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GRE Accommodations: What to Know for Test Day

For students with learning disabilities or test-taking limitations, the maker of the GRE, Educational Testing Services (ETS), provides a number of disability accommodations—extra time, braille tests, screen magnifiers, ergonomic keyboards, and more. Students must apply for these GRE accommodations before signing up for their test through ETS Disability Services. It’s great that ETS provides these opportunities to students, making the test more accessible.

Just because these GRE accommodations are offered, doesn’t mean that the approval process is rudimentary. Students are required to submit a plethora of supporting documentation; if the student does obtain approval, surprises may still surface on test day. That was the experience of one Clemmonsdogpark student, and I’d like to highlight his experience to minimize some of those surprises.

GRE Accommodations Approval Process

Getting approval for disability services takes time, so plan far in advance. You don’t want to do this last minute while trying to also finish your school applications. For the Clemmonsdogpark student, it took 6 weeks to get approval from ETS Disability Services; ETS typically quotes 4-6 weeks of lag time between receiving documentation and making their decision .

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Once he received approval for 50% extra time on test day, he scheduled his test through disability services. Note, if you are registering with any testing accommodations, you cannot do this directly on the ETS website. You will need to do this through ETS Disability Services, and applying for a test this way makes the process even more timely as only certain testing locations are equipped to handle various accommodations. In other words, some testing centers cannot offer their students a “private” room for testing, while others do not have sufficient proctors to monitor a student who needs 100% extra time. Anyhow, this Clemmonsdogpark student was forced to schedule 2+ months out, which he didn’t know about and caused extra frustration for him.

GRE Disability Accommodations on Test Day

Once you get approval, you will be provided some information about what to expect. But they aren’t physically capable of telling you everything. Our Clemmonsdogpark student was flabbergasted by all the discrepancies that occurred on test day versus what his initial preparation had been. Several little issues arose that he wasn’t previously informed of and the information was not readily available online.

First, as with “regular” test-takers, he did not have any experimental or ungraded section. Instead of having 5 sections and a longer testing time, he only saw 4 sections on the test. He spent the months leading up to the test preparing for 5 sections. He practiced his pacing, test-taking endurance, and timing based on the assumption that he’d see 5 sections. If he would’ve know this in advance, he would have very likely changed his approach.

Even though the Clemmonsdogpark student was permitted 50% extra time, there were no extra breaks. For someone who needs to take medication on a regular schedule, this was extremely disruptive and problematic. He had no idea this was going to be the case until GRE test day, when the computer made him press forward after each section with the normal break schedule. At the time, he didn’t realize that he also needed to apply for extra breaks and assumed based on the extended time for testing, extra breaks inherently would be included. Students have to apply for extra breaks as an entirely separate accommodation.

The room he was in might’ve been the biggest surprise. People were walking around during his test. Everyone was on a different time schedule and taking different tests in the room. Throughout the test, new people were coming in and other people were leaving, which made for a very disruptive and distracting environment, particularly for someone with an attention deficit disorder.

Only One Story

Our Clemmonsdogpark student had an average result on the exam—not nearly strong enough for the programs he strives to attend, so he will be attempting the test again. This time he has a better idea of what to expect, and he also knows the GRE accommodations he needs to apply for. However, it has now been 5 weeks since he re-applied for those accommodations, and he still awaits his approval.

He hopes that his story is informative and helps you with your preparation and your test day experience. Of course, remember that all of this is anecdotal. What he experienced won’t necessarily be what you experience, but he hopes that you are prepared for the unexpected now. And if anything, you will be able to plan your studies and test, and you will know the specific learning-based GRE disability accommodations to apply for.

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