Questions for Test Takers

General Questions

If I have a disability, why can't I automatically receive the testing accommodations I want?

ETS grants reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act, or ADAAA ("a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities"). Not every physical or mental impairment meets this definition. Second, even if a person is found to have a disability, this does not automatically mean that the nature and severity of the disability warrants testing accommodations.

Why do I need to be reevaluated if my disability (such as a learning disability, ADHD or autism spectrum disorder) is lifelong?

Although these disabilities are lifelong, the impact they have on current functioning changes over time. Therefore, your documentation needs to reflect the current status of your functional limitations and explain why you need the testing accommodations you requested. If documentation is more than five years old, it is not current and must be updated. Note that the currency requirement may differ depending on your particular disability or disabilities. For example, for ADHD, the standard is generally three years. For psychiatric disorders, the generally accepted standard is an update that is not more than six months old, submitted with the underlying evaluation report. See Updating Documentation for LD/ADHD for more information.

Are the ETS disability documentation guidelines in compliance with the ADAAA?

The ADAAA requires institutions to provide equal access and opportunities to individuals with disabilities. However, its regulations state that each institution can establish its own standards or guidelines for practice. The ETS documentation guidelines are designed to comply with the intent of the ADAAA as well as to ensure fairness to all test takers while maintaining the integrity of the test.

May I make a special request for accommodations that I need for a medical condition, even if these accommodations aren't listed on the request form?

Yes; on Part II, "Accommodations Requested," you can write in the accommodations you need for a medical condition. These requests will require documentation from a qualified professional, such as a medical doctor. With proper support, ETS may permit test takers to take additional rest breaks for snacks or medication or to use the bathroom. A footstool, earplugs, water in a closed capped container, a simple magnifying device, special lamps, an adjustable table and chair, or felt-tip pens might also be permitted, if warranted.

If I need to monitor the glucose levels in my blood during a test, may I go to my locker during the break period and test my blood sugar levels?

Yes, you may monitor your blood sugar levels during a designated rest break. However, if you think you might need to monitor your blood sugar levels unexpectedly during a test, then you should apply for accommodations in advance so you will be permitted to take breaks as needed during the test. Approved extra breaks do not count against the testing time; the clock is stopped during approved extra breaks.

If I want to bring snacks or a bottle of water into the test center to help me deal with some of the side effects of my medications or with other health-related needs, may I do that, or do I need special approval?

Snacks and beverages are not routinely permitted in test centers for security reasons. If you have a medical condition that might warrant eating snacks and/or having a closed beverage container in the testing center, then you must seek prior approval. Please read the Bulletin Supplement for Test Takers with Disabilities or Health-related Needs for the test you are taking to get information about how to apply for accommodations.

May I request a paper-delivered format for a test that is usually given only in computer-delivered format?

Yes, you may request a paper format as an accommodation, but you must have a documented disability (not a preference) that supports a legitimate need for a paper format. You will need to submit documentation for review that meets ETS's Documentation Criteria.

May I take to the test center any assistive technology device(s) that I ordinarily use in school or at work?

You may request the use of assistive technology device(s) by submitting appropriate documentation to ETS for review. The documentation must support the claim that the assistive device or technology is warranted based on the nature of the disability. ETS may be unable to grant such a request if it is determined that it infringes upon test security requirements or, in the case of computer-delivered tests, that it is incompatible with ETS's existing computer test delivery hardware or software.

I heard that ETS is no longer flagging test scores that are reported to score recipients. Is this true?

ETS has discontinued flagging almost all scores for tests that are taken with accommodations. For example, if a test taker receives additional time or extra breaks, the score will no longer be flagged in the report. In rare instances, ETS will flag the score report as a "nonstandard administration" only if the test is significantly altered.

Is there an additional fee for test accommodations?

No, ETS does not charge for testing accommodations.

What can I do if I cannot afford an evaluation or an update of my last evaluation?

ETS is not responsible for the cost of an evaluation, but resources are available that might be able to help you. If your disability documentation is dated or inadequate, you can contact the local Division of Vocational Rehabilitation office and meet with a counselor. This is a free service available to any individual with a documented disability. You can also contact your Disability Services coordinator or counselor on campus. Also, many colleges and universities with strong school psychology programs perform evaluations at a reduced fee. See Update Documentation for LD/ADHD for more information.

Review Process Questions

Who reviews my documentation at ETS, and is it treated in a confidential manner?

All disability documentation is reviewed and processed by ETS Disability Services staff and qualified ETS consultants. In every instance, confidentiality is assured according to the ETS confidentiality policy. ETS will not discuss any aspects of your request with anyone except those you have given ETS authorization to contact.

How long does the review process take?

If you submit a properly completed Certification of Eligibility: Accommodations History (COE), found in the Bulletin Supplement for Test Takers with Disabilities or Health-related Needs without documentation and you are eligible to be approved for accommodations through this process, it will take approximately two to three weeks to process your request. If you must submit documentation for review, the process may take up to six weeks, or even longer. For details, please refer to the FAQ section about the COE further down this page.

