History of My Battle for Accommodations – MCAT 2015

accommodationsIn my last post, about registering to take the MCAT this September, I mentioned that I was originally going to take it two years ago but was denied the accommodations I requested. It’s a much longer story than that, and it’s a battle I need to gear up for once again.

And that’s a topic I want to tackle a bit here. People who know me in real life know that I hardly ever use any sort of accommodations on tests. I want to be treated like everyone else, take the tests in the class with everyone else. And if I could have done that with the MCAT, I would’ve.

But, the problem with the MCAT is that it’s computer-based. I use computers (and my phone and my iPad) all the time, for long periods of time and it’s no problem, but that’s because of one very important setting, which is the ability to invert the colors so that I’m looking at white letters on a black background. I can do that for longer than I probably should, but a regular monitor with a white background just kills my eyes. I’m in pain within a few minutes and it’s really hard for me to track on that setup.

Even when I use the PCs at school (macs automatically come with the invert colors setting available with just the touch of a few keys) to try to print something, I spend like ten minutes just trying to find the mouse and losing track of it and squinting because my eyes are killing me and losing the mouse again, and about one minute actually opening a file and printing. That’s the other thing, when there’s a tiny white mouse arrow icon on a white background, I just can’t see it or track it. There’s just no way I could take a test over several hours like that.

The computers for the MCAT have something called ZoomText, which is an adaptive program, but it’s functions are limited for the test, and inverting colors isn’t one of them that’s available, and I don’t know if you can do anything about the mouse (again, not to be an Apple brat (but I so am), it is SO easy to deal with mouse issues on a mac, and they actually make it the opposite color of the background by default) so I knew the main thing I needed was to take a paper test.

Just to be clear, on the full version of ZoomText, there is some inverting colors capability (though not nearly as user-friendly or consistent as what comes built into my comp right out of the box) but that function isn’t available on the MCAT version of ZoomText. The computers at the testing centers just don’t have the full version of ZoomText.

And really, I’d much rather take the computer one if it were adaptable. I’ve taken computer-based practice MCATs and it offers features like the ability to highlight sections and strikeout answer choices you’ve ruled out. I don’t know for sure but I don’t think you can write on a paper test at all. So, if it was possible for me to take it on a computer (if they offered the inverting colors option), I would rather do that. But they don’t. So paper it was. And I asked for large print. Again, not something I usually use, but on a science-based test, there are bound to be little subscripts in chemical formulas and such.

It was a huge process. I had to go to the eye doctor and have them fill out an MCAT accommodations form. It was challenging to even make the appointment because I hard time explaining that I needed an appointment for a testing accommodations form. No one at any local eye clinic seemed to have any idea what that meant. Then once I had the appointment, I had a hard time actually getting the filled out form and the letter from the eye doctor. I had to call and call and almost missed the deadline. Along with that, I had to gather all kinds of other proof of my disability. I had to get proof that I’d taken the SAT with accommodations (which was a little daunting since I took the SAT in 1998 and that was a whole runaround to get those records, which turned out not to be very specific). There were all kinds of other forms to collect, and I had to write a cover letter and fill out some forms about my request. I also had to register for the MCAT.

Then I waited, and waited, and waited. Finally, I got the response that my request was denied. Turns out they don’t have a large print paper version or something (though I had to sort of piece things together from the denial to figure that out). They said I could use the limited version of ZoomText even though I had said in all the forms that if nothing else, I needed the paper test even if it was regular print. I don’t know if they didn’t read it or just didn’t care. Or if I didn’t make it clear enough to the people filling out other forms. Of course, I got this denial at a time when it would be too late to do anything to appeal or change the decision for the test. So I spent all that money for the test, and getting old SAT records, etc, all for nothing.

I honestly get exhausted and discouraged just thinking about that whole ordeal.

I was half-heartedly thinking about trying to take it last year, but just not sure I had the energy to go through all of that crap again. Then a friend who took it awhile before I was planning to said that all the seats in our area were taken already for the whole year (which turned out to be true). Everyone wanted to take the old version before the new 2015 incarnation came out, so all the spots were taken.

So, now it’s 2015 and I can’t put this off forever. Time to finally tackle the beast, and by that, I don’t just mean take the test, which is a beast in itself, but also take on the quest for accommodations once again. I signed up for the last date this year so that I have plenty of time to get all my documents together again (I really hope I can find that SAT form rather than having to call the SAT testing company and try to get my accommodation records again) and hopefully get a decision earlier, in case I do need to appeal. And also to give me time to study for the test. Sept 23 is toward the very end of my big break from work and school that lasts from late August to late Sept. So the timing was actually kind of perfect.

Timing was kind of perfect in another way too. I had been so frustrated about not being able to take it before, and about having to take the new version (more on that in a hot minute, aka in a later post) but sometimes you can look back at something and see that there was actually a benefit to things not working out as you originally planned and this is one of those times. That’s because, as of this new 2015 version of the MCAT, they will no longer be flagging accommodations!

The MCAT is, I think, one of the very last tests to finally drop the flagging; most tests have already dropped it awhile ago because research showed that there was no real difference in students’ abilities to succeed in whatever type of school between those who took with accommodations and those who didn’t. So the MCAT has finally joined everyone else and dropped the process of flagging people who use accommodations on the test. That means that my score will be looked at just like anyone else’s instead of being flagged as different.

Because seriously, the fact that I have serious light sensitivity and am bothered by glare and a mouse with no contrast to that glaring background has nothing to do with my ability to answer content or logic questions.

So I’m psyched about that, and had no idea that was coming until it happened.

That part is great, and we’ll have to see what happens in terms of actually getting accommodations this time around. Uggggggh, the process. I so don’t want to do it again, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do.

~EJ

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3 thoughts on “History of My Battle for Accommodations – MCAT 2015

  1. Jesus Fucking Christ, bureaucrats are such assholes. They act like if anyone wants something they must be up to no good, so it’s their job to make sure they don’t get it. Like they’re afraid if they give one person what they need they might have to give it to everybody.

    • So true. A few years ago, when I told someone at my school’s Disability Resource Center that I was going to take the MCAT, she sort of shuddered and said, “Good luck,” in that way that told me the office had some experience with MCAT testing accommodations, and that there was little hope or none at all.

      Really hoping it goes better this time. I think I have post-traumatic stress from the last process because even trying to start the process for this time has me very on edge and wanting to cry. It just all felt so unfair and hopeless the last time around.

      Ugh.

      ~EJ

  2. This sounds like it would be a fairly straightforward matter for a judge to resolve, and I’d be surprised if it would be difficult to find a lawyer to take it on pro bono. The point is moot now, since you crushed it, but that’s an avenue I’d have thought your school’s Disability Resource Center might have thought of.

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