Do I qualify for testing accommodations?
The Federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination. An applicant with a disability, who is qualified to sit for the bar examination and who proves a disability related need, is entitled to reasonable testing accommodations.
To ensure that your application for accommodations is complete, accurate, applies to your needs and conforms to the law, it is important to be familiar with the legal terminology for a disability and how it applies in the context of testing accommodations.
“Disability” means a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities.42 U.S.C. § 12102(2).
"Physical impairment" means a physiological disorder or condition or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the body’s systems.29 C.F.R. § 1630.2 (h)(1).
"Mental impairment" means a mental or psychological disorder such as organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, attention deficit disorder and specific learning disabilities.29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(h)(2).
“Substantially limits” means unable to perform a major life activity that an average person in the general population can perform, or, significantly restricted in the manner or duration in which the individual can perform that activity. 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2 (j)(1).
“Major life activities” includes self-care, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating and working.29 C.F.R. §1630.2(i).
“Qualified applicant with a disability” means an individual with a disability who has met all the requirements to sit for the California Bar Exam and who is otherwise qualified to take the exam with or without reasonable accommodations.29 C.F.R. §1630.2 (m).
“Reasonable testing accommodations” means accommodations or adjustments that alleviate the impact of the applicant’s impairment without:
If you seek accommodations, be prepared to disclose all pertinent information that will allow the bar examiners to make an informed decision.
Remember that “reasonable accommodations” for the purposes of the bar or MPRE does not necessarily mean ideal accommodations.
The Applicant’s Burden Under the ADA
Applicants have the burden of persuasion to establish that:
1)They have a disability as defined by the ADA and
2)They have a need for nonstandard test accommodations.
Once an applicant establishes a prima facie case, the burden switches to the bar examiners to explain why the requested accommodations cannot be provided.
However, if you are denied accommodations the bar examiners will claim it was because you failed to establish your prima facie case. That is why documentation is important.
Applicants who received testing accommodations in law school are not necessarily granted the same accommodations on the bar. The Committee considers accommodations received in law school as one of many factors in determining whether a person will receive accommodations for the bar exam, but it is not a deciding factor.
Timeline for Requesting Accommodations
Submit your requests for exam accommodations as far in advance of the filing deadline as possible. How early you can apply depends upon the nature of your disability. Some accommodations petitions require supporting documentation dated within one year of the filing deadline, while others require documentation within five years. Disabilities that must be updated within five years include learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD and permanent physical disabilities. Disabilities that require documentation within one year include most mental health conditions and most types of physical impairments.
Should I apply for testing accommodations?
If you have any special issues or needs that could affect your performance on the Bar exam, think about whether you may need accommodations. Even if you never used testing accommodations in law school, understand that the bar exam is different. The California bar exam is designed to last three full days. Test-takers sit for several-hour stretches in folding chairs with little or no back support. The bar exam is a stressful process for all examinees, with or without disabilities. Examinees with disabilities, however, can find the process particularly troublesome.Standard exam conditions fail to account for the impact of a disability on the Bar exam itself or on the examinee’s health.
Accommodations are intended to ameliorate the impact of an applicant’s disability on the exam process. Evaluate your needs carefully to be certain you are not overlooking something that could impact your performance.
Applying for accommodations takes time and effort. Applicants are not guaranteed to get each accommodation requested. Still, it is important to petition for any accommodations you believe are necessary. Accommodations could make a critical difference in whether you pass or fail these crucial exams.
Who should prepare a bar exam accommodations request?
If you think you might need accommodations for the bar and need assistance with the process, please contact the Disability Resource Program.
Lisa Noshay Petro, Director
Disability Resource Program
198 McAllister, Room 440
Laura Andrews Navas, Senior Program Coordinator
Disability Resource Program
198 McAllister, Room 442
Doctors may not be familiar with how the law defines disability under the ADA. For instance, the doctor may believe that a person is only disabled if that person is unable to work. It may be helpful to give your doctor some basic information about disability law and the types of conditions that might qualify as disabilities. Doctors do not need to make legal conclusions about whether you are protected under the ADA or FEHA, they need only to document your condition and how it affects your activities.
