skip to main content skip to footer


Disabilities and Health-related Needs

Select an option below for more information


Guidelines for a Scribe

The following guidelines outline the responsibilities of a scribe for a test taker with a disability. If you have any questions, please contact Disability Services. Only test administration staff may be assigned to serve as a scribe for a test taker.

Multiple-choice Questions

Essay or Constructed-response Questions

Test Center Procedures for Using a Scribe


Multiple-choice questions

Sometimes a test taker, because of his or her disability, has trouble speaking clearly or distinctly. The scribe should confirm the test taker's response. If the scribe can’t understand a test taker's speech, or it is barely audible, large cards, each indicating one of the four or five test options, can be used. The test taker can then choose the appropriate card.


Essay or constructed-response questions

Test takers with disabilities must be given the same opportunity as other test takers to plan, draft and revise their essays or constructed responses. This means that the scribe may write down an outline or other plan as directed by the test taker. The scribe must write down the words of the test taker exactly as dictated. When the essay or constructed response is finished, if time permits, the test taker may read the essay or response and dictate revisions. If the test taker's disability prevents them from reading the essay or constructed response, the scribe may read it aloud and allow the test taker to dictate revisions.

The scribe's responsibility is to be both accurate and fair, neither diminishing the fluency of the test taker nor helping to improve or alter what the test taker asks to be recorded.

The scribe's role includes the following considerations:

  • At all times, the scribe must write only what the test taker dictates.
  • The scribe may not prompt the test taker in a way that would result in a better essay or response. For example, prompts such as, "Let's list reasons to support your position" or "Do you want to give more examples?" give the test taker an unfair advantage and are inappropriate.
  • However, the scribe may respond to questions such as, "Where are we on my outline?" by pointing to and reading the outline.
  • The scribe should ask for the spelling of commonly misspelled words and homonyms such as to, two and too; or there, their and they're. If the test taker uses a word that is unfamiliar to the scribe or a word that the scribe does not know how to spell, the scribe should ask the test taker to spell it.

Because good essay and constructed-response writing demands fluency, the scribe's job is to record the test taker's production accurately without making the task even more complicated. Clearly, a well-educated scribe could improve the mechanics (spelling, capitalization and punctuation) of a weak essay or response. On the other hand, even a capable scribe who had to spell out every word would begin to sound stilted. The scribe's responsibility, therefore, is to strike a balance.

Test takers must:

  • indicate the beginning and end of each sentence and paragraph
  • indicate all punctuation marks
  • unless the use of a dictionary has been approved by ETS, spell all commonly misspelled words and all words associated with a topic such as geographic places and people's names, without reference to a dictionary

Test takers, after indicating that they know to start a sentence with a capital letter and end with a period, or to capitalize the letter "I" when referring to themselves, do not have to continue to specify these conventions throughout. The scribe should apply these automatically.

The essay or response must be written in longhand or typed, as approved by the testing program. The test taker should have an opportunity to review and revise the essay or response providing the time allotted has not expired. Cross-outs and insertions are allowed and are not penalized, as for all test takers. Persons who score the essays or constructed responses will not be informed that any testing accommodations were allowed.

The scribe will have to make many decisions about how to proceed in situations that are not described above. The guiding principle in making these decisions should be that the process should neither help nor penalize the test taker.


Test center procedures for using a scribe

  • An approved scribe should be admitted to the test center with the test taker; the scribe's photo bearing identification should be checked.
  • Prior to the start of the exam, the test center administrator/supervisor will review the Guidelines with the test taker and the scribe, and will set the ground rules for the conduct of the examination.
  • The test administrator must remain in attendance at all times during the test administration.
  • An approved scribe is not present to function as an aide to the test center staff. It is inappropriate to ask the scribe to perform clerical duties of any kind. The scribe should not be asked to assume any responsibilities belonging to the center staff or the test taker.
  • Test center staff must ensure that proper test security is maintained. It is important that the test administrator ask questions and avoid any hasty interpretations of what may be communication of test content or exchange of information between the test taker and the scribe that might give the test taker an unfair advantage. The task requested by the test taker might be acceptable once understood. Discussion or communication concerning interpretation of test content is not permitted. If such discussion occurs and cannot be controlled, or if test center staff observe anything they deem unusual, the situation should be reported on the Supervisor's Irregularity Report (SIR) or the Electronic Irregularity Report (EIR) and the test taker advised of your action.

The test center administrator may also stop the test and dismiss the test taker if they believe that the scribe has provided the test taker with any unfair advantage. In such instances, ETS reserves the right to cancel the test taker's score.