Skip to content

Scribes and Test Readers

Guidelines for a Scribe
A scribe is a person who writes down or records the test-taker’s responses. The scribe does not correct spelling, create answers for the test taker or help the test taker identify correct answers. The scribe simply writes the test-taker’s answers down on the test or answer sheet or types them into a computer.

The following guidelines outline the responsibilities of a scribe for a test taker with a disability. >Note: Only test administration staff may be assigned to serve as a scribe for a test taker.

Multiple-choice Questions
Sometimes a test taker, because of his or her disability, has trouble speaking clearly or distinctly. The scribe should confirm the test taker’s response. If the scribe cannot understand a test taker’s speech, or it is barely audible, large cards, each indicating one of the four or five test options, can be used. The test taker can then choose the appropriate card.

Essay or Constructed-response Questions
Test takers with disabilities must be given the same opportunity as other test takers to plan, draft and revise their essays or constructed responses. This means that the scribe may write down an outline or other plan as directed by the test taker. The scribe must write down the words of the test taker exactly as dictated. When the essay or constructed response is finished, the test taker may read the essay or response and dictate revisions. If the test taker’s disability prevents him or her from reading the essay or constructed response, the scribe may read it aloud and allow the test taker to dictate revisions.

The scribe’s responsibility is to be both accurate and fair, neither diminishing the fluency of the test taker nor helping to improve or alter what the test taker asks to be recorded.

The scribe’s role includes the following considerations:

  • The scribe must write only what the test taker dictates.
  • The scribe may not prompt the test taker in a way that would result in a better essay or response. For example, prompts such as, “Let’s list reasons to support your position” or “Do you want to give more examples?” give the test taker an unfair advantage and are inappropriate.
  • However, the scribe may respond to questions such as, “Where are we on my outline?” by pointing to and reading the outline.
  • The scribe should ask for the spelling of commonly misspelled words and homonyms such as to, two and too; or there, their and they’re. If the test taker uses a word that is unfamiliar to the scribe or a word that the scribe does not know how to spell, the scribe should ask the test taker to spell it.

Because good essay and constructed-response writing demands fluency, the scribe’s job is to record the test taker’s production accurately without making the task even more complicated. Clearly, a well-educated scribe could improve the mechanics (spelling, capitalization and punctuation) of a weak essay or response. On the other hand, even a capable scribe who had to spell out every word would begin to sound stilted. The scribe’s responsibility, therefore, is to strike a balance.

Test takers must:

  • indicate the beginning and end of each sentence and paragraph
  • indicate all punctuation marks
  • unless the use of a dictionary has been approved by ETS, spell all commonly misspelled words and all words associated with a topic such as geographic places and people’s names, without reference to a dictionary
  • Test takers, after indicating that they know to start a sentence with a capital letter and end with a period, or to capitalize the letter “I” when referring to themselves, do not have to continue to specify these conventions throughout. The scribe should apply these automatically.

The essay or response must be written in longhand or typed, as approved by the testing program. The test taker should have an opportunity to review and revise the essay or response providing the time allotted has not expired. Cross-outs and insertions are allowed and are not penalized, as for all test takers. Persons who score the essays or constructed responses will not be informed that any testing accommodations were allowed.

The scribe will have to make many decisions about how to proceed in situations that are not described above. The guiding principle in making these decisions should be that the process should neither help nor penalize the test taker.

Test Center Procedures for Using a Scribe
1. An approved scribe will be admitted to the test center with the test taker; the scribe’s photo bearing identification will be checked.
2. Prior to the start of the exam, the test center administrator/supervisor will review the Guidelines with the test taker and the scribe, and will set the ground rules for the conduct of the examination.
3. The test administrator will remain in attendance at all times during the test administration.
4. An approved scribe is not present to function as an aide to the test center staff. It is inappropriate to ask the scribe to perform clerical duties of any kind. The scribe should not be asked to assume any responsibilities belonging to the center staff or the test taker.
5. Test center staff must ensure that proper test security is maintained. It is important that the test administrator ask questions and avoid any hasty interpretations of what may be communication of test content or exchange of information between the test taker and the scribe that might give the test taker an unfair advantage. Discussion or communication concerning interpretation of test content is not permitted. If such discussion occurs and cannot be controlled, or if test center staff observe anything they deem unusual, the situation should be reported on the Supervisor’s Irregularity Report (SIR) or the Electronic Irregularity Report (EIR) and the test taker advised of your action.