If you received accommodations during law school, you are already familiar with asking your doctor or diagnostician to complete accommodations requests. At University of California law schools, students requesting accommodations use Disability Documentation forms. These forms give treating doctors or diagnosticians an opportunity to read about the ADA and provide them an opportunity to explain how a specified impairment affects a particular student. If you received accommodations in law school, bring this documentation to your appointment with you. These forms give an idea of the level of specificity the Committee is looking for.
Remember that most doctors have not taken the bar or professional responsibility exams. It will be helpful to give details about how the exams work. The more the doctor knows about the format of the bar exam and the MPRE, the better prepared the doctor is in evaluating your limitations and needs in the context of the exams.
Give your doctor as much information as he needs to complete the forms, even if it means volunteering information the doctor may already know. If you take medication the doctor should evaluate whether the medication might impact your ability to take the exam.
For example, you may take medication to alleviate – mitigate – pain. Under the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, a person’s disability must be evaluated without regard to mitigating measures. The fact that your medication controls some of your symptoms is not something that should be considered in deciding whether you are disabled. However, the medication itself may cause other functional limitations in a test taking environment. If the medication causes excessive fatigue or impairs your ability to focus or type, the doctor should explain that in the documentation.
You also may wish to consult with an expert in the field for your type of disability. The expert can help determine whether your medical and other supporting documentation is adequate and appropriate for the type of accommodations you’re seeking. The expert may also wish to write you an opinion, which you may submit with your petition. This will give the Committee a more complete picture of your disability and how it impacts you on an exam.
You have a right to be treated in a nondiscriminatory manner. You are entitled to testing accommodations if you establish your disability and your need for the accommodations. However, your petition is only as good as the documentation provided.
Make sure your documentation is COMPREHENSIVE, CURRENT, and COMPLETE.
By COMPREHENSIVE we mean that
(a) your doctor(s) not only needs to fill out the forms required by the MPRE/Bar, but also provide a comprehensive evaluation report, some form of which is required for virtually every type of disability or impairment. If you are ruling in or ruling out Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or a Learning Disorder (a.k.a. specific learning disability) (LD), you will need to obtain a thorough psychoeducational assessment. These reports can be 15-30+ pages, depending upon the test battery, whether you have co-occurring conditions (more than one disability or diagnosis), and the thoroughness of the clinician. If you are diagnosed with any type of psychological disability like Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or Bipolar Disorder, your treating specialist will need to write a comprehensive psychological evaluation report, which can be 6-10 pages long, also depending on several factors. We advise every student who has or thinks they might have ADHD or LD, and/or a psychological disability of this during the initial intake meeting. Please make an appointment to meet with the Director to discuss the process for obtaining such an assessment, financial considerations and options, and referrals to specialists who are familiar with the State Bar/MPRE requirements.
(b) for many of the above-mentioned conditions, your “documentation” not only consists of what your doctor provides you, but any type of “third party, objective, corroborating evidence” that you can provide to document that your disability “substantially limits one or more major life activities” such as K-12 report cards with teacher comments, records from a 504 or Individualized Education Plan (IEP) proving you received Special Education services in K-12, undergraduate and law school transcripts (be prepared to explain good grades, as well as poor grades), job/volunteer performance evaluations, prior diagnoses or evidence of hospitalization, letters from previous doctors, or proof that you were provided accommodations in other testing situations like on the SATs, LSAT, MPRE or in undergrad, or K-12. If you are only now being diagnosed as an adult, it is not uncommon not to have much in the way of “objective evidence.” How to figure out what you might have, and what to say if you don’t have anything like this, is one thing we can talk about during a one-on-one meeting.