If your documentation does not support your request for accommodations, you will receive a letter of explanation. In such instances, you may choose to address any deficiencies in the documentation and resubmit your request. To prevent delays, be sure that your documentation meets ETS's Documentation Criteria (see pg. 17 of the Bulletin Supplement). For persons with learning disabilities, ADHD, physical disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, visual impairment, hearing loss, psychiatric disorders and intellectual disabilities, ETS has policy statements that specify documentation requirements.

Why does it take so long to process my accommodation request?

ETS strives to review requests for accommodations as quickly as possible. Given the large number of requests we receive, it is important that you submit your request as early as possible to ensure receiving a decision before the test date.

ETS reviews requests for accommodations in the order in which they are received. The specific approval process may differ depending on the nature of the request. For example, if you seek a minor accommodation, such as a footstool to support an injury or a test break to permit you to take medication, a letter from your medical professional will suffice, and usually evaluation of such a request requires only a short time.

If you have been approved for accommodations within the previous two years, your documentation is still current, and you are requesting the same accommodations for which you were previously approved, you may expedite the processing of your request by submitting only:

What can I do if I am denied accommodations or disagree with the accommodations that are granted to me?

ETS will send you a letter of explanation if we do not approve a request. In some circumstances, it may be possible to update or supplement relevant portions of your documentation and prevent the need for a complete reevaluation. Whenever possible, Disability Services staff will provide test takers with specific information about the ways in which their documentation is inadequate and how it should be updated or supplemented. You may correct any deficiencies outlined in the letter and resubmit your request. If you have any questions about ETS's procedures, you may email us at stassd@ets.org or write to ETS Disability Services, P.O. Box 6054, Princeton, NJ 08541-6054.

See Reasons Why Documentation is Deemed Insufficient by ETS for more information.

Certification of Eligibility: Accommodations History Questions

What is the purpose of Part III — the Certification of Eligibility: Accommodations History form?

ETS has created a form called the Certification of Eligibility: Accommodations History, or COE, which is available in the Bulletin Supplement for Test Takers with Disabilities or Health-related Needs for the test you are taking.

The COE serves to verify any accommodations that you are currently using or have recently used.

The COE must be completed and signed by a qualified professional at your school or place of employment who is familiar with your disability status. This person must certify that the documentation on file meets ETS Documentation Criteria and supports the testing accommodations you are receiving. If appropriate, you may have the form completed by a representative of a local vocational rehabilitation office.

The COE can also be used as a shortcut for many applicants who currently receive certain accommodations in college or on the job. Test takers with LD and/or ADHD requesting 50 percent extended time and/or extra break time can use the COE in this way. Additionally, many test takers who are blind, have low vision or are deaf or hard-of-hearing can use the COE as a shortcut. (Refer to the Bulletin Supplement for Test Takers with Disabilities or Health-related Needs for details about using the COE if you have low vision or are blind, deaf or hard of hearing.)

Why can't the professional who diagnosed my disability sign off on the COE?

ETS requires that a neutral party verify that the documentation is legitimate and conforms to ETS policy. ETS also seeks verification that the institution or place of employment granted you the accommodations and that you are using them.

If I send my disability documentation along with a signed COE, will I have a better chance of receiving testing accommodations?

Sending disability documentation when it is not required will cause a considerable delay in processing your request due to the time needed to review your documentation. If you are eligible to be approved for accommodations on the basis of the COE, send only the appropriately completed COE without documentation.

Documentation Questions

What does ETS mean by a "functional limitation?"

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA), not every impairment is a disability. For an impairment to qualify as a disability under the ADAAA, it has to be "substantially limiting" to a major life activity (e.g., seeing, talking, hearing, learning, walking, etc.). Thus, having a disability or a diagnosis alone may not be sufficient to support the need for testing accommodations. The documentation needs to clearly establish that the functional limitations resulting from a disability significantly impact the way a person performs a major life activity, compared to the "average person," before an accommodation can be considered.

Why do test takers need to send in cognitive and achievement testing for disabilities such as ADHD or psychiatric disabilities?

A disability or diagnosis alone, such as ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder or a generalized anxiety disorder, is not sufficient to support the need for testing accommodations. The ADAAA requires that the disability result in a substantial limitation to a major life activity. For ETS purposes, this means that the current functional impact of the disability on test taking must be clearly indicated. Objective cognitive tests that measure information processing, as well as memory, organizational and sequential thinking skills under both standard timing and extended-time conditions, can be very helpful in supporting the need for the requested accommodations. While the disability may not disappear over time, current academic achievement measures are necessary to determine whether the functional limitations in learning persist despite remediation, intervention or treatment.

What does complete disability documentation look like?

