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Don’t Let Poor Testing Conditions Ruin Your Saturday

You did it. You are ready. You spent countless hours reviewing content for math and English, speeding up your reading ability to get to every question, honing new strategies for solving higher-level math questions, managing anxiety and building your confidence in your abilities. It’s the big day. All that stands between you and your score goal is…the test proctor?

Each test is administered by a test proctor, usually a high school teacher who is looking to make a few extra dollars on a weekend. They receive training which instructs them to provide their students with identical test conditions. They read instructions out of a manual and usually follow all the rules; however, mistakes do happen. At my sitting of the SAT this past weekend, the proctor forgot to give the 5-minute warning for one of the sections. I had been keeping my eye on the clock, so it didn’t cause me anguish, but I’ll bet more than a few students were surprised when she told them to put their pencils down.

As obvious as it may seem, proctors are people too. They are human; they make mistakes; they also have bad days. Don’t let all your hard work go down the drain because of a testing irregularity. As a student, you have the right to a distraction-free, uniform testing period. Usually proctors will have the same goal in mind, but you may find that you need to advocate for yourself.

What is a proctor required to do to ensure fair testing conditions?

Eliminate distractions

A proctor is responsible for ensuring that there are no disturbances in the classroom. If a student or something else is distracting you, raise your hand and alert the proctor. Do not try to resolve the situation yourself by talking to the student; the proctor may think that you are cheating and have your scores cancelled.

Provide sufficient time

Proctors may occasionally mix up the timing for the sections. If they undertime you for a section, do not wait until the end of the test to notify them. They are required to allow you to make up undertiming on the section before concluding it, allowing a break, or dismissing students. Alternatively, if a proctor overtimes you for one section, he may not take time from another section to make up for his mistake. He is required to provide each subsequent section with the allotted time, no less.

Give time announcements

A proctor may announce time intervals whenever he sees fit, but he must give a five-minute alert before a section ends. You may not be able to get additional time for that section if your proctor forgets the 5-minute notification, but be sure to alert the proctor so that you can get those alerts in future sections.

Provide accurate materials

If you have a defective answer sheet or test booklet, the proctor must allow you time to make up for time lost due to the defect.

What are things you, as a student, can do to ensure a flawless test day, even with an incompetent proctor?

Bring a watch

A classroom is not required to have a clock, and you definitely need more alerts than a 5-minute warning. My classroom had a clock, but it presented the time as 3:11pm during the entire testing period- not too helpful for me to gauge my progress! Bring a watch that has a stopwatch function, and make sure to disable any audible alarms or beeps.

Prepare for distractions

You can’t control normal testing distractions, but you can prepare for them. When you take practice tests or do timed drills, try practicing in a less-than-ideal environment – a public library or a coffee shop. Forcing yourself to work steadily through problems while tuning out annoying side conversations can help you cruise above the shuffling of papers and tapping of pencils that can happen on the actual test. You can strengthen your ability to fight through disturbances and keep your focus on the test.

Don’t wait until the last minute

You should always be ready for the worst-case scenario: a testing irregularity that results in cancelled scores. If your next test scores are cancelled or delayed, due to a testing irregularity or suspicion of cheating, do you have a back up test in mind? By planning for several test sittings, you can ensure that a poor test day will not derail your college goals.

When to alert ETS about a testing irregularity

It is unfortunate that the only opportunity for students to voice a complaint is by completing a testing irregularity form. Scores may be delayed while the complaint is being investigated, and may even be cancelled. The College Board states that, “When testing irregularities occur, ETS may cancel an administration or individual registrations, decline to score the test, or cancel the test score. ETS may do so whether or not the affected students caused the testing irregularities, benefited from them, or engaged in misconduct.” While this situation rarely happens, it is immensely disappointing for hardworking students who did not cause the irregularity.

You may not personally benefit from reporting a testing irregularity. In fact, your scores may be delayed or even cancelled; however, by reporting administrative errors such as improper timing or defective materials, you can help ensure that future students do not have to experience the poor test conditions that you did.

We have heard anecdotal stories from our students about proctors who forbid their students from using graphing calculators for the math section, or gave their students “all the time they needed” for certain sections of the test. The pendulum can swing both ways; some irregularities hurt student performance, others unfairly benefit it. Regardless of the irregularity, it is important as a student to know your rights as a test taker and to be ready in case your proctor deviates from expectations.


Applerouth is a trusted test prep and tutoring resource. We combine the science of learning with a thoughtful, student-focused approach to help our clients succeed. Call or email us today at 202-558-5644 or info@applerouth.com.