What is considered CURRENT depends on the nature of your disability, and the extent of your history of diagnosis/accommodations:
(a) Physical disabilities: The Bar generally requires an evaluation that has been conducted within the last year, due to the changing nature of many physical disabilities or chronic health conditions; older reports may be accepted if supplemented by an update and rationale as to why a more recent evaluation has not been conducted. The MPRE is essentially the same, but their MPRE Guidelines for Physical and Chronic Health Conditions Documentation is more explicit and worth reviewing.
(b) Learning Disabilities: Although the Bar acknowledges that a LD is a lifelong condition, they assert that “the severity and manifestation can change.” They generally require that the comprehensive psychoeducational assessment evaluation report be completed within the last 5 years. The MPRE is essentially the same (5 years), but notes that an older evaluation may be considered if conducted when the applicant was age 21 or older and they have an established history of LD. See their MPRE Guidelines for Learning Disabilities Documentation for more information.
(c) ADHD: The Bar generally requires that the comprehensive evaluation report be conducted within the last 5 years. Note that the MPRE generally requires within the last 3 years, but states that an older evaluation, if applicable to an MPRE-like setting and conducted when the applicant was age 21 or older, may be considered. For more information, review the MPRE Guidelines for ADHD Documentation.
(d) Psychological disabilities: The Bar does not specifically state a guideline for “currency,” but given that the symptoms of psychological disabilities are quite variable, and may fluctuate due to a number of factors, we strongly recommend the evaluation report be within the last 12 months. This is consistent with the MPRE’s guidelines, as well. It could be that an older report may be sufficient if supplemented by an update, similar to physical disabilities and chronic health conditions. For more information, review the MPRE Guidelines for Psychological Disabilities.
(e) Visual disabilities: This really varies greatly depending on the individual and the condition. The Bar does not specify a “currency” guideline and neither does the MPRE, but unless your condition is long-standing, fixed and unchanging, and well-documented, we would recommend the comprehensive evaluation report be within the last 12 months. The MPRE Guidelines for Visual Disabilities Documentation is actually an additional form your doctor must fill out.
By COMPLETE we mean that you should have all this material already pulled together, plus any additional, supplementary documentation, sometimes referred to as third-party or objective “corroborating evidence.” That is, the MPRE and the Bar will ask you to show evidence of “real world impairment.” Although legally you should not have to document a “history of failure” to “prove you are ‘disabled enough’” to warrant accommodation, the MPRE and the Bar have thus far persisted in using this standard, so be prepared to provide this material if you do in fact have it. Keep good records of all information related to your disability(ies); information you don’t think you need could prove vital to the committee’s decision.
The type of additional documentation we are talking about again depends on the nature of your disability, how it impacts you, and how long you have had the disability(ies) in question. In addition to the examples provided earlier, such documentation could include Veteran Affairs (VA), Workers’ Compensation, or Department of Rehabilitation (DoR) Disability Determination letters; letters from the Disabled Students Services office from your undergrad institution; or a letter from a supervisor explaining “informal” accommodations you received at work or a volunteer position.
“Complete” also refers to your narrative (optional – but highly recommended – for the MPRE; Page 2 Question 2 on Form A for the Bar.) Your narrative should be as long or as short as it takes for you to “describe the nature and extent of your specific disability or disabilities, when and how it/they were first identified, how it/they affect your daily life and describe the functional limitations related to your disability that directly affect your ability to take the examination.” To put it another way, you want to make sure you describe the nexus between your diagnosis, your symptoms/functional limitations, any “snowball effect” that stems from those symptoms (e.g., chronic pain is a symptom, but chronic pain can also impair concentration), how this “substantially limits one or more major life activities,” and exactly how/why they impair your ability to take the exam under standard conditions. You also need to state the rationale(s) for each and every accommodation request, even if you feel you’ve already explained the rationale(s.)
This entire process of obtaining or curating your documentation, and in particular, drafting your narrative, is not only time consuming, it can trigger painful memories and be emotionally draining. Many students find it helpful to work with an experienced psychotherapist during this process. If you do not already have a treating psychotherapist, we encourage you to reach out to Student Health Services (SHS) for support and referrals.