Guidelines for Writing Diagnostic Reports discusses in greater detail what comprehensive documentation might look like. For our purposes, the documentation should include the following:

  1. a specific diagnosis and rationale for it, supported by the diagnostic battery and/or clinical assessment that meets the DSM criteria or ICD code
  2. historical information — developmental, educational and/or medical information that includes information on response to treatment (if applicable) relevant to the diagnosed disability
  3. evidence that alternative explanations are ruled out (e.g., differential diagnoses, motivational factors, personality issues)
  4. evidence of the current functional limitations resulting from the disability as supported by objective data from quantitative testing and qualitative self-report
  5. an appendix of actual score summaries of standard or scaled scores and percentiles for all subtests, including index and cluster scores for LD and LD/ADHD documentation
Does the documentation recency requirement also apply to test takers who are deaf or legally blind or who have physical disabilities of a permanent and unchanging nature?

No. If a disability is a physical or sensory impairment of an unchanging nature, e.g., blindness or congenital deafness, documentation does not need to be updated.

I have a type of reading problem called scotopic sensitivity syndrome (SSS) that affects my reading ability. As an accommodation, will ETS allow me to use a plastic overlay that I can place on top of a page?

Scotopic sensitivity syndrome is a controversial visual processing problem that may or may not be due to a learning disability. In rare instances, ETS will approve the use of colored overlays on paper-delivered tests if the documentation supports the need. If the test is computer delivered, the test taker may be allowed to request selectable screen background and foreground colors.

What is the policy regarding LD and LD/ADHD documentation that is no longer current?

ETS is aware of the cost borne by test takers with LD or LD/ADHD whose documentation exceeds the five-year limit and who are seeking accommodations for our tests. These individuals may not have insurance to cover the cost of diagnostic reports. To address this concern, ETS has adopted a documentation update policy.

A documentation update is a report by a qualified professional that includes a summary of the original disability documentation as well as additional clinical data necessary to establish the test-taker's current eligibility and the appropriateness of the requested accommodations. An update typically verifies the continuing strengths and weaknesses identified in prior evaluations and includes a discussion of current impact on academic performance in general and on test taking in particular. It should also include a history of the types of accommodations received and used and a discussion of the appropriateness of the requested accommodations. The updated evaluation need not include IQ measures if the previous IQ measures were obtained on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS-IV) or a comparable measure.

Will ETS be relaxing their documentation requirements based on the ADAAA and the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) guidance?

ETS makes every effort to not be burdensome in our requests for documentation. However, we do not have the same opportunity as college disability services personnel to meet and speak to each of the 12,000 test takers who request accommodations each year. ETS's documentation process is compliant with the ADAAA. The AHEAD document provides guidance and does not have the authority of legal regulations.

We have instituted a number of shortcuts, such as the COE, by which test takers can be approved for certain accommodations without the need to submit documentation. If the documentation date is beyond the limits stated in our "shelf life" policy, the test taker should submit the outdated material for our consideration. We will make every effort to help the individual find a less costly way to obtain the necessary update. The disability services provider can also assist the test taker by providing a letter that explains why, in their professional opinion, the person needs the accommodations approved for use at their institution. In this letter the disability service provider should also describe how frequently the individual uses the accommodations and how effective those accommodations have been. We encourage test takers to submit a personal statement as well.

Why does ETS not accept documentation from a medical doctor for the diagnosis of ADHD?

Most medical doctors do not perform assessments that will show the functional limitations resulting from ADHD in a test-taking situation. However, some psychiatrists perform such assessments. Checklists of symptoms and the effectiveness of pharmacological interventions simply do not provide sufficient information to determine the amount of extended time required or what other accommodations a candidate may need.

What documentation is needed if a candidate has multiple disabling conditions?

It is always best to provide the most complete packet of information possible when multiple disabling conditions are identified. A complete packet would be documentation of each of the conditions.

Is academic achievement testing required for all disabling conditions?

If the test taker is requesting devices such as a calculator or a spellchecker, achievement testing is necessary to determine the individual's functional limitations in the relevant academic area.

Why is documenting Asperger's so complex?

The new terminology in the DSM-5 for Asperger's is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Documenting this disability is complex because individuals with ASD often have co-occurring psychiatric manifestations (e.g., anxiety, depression, etc.), ADHD and/or learning disabilities that may go along with their primary diagnosis. Often individuals with ASD exhibit behaviors affecting communication and social pragmatics. In addition, the use of medications has become increasingly common in the treatment of ASD. Disability documentation needs to address a variety of these co-occurring conditions that may impact the test-taking process. Please see ETS's new policy statement for Documentation of Autism Spectrum Disorder in Adolescents and Adults.

Is an IQ test all I need to document intellectual disabilities?

Intellectual functioning is assessed using a comprehensive measure of intelligence, typically the WAIS-IV or some other measure of intellectual ability. In addition to a test of intellectual functioning, adaptive behavior must also be assessed in three domains: conceptual, social and practical. Please refer to ETS's new policy statement for Documentation of Intellectual Disabilities in Adolescents and Adults. Appendix B includes a listing of clinical instruments in common use for documenting intellectual disabilities in adolescents and adults.