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Effective Practices

Leveling the Playing Field With GMAT Accommodations

Accommodations are provided on the GMAT exam for test takers with disabilities to ensure they have equal access to the exam. The point is to assure that a test taker’s disability does not put him or her at a disadvantage. And the opposite is also true: GMAT accommodations are not meant to give an advantage to anyone─with or without disabilities.

“It’s access vs. guaranteed outcomes─leveling the playing field as opposed to facilitating the best possible score,” said Kendra Johnson, director of GMAT accommodations for the Graduate Management Admission Council, speaking recently at a session at GMAC’s Annual Industry Conference in San Diego.

Like other testing organizations, GMAC provides accommodations worldwide under the framework set by the Americans With Disabilities Act. The ADA, as amended in January 2010, places a less demanding standard of the definition of a disability. Examinees seeking test accommodations can expect testing agencies to be exclusively focused on whether the requested accommodations are reasonable and necessary, and less focused on the question, “Are you disabled?” Regardless of the diagnosis, test takers must demonstrate a clear rationale between the impairment reported and the accommodations requested.

“A diagnosis does not necessarily equate to an impairment, and an impairment does not automatically equate to an accommodation,” Johnson said. “The focus is on what you can’t do and why as a result of your condition, and how do the requested accommodations serve to mitigate the condition?”

With annual test volume topping 260,000, the GMAT Accommodations staff, along with the team of medical doctors and psychologists, review approximately 1,700 requests for accommodations each year. Test takers must request accommodations via well in advance of registering for the test, and they must provide current documentation that they have an impairment that limits major life activities, that the impairment would affect their ability to take the GMAT under standard conditions, and that the requested accommodations are appropriate for the impairment.

About 70 percent report learning disabilities and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and 90 percent request extended time. The team looks at not only what about a test taker’s condition will prevent him or her from performing on the GMAT exam, but what accommodation matches the condition.

For example, if a test taker with ADHD can’t focus for long periods of time, giving him extended time to take the test may not make as much sense as providing more frequent breaks, Johnson said. And if the examinee takes medication that helps him or her focus, the impairment may already be addressed without further accommodation.

As there are more gifted students diagnosed with learning disabilities, testing organizations must consider more requests from students wanting not just accommodations to compensate for their learning disabilities but to help them test to their fullest potential. In reviewing such requests, the GMAT Accommodations staff, like other testing organizations, considers how test takers are impaired in comparison with most people from the general population, and not what examinees must have to get the very highest score possible.

GMAT Test Accommodations must strike a delicate balance with test security, test fairness, and test integrity, Johnson said. Tests taken with accommodations are not scored any differently, nor are accommodations flagged on Official Score Reports. And a recent study conducted by GMAC researchers, adjusting for other demographic factors, found no meaningful or statistically significant differences in the distribution of GMAT scores for accommodated versus non-accommodated test takers.

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