Each state has rules governing allowable supplies and examinee conduct during the bar exam. The governing rules for bar exam accommodations are Rule 4.80 et seq. of the Rules Regulating Admission to Practice Law in California. All accommodations requests require documentation from a physician or a diagnostician.
How the process works:
Any applicant seeking nonstandard testing accommodations must petition, following guidelines established by the Committee of Bar Examiners (the Committee). The petition requires completing a series of forms.All applicants must submit a Petition For Testing Accommodations (Form A). Applicants who received testing accommodations in law school must submit a Law School Verification form (Form F).
Additional forms needed are specific to the applicant’s disability and must be completed by a diagnostician or physician. If the Committee learns that an applicant filled out the forms on behalf of a doctor or diagnostician, the accommodations request will be returned and required to be resubmitted once it is completed by an appropriate professional.
To ensure petitions are complete, all forms should be submitted at the same time. Do not alter the forms in any way. Do not copy or paste them into text editing programs. If this requires hand writing or typewriting answers directly onto the forms, please do so.Inconsistencies from one petition to the next make screening petitions more difficult and could result in a petition being rejected.
Be as thorough as possible when completing the forms. Often this will mean attaching additional documentation. If a petition is incomplete or vague the accommodation can be denied or returned to the applicant for further information.
Be as specific as possible about the origin of the disability or impairment and how it affects your ability to take the bar exam. Explain how the accommodations requested will ameliorate the impact of the disability.
For example, an applicant might have a back condition that causes back pain and requires regular breaks to avoid further injury. If the applicant puts “back pain” on the petition and requests additional time the Committee may lack the information to make an informed decision.
The applicant and his or her physician should instead explain that the applicant has a specified condition, such as spinal deterioration or a herniated disc, and that it is recommended that to avoid severe impairment the applicant take a five minute off-the-clock break every hour.
If an applicant has an intermittent physically disabling condition, the Committee also considers the likelihood that a person will have an occurrence of the debilitating condition. The Committee will accommodate for conditions that are substantially likelyto occur. However, it will not accommodate for conditions that only might occur.
For instance an applicant who has a severe visual impairment may strain to read. This strain, over several hours, gives the applicant a severe headache. Accommodations could be made to test format so that the applicant takes a periodic break from reading.
By contrast, an applicant may suffer from unpredictable migraines that only strike for a few days a month. When a migraine strikes, the applicant must stop working and rest immediately. However, because the applicant cannot predict that he or she will get a migraine during the exam, the applicant is unlikely to get testing accommodations for this contingency.
Attach any documentation that could be helpful to the bar in verifying the disability or impairment. Unless the applicant’s disability is something that cannot and will not change, it is important to have documentation that is recent. This is particularly important for applicants who have conditions that can change over time. The Committee generally requires documentation within the past five years. However, since accommodations are intended to address an applicant’s current level of disability, conditions that may change such as mental health conditions or physical impairments that vary in severity require documentation within the past year.
Some examples of accommodations include:
The forms list many types of accommodations, but other accommodations can be made if they are shown to ensure the applicant is testing on a level playing field.
Petition for the specific accommodations you need and explain why those accommodations are necessary. There must be a direct relationship between the requested accommodation and the disability.
If the Committee disagrees that a specific accommodation is needed, it will generally not suggest an alternative. It will ask you to provide further documentation or reject the petition. When an applicant requests accommodated time, the Committee does sometimes grant a modified time request (for example a petitioner requesting double-time might be granted time-and-a-half instead.)
The Committee considers each applicant’s petition individually and holistically. If a person has multiple disabilities, the Committee will consider the applicant’s overall functional limitations. A person who has both a physical and learning disability, for example, might ask for additional time to take the exam. The applicant could get denied the accommodation the basis of the physical disability and granted the accommodation on the basis of the learning disability, or granted or denied the time based on an overall assessment that it is not needed.