The test center administrator may also stop the test and dismiss the test taker if he or she believes that the scribe has provided the test taker with any unfair advantage. In such instances, ETS reserves the right to cancel the test taker’s score.

Guidelines for a Test Reader
A person who reads the test aloud to the test taker. Typically for an individual with learning disabilities or traumatic brain injury or a test taker who is blind or has low vision. A reader reads the test directions, questions and answer choices to the test taker. A reader does not interpret, reword or explain the test, though the reader may repeat test content at the test taker’s request.

Procedures for Readers
1. Readers review the test format, subject matter and sample test questions in the testing program’s information bulletin or the testing program’s website.
2. Prior to beginning the test, readers can meet with the test taker, who should be encouraged to discuss matters that will affect test performance, e.g., how to determine the amount of remaining time and how the reader can help pace the test taker through the test. The opportunity to discuss such questions and concerns before the test administration begins will make the test administration more effective and fair and will help to minimize misunderstandings and misinterpretations.
3. Test takers who are blind or who have low vision may also have special tools or equipment (e.g., abacus, brailler, slate, stylus) that have been approved for use during the test. These tools offer no special advantage but are comparable to paper and pencil. The most important consideration is for the reader and the test taker to share the same expectations about what is to happen, how much time is allowed and how all the tasks will be accomplished.
4. The test taker may require all or portions of the test to be read aloud. The test taker depends on the reader to read the test questions accurately, pronounce words correctly and speak in a clear voice throughout the test, which may go on for several hours. 
5. Readers are to read only the test questions. Readers should not try to solve problems or determine the correct answer as they read because this may result in an unconscious pause or change in inflection that could be misleading or disconcerting to the test taker. The expression of the readers’ face should remain neutral. No smile or frown to indicate approval or disapproval.
6. Read each question as clearly as possible. Give special emphasis to words printed in boldface, italics or capitals and tell the test taker that the words are printed that way. Readers are not to give their own emphasis to words not emphasized in print.
7. If readers find an unfamiliar word or one that they are not sure how to pronounce, they must advise the test taker of their uncertainty about the word and spell it.
8. When reading a word that is pronounced like another word with a different spelling, spell the word after pronouncing it.
9. Spell any words requested by the test taker.
10. Avoid getting into conversation about the test questions, but try to respond to the test taker’s questions by repeating the item, words or instructions as needed.
11. When reading passages, pay attention to all punctuation marks. Read the passage through once so that the test taker can grasp the content of the passage. Some test takers may ask for the passage to be read through a second time with punctuation marks indicated. When required or asked to read, with punctuation, specific lines within a passage, indicate all punctuation found within those lines.
12. When test questions refer to particular lines of a passage, reread the lines before reading the question and answer choices. For example, you might say, ‘Question X refers to the following lines …’ Reading the lines referred to would then be followed by reading question X and its response options.

Special Considerations for Multiple-choice Tests
1. Be particularly careful to equally stress each response option and read all of them before waiting for a response. The test taker will record the answer or provide the answer to the test administrator (writer), who will record it for the test taker.
2. If you are recording answers and if the test taker designates a response choice by letter only (“D,” for example), ask if you should reread the complete response before the answer is recorded.
3. If the test taker chooses an answer before you have read all the answer choices, ask if you should read the other response options.
4. Allow the test taker to pause before responding. However, if the test taker pauses for a considerable time following your reading of the answer choices, say: “Do you want me to read the question again … or any part of it?” In rereading questions, be careful to avoid any special emphasis on words not emphasized in the printed copy by italics or capitals.

Mathematics Reading
A test taker is permitted to ask the reader to write notes and to assist with intermediate steps in computing mathematics problems, especially if the test taker has no tools or equipment for taking notes or is unable to do so. For example, in the multiplication of numbers (e.g., 17 × 521), a test taker may say, “Seven times one is seven. Put down the seven. Seven twos are fourteen. Put down the four to the left of the seven and carry the one.” The test taker should be specific in directions to the reader as to what he or she writes, in which column to write it, what to carry, etc.

