Test Taking

Test taking poses challenges for most students. However for individuals with disabilities, standard test taking situations can present insurmountable obstacles if accommodations are not provided. Student needs vary greatly, depending on the disability, type of test, and level of academic study. Students are often the best source of information about strategies that work for them.

General strategies for accommodating students with disabilities in testing activities include:

  • Alternative, quiet testing locations in distraction-free rooms.
  • Alternate-testing formats (e.g., oral presentations, projects, essays instead of multiple choice tests; written papers instead of oral presentations; online instead of printed tests; take-home instead of in-class tests; open-book instead of closed-book tests; demonstrations of skills instead of written exams).
  • Well-organized tests with concise instructions.
  • Extended test-taking time.
  • Providing reading or scribe services

Below are considerations and typical accommodations by disability type.

Learning Disabilities

Students with some types of learning disabilities have difficulty completing tests within time limits. Some test formats may pose extra challenges. For example, essay questions may be more difficult to organize and respond to in a limited amount of time than multiple choice or short answer questions. Students with learning disabilities may also be easily distracted in large group test situations. Students with specific disabilities may have difficulty reading text (e.g., Dyslexia) or completing math problems (e.g., Dyscalcula). Students with writing disabilities (e.g., Dysgraphia) may have difficulty writing responses in essay tests.

Typical test-taking accommodations for students with learning disabilities include:

  • Extended time on tests.
  • Alternative testing locations in a quiet room with fewer distractions.
  • Tests in alternative formats such as oral exams, projects, or presentations.
  • Use of computers to complete tests.

For more information about working with students with learning disabilities, consult the Learning Disabilities area of the AccessSTEM website.

Blindness

Students who are blind cannot read printed tests in standard-size print. Typical test-taking accommodations for students who are blind include:

  • Tests in computer format to allow the conversion to speech output using text-to-speech software.
  • Tests in Braille.
  • Readers and/or scribes.
  • Audiotaped tests.
  • Extended test-taking time.

For more information about working with students with blindness, consult the Blindness area of the AccessSTEM website.

Low Vision

Students with low vision may have difficulty reading standard print on tests. Their ability to read material may also be impacted by fatigue, lighting, and glare. Typical test-taking accommodations for students with low vision include:

  • Enlarged print text (perhaps by using a standard photocopy machine).
  • CCTV (closed circuit television) to enlarge the print and graphics.
  • Tests in computer format to allow presentation in large-print on the screen.
  • Alternative test locations if lighting is problematic.
  • Readers or scribes.
  • Extended test-taking time.

For more information about working with students with low vision, consult the Low Vision area of the AccessSTEM website.

Hearing Impairments

Students who are hard of hearing or deaf may have difficulty understanding verbal instructions given prior to the test or answers to questions that arise while the test is being taken. In these cases, the instructor should make sure that the student with a hearing impairment has access to this additional content. Typical test-taking accommodations for students with hearing impairments include:

  • Clear and detailed written instructions.
  • Sound amplification systems.
  • Preferential seating in the front row or near the instructor for optimal listening and lip reading.

For more information about working with students with hearing impairments, consult the Hearing Impairments area of the AccessSTEM website.

Mobility Impairments

Physical access to the test site must be assured for students with mobility impairments. Students who have difficulty using their hands will also have difficulty taking written tests. Typical test-taking accommodations for students with mobility impairments include:

  • Accessible seating.
  • Scribes.
  • Electronic version of the test on a computer with adaptive technology if needed.
  • Extended test-taking time.

For more information about working with students with mobility impairments, consult the Mobility Impairments area of the AccessSTEM website.

Health Impairments

Some students with health conditions may have difficulty attending in-class exams. They may also fatigue easily. Medication side effects may impact endurance, memory, and attention. Typical test-taking accommodations for students with health impairments include:

  • Scribes.
  • Exams delivered via the Internet.
  • Extended test-taking time.
  • Alternative time and location for test-taking.

For more information about working with students with health impairments, consult the Health Impairments area of the AccessSTEM website.

Psychiatric Impairments

Students with some psychiatric conditions may have difficulty with in-class exams. Medication side effects may impact endurance, memory, and attention. Typical test-taking accommodations for students with psychiatric impairments include:

  • Scribes.
  • Exams delivered via the Internet.
  • Extended test-taking time.
  • Alternative time and location for test-taking.
  • Quiet non-distracting room for test-taking.

For more information about working with students with psychiatric impairments, consult the Psychiatric Impairments area of the AccessSTEM website.

Check Your Understanding

Consider the following situation: A student who is blind needs to take an organic chemistry exam. What accommodations would be needed to help the student complete the exam? Choose a response.

  1. Provide a scribe.
  2. Provide extended examination time.
  3. Provide a copy of the test in Braille.
  4. Give the student an oral version of the test.

Check Your Understanding Responses

  1. Provide a Scribe.
    A scribe would be an appropriate accommodation. However, the student will still need to access the exam material. The scribe could serve a dual role as a reader if the exam is in standard print format. A reader would not be necessary if the exam is in Braille. Extended examination time should also be considered as an additional accommodation.
  2. Provide extended examination.
    Extended examination time is an appropriate choice. Students who need a reader, for example, may take up to 2-3 times longer to complete the test. However, this accommodation alone does not provide access to the exam content and materials.
  3. Provide a copy of the test in Braille.
    If the student reads Braille, this is an appropriate accommodation. Adequate planning to transcribe the material in a timely manner is essential. Scientific and technical material typically requires a special form of Braille called Nemeth code Braille. A discussion with the student and disabled student services counselor would be important to organize this type of accommodation. The student may also need assistance writing the exam, therefore a scribe and/or extended exam time would be additional accommodations to consider.
  4. Give the student an oral version of the test.
    An oral version of the test is an option, but may be challenging because of the scientific content. The student will need access to all of the scientific material on the exam.

Questions and answers, case studies, and promising practices can be found in the searchable AccessSTEM Knowledge Base.