As a person with a disability, you are aware of how your disability impacts your functioning.
However, an administrator making a decision about accommodations does not know you. All the information that person has to make a decision about whether you need accommodations is that which is presented in your petition. Even if you think there is a clear, logical connection between your disability and the accommodation requested, you still need to present facts and information – evidence – that will allow a fact finder to decide in favor of granting you what you need.
For example: A deaf applicant might petition for accommodated time to take the bar exam. A person reading the petition may not see the connection between being deaf and the need for additional time. The applicant would need to provide documentation that this disability affects the applicant’s reading fluency, resulting in it taking more time than average to read the exam text.
The Committee sends each applicant an acknowledgment letter when the petition is complete and ready for review. If you do not receive an acknowledgment within 30 days of filing your petition, contact the State Bar.
The State Bar contracts with a team of specialists who review specific petitions. Whether a given applicant’s petition is reviewed by a specialist will depend on the nature of the disability. All petitions requesting accommodations for Learning Disabilities, ADHD and mental health disabilities are reviewed by a contracted consultant. Some physical disabilities are also reviewed by a consultant. This is often the case when the applicant’s condition is unusual or rare and/or the accommodation requested is atypical for the condition. Do not assume that the consultant will be familiar with all recommended accommodations for your disability (for example, the use of a larger font for a learning disability or ADHD).
Sometimes the Committee will seek additional information from the original doctor or diagnostician who completed the petition forms. In these cases the Committee first seeks the applicant’s permission. If the Committee seeks more information from an applicant, the applicant is sent a letter. The applicant has 30 days from the date of the letter to respond to the request. If the applicant does not respond or responds beyond the deadline, the petition is processed based on the information submitted.
Each applicant is sent a letter when the Committee has reviewed the accommodations request.
If a requested accommodation is modified or denied, the letter will contain excerpts of consultant’s reports so that the applicant understands why the petition was modified or denied. The applicant has 10 days from the date of denial to file an appeal. The 10 day deadline can be extended for good cause.
An applicant appeals by sending a letter of appeal and additional documentation that can help the Committee make a decision. Upon receipt of the appeal, the person reviewing the application can reverse or modify the decision. If the reviewer is still undecided about whether the accommodation is necessary, the appeal is reviewed by a subcommittee. The subcommittee considers all the reports from the treating doctors and consultants and makes a determination on whether to grant the accommodation(s).
The Committee aims to respond to all accommodations requests within 60 days of submission. Applicants who have not heard from the State Bar within 60 days should contact our testing accommodations department to determine their petition status.
All forms necessary to apply for accommodations are available online at:
Petitions are processed in San Francisco. Petitions sent elsewhere will be rerouted to the San Francisco Office. Send the forms to:
180 Howard Street
San Francisco, California 94105-1639
If you have a disability that requires any deviation from the standard test administration policies or schedule, you must request testing accommodations. Please review the Test Day Policies for information on items that are and are not allowed at the test center and test administration policies. Please visit the NCBE's MPRE Accommodations webpage for detailed information on the accommodations process. Below is an overview of the process.
Here is a list of some of the most common accommodations:
This list is not exclusive.
Health Related Needs and Courtesy Arrangements
If an examinee has a health-related condition that can be accommodated in a standard testing room, without deviation from the standard testing schedule, the examinee may not have to submit a formal request for accommodations. Instead, the examinee may request courtesy arrangements. Some common courtesy arrangements include
A letter from your medical professional typically is required for any courtesy arrangements. Contact MPRE Test Accommodation Services for instructions on how to request a courtesy arrangement.
Medically Related Items Allowed in the Test Center
Examinees are allowed to bring certain items in a clear plastic bag. Examples of permitted items include, unwrapped cough drops or hard candy, medication, and glucose tablets or gel. It is not necessary to submit a request to bring items that are expressly permitted by the policies. Please refer to the Test Day Policies for a list of permitted items.