Mathematical expressions must be read precisely and with care to avoid misrepresentation for a test taker who has no visual reference. For math items involving algebraic expressions or other mathematical notation, it may be preferable for the reader to silently read the entire question before reading it aloud to the test taker. Use technically correct yet simple terms and be consistent in the treatment of similar expressions. Some typical expressions and the manner in which they should be read follow:

(a) Lowercase letters that are juxtaposed should be read as a multiplication expression: e.g.,
xy should be read as “x y,” unless it is part of a complex expression or this reading is otherwise unclear, in which case read it as “x times y.”

(b) Capital and lowercase letters should be differentiated because they can have different meanings in mathematical or scientific expressions.
e.g., R – 2y = 6 should be read as “Capital R minus two y equals six.”

© Simple numerical fractions should be read as fractions: e.g., 5/6 should be read as “five sixths.”

However, similar letter expressions can be read as one letter “over” another: e.g., a/b should be read as “a over b.”

(d) To prevent confusion, complicated fractions (those that contain other mathematical operations) should be read in terms of their numerators and denominators: e.g., b+d/c should be read as “a fraction with numerator b plus d and denominator c.”

If there is any question as to where the fraction ends, say “end fraction.”

(e) Negative numbers should be read as “negative.”
e.g., -5 should be read as “negative five,” not “minus five.”
When a subtraction operation is involved, read the sign as “minus,” e.g.,
x – 5 should be read as “x minus five.”

(f) Expressions containing multiple mathematical operations should be read exactly as they appear. Expressions containing parentheses or brackets can be read in any of the following three ways:

quantity, close quantity
paren, close paren (or bracket, close bracket)
left paren, right paren (or left bracket, right bracket)
For “paren, close paren” or “left paren, right paren,” it is also acceptable to use “parenthesis” instead of “paren.” If you use the term “quantity,” in complicated expressions, announce where enclosed portions end by saying “end quantity.”
e.g., (2x – 6y) – 10 could be read
as “The quantity two x minus six y, close quantity, minus ten;”
as “paren, two x minus six y, close paren, minus ten;”
or as “left paren, two x minus six y, right paren, minus ten.”
a (x – y) could be read as “a, parenthesis, x minus y, close parenthesis.”
a × b2 could be read as “a times the square of b.”
*
Use pauses to audibly group sections of an expression together*.
z + (-a) could be read as “z plus [PAUSE] paren negative a close paren.”

(g) If equations are used in the test you will be reading:
Since equations are a shorthand means of stating relationships between quantities, the reader’s job is to translate this shorthand back into everyday English. Read equations in this order:
If the equation is numbered, read its number first.
Give the meaning of each letter or symbol.
Read the equation.
e.g.,
Eq. 6-2
E = mc2 E = energy in ergs m = mass in grams c = speed of light in cm./sec.

Read as “Equation six dash two. Capital E equals energy in ergs, m equals mass in grams and c equals the speed of light in centimeters per second. Then, Capital E equals m c squared.”

Test Center Procedures for Using a Reader
1. An approved reader should be admitted to the test center with the test taker. The reader’s photo-bearing identification should be checked.
2. Prior to the start of the exam, the test center administrator/supervisor will review the Guidelines with the test taker and the reader and will set the ground rules for the conduct of the examination.
3. The test administrator must remain in attendance at all times during the test administration.
4. An approved reader is not present to function as an aide to the test center staff. It is inappropriate to ask the reader to perform clerical duties of any kind. The reader should not be asked to assume any responsibilities belonging to either the center staff or the test taker.
5. Test center staff must ensure that proper test security is maintained at all times. It is important that the test administrator ask questions and avoid any hasty interpretations of what may be communication of test content or exchange of information between the test taker and the reader that might give the test taker an unfair advantage. The task requested by the test taker might be acceptable once understood. Discussion or communication concerning interpretation of test content is not permitted. If such discussion occurs and cannot be controlled, or if test center staff observe anything they deem unusual, the situation should be reported on the Supervisor’s Irregularity Report (SIR) or the Electronic Irregularity Report (EIR) and the test taker advised of this action.
6. The test center administrator may also stop the test and dismiss the test taker if he or she believes that the reader has provided the test taker with any unfair advantage. In such instances, ETS reserves the right to cancel the test taker’s score.