Medical aids that are necessary to walk or move, (cane, crutches, walker, wheelchair, service animal, prosthetic limb, cast, brace, or sling), to communicate (hearing aid, voice amplifier), or are required for medical or health reasons (heart monitor, epinephrine auto-injector, insulin pump, glucose monitor, blood sugar testing kit, TENS unit) are allowed without submitting a request. These items may be inspected by test center supervisors.
Accommodation requests must be received by NCBE, by the late registration deadline for your MPRE test date. The deadline also applies to any reconsideration requests. NCBE must receive the request or reconsideration request by the deadline, there are no exceptions. Furthermore, this not a postmark deadline. Applicants whose requests are received fewer than 15 business days before the deadline may not have enough time to submit a request for reconsideration.
How to Apply
Before you can request test accommodations, you must register for the MPRE.
To request test accommodations, complete the following five steps:
1) Complete, print, and sign the Applicant Request Form.
2) You may submit an optional Personal Narrative with your Applicant Request Form. You may include any additional information about your disability, history, and need for accommodations, that you want NCBE to consider. Include your name and NCBE Number on every page of your narrative.
3) Provide medical documentation, from a qualified professional, which demonstrate the nature and existence of your disability, your current functional limitations, and your need for the accommodation(s) requested. The documentation must be current and relevant. The ADA Guidelines for Medical Documentation assist applicants and their professionals in demonstrating the need for accommodations. You should provide your doctor or qualified professional with a copy of the Guidelines applicable to your disability.
4) Provide proof of past accommodations from all testing agencies and educational institutions that have granted you accommodations. The proof may be in the form of a copy of a letter or document, on official letterhead, from the testing agency or school that provided the accommodation. The document must list the accommodations granted and the test date or academic year. If you do not have such documentation, you may have the testing agency or school complete a Certification of Accommodations History Form and return it to you to submit to NCBE.
5) If you are requesting extended testing time for the MPRE, provide NCBE with score reports for all standardized tests (e.g., LSAT, SAT, ACT, GRE) that you have previously taken, whether you received accommodations or not. NCBE accepts photocopies or online versions of score reports. NCBE provides contact information for requesting these scores at http://www.ncbex.org/exams/mpre/ada-accommodations/how-to-apply/.
Submit all forms and documentation in one submission. NCBE recommends that applicants submit their requests and documents by secure upload on the NCBE website. Applicants may also submit their requests by mail or fax to:
National Conference of Bar Examiners
MPRE Test Accommodation Services
302 South Bedford Street
Madison, WI 53703-3622
If you register to take the MPRE again or for another test date, and want to request an accommodation, you must submit a new Applicant Request Form. If you requested accommodations for the MPRE within the preceding two years, you do not need to resubmit the supporting documentation you previously provided (medical documentation, proof of past accommodations, standardized test score reports, personal narrative). Additional or updated documentation may be required if there is any change in the accommodations you are requesting, in your condition, or in your accommodations history. If you were granted accommodations by other testing agencies or schools since you last requested accommodations on the MPRE, proof of those accommodations is necessary.
MPRE Accommodations Decisions
NCBE usually makes decisions within 10-15 business days of receipt. If your request is granted in whole or in part, NCBE will post an Accommodations Confirmation to your NCBE Account File Cabinet listing the approved accommodations and will notify LSAC of your approved accommodations. If the test center that you selected during registration is unable to provide the approved accommodations, LSAC may assign you to a different test center. If your request for accommodations is not granted, you will be notified of the reason(s) for NCBE’s decision. If you disagree with the decision, you may seek reconsideration by submitting a completed Applicant Reconsideration Request Form along with any additional documentation you wish to have considered.
Please review the NCBE MPRE ADA Accommodations webpage for further information.
If you think you might need accommodations for the MPRE and need assistance with the process, please contact the Disability Resource Program.
Lisa Noshay Petro, Director
Disability Resource Program
198 McAllister, Room 440
Laura Andrews Navas, Senior Program Coordinator
Disability Resource Program
198 McAllister, Room 442