Opinion: I’m not “lucky” to need extra time on tests


Credit: Alyssa Ao

WSPN’s Nadya Chase discusses the stigmatization and realities of extra time.

Nadya Chase

It’s no secret that I have severe anxiety. I’m physically unable to hide it, no matter how much I wish I could. My mind constantly feels like a hive, buzzing with worries and intrusive thoughts. I can barely let myself breathe. No one should ever call me lucky for having to deal with this on a daily basis.

I can’t help that my brain always jumps to the worst conclusions, and I can’t help that my anxiety affects each and every aspect of my day. The only thing I can control is how I choose to manage my anxiety. Throughout my life, I’ve developed tactics to quiet the voice in the back of my mind, including breathing exercises and relaxation methods. While these tactics and various anxiety medications have helped, the reality of anxiety is that it will never be fully gone.

Hands down, the worst part about anxiety is the way it impacts my education. I’ve tried all the tricks in the book to stop myself from having panic attacks and increased anxiety at school, but the one thing that has truly saved me is my 504 plan. 504 plans look different for everyone, but mine gives me 50% extra time on tests so that I can reduce my timed testing anxiety, and account for the time spent panicking over test material. I cannot even begin to explain how grateful I am for this accommodation.

When I didn’t have extra time in my freshman year, I was consistently having panic attacks during tests and receiving scores that I knew were not a true representation of my knowledge. As an extreme perfectionist, the discrepancy between the amount of work I put into my classes versus the grades I got on tests was frustrating and discouraging.

My testing anxiety had caused my grades to drop, and as a result, led to more mental health issues. I was so hard on myself and only cared about grades. It got to the point where I forgot about my physical and mental well-being. I felt like my life had no meaning unless I was receiving top-notch grades and putting the “perfect” version of myself out to the world. I knew my grades were a result of my anxiety, but I still pushed myself to an unhealthy point in hopes of bringing my grades up. But, with my worsening anxiety, getting better grades was not practical or possible. I needed help, or else I wasn’t going to survive high school.

I’m lucky enough to have incredible, supportive parents who understand the reality of mental health. They were the first ones to suggest getting tested for anxiety after noticing how much I was struggling. They believed in me, and knew that I had the ability to do much better when anxiety was not a factor. Not everyone is supported by their parents, and I have a huge privilege because of the unconditional love and support they have always given me.

At first, I was hesitant to be professionally tested and considered for accommodations. I knew that extra time would ultimately help me, but being known as the “kid with anxiety,” who can’t function like a “normal student,” scared me. 504 plans are so stigmatized that I had never heard of anyone who had extra time on tests. I had the perception that I would be the only one in my entire grade who had extra time, and that having extra time would make me stand out as different.

Eventually, I decided that my mental health and well-being were more important than how others would perceive me, so I decided to get tested for anxiety. However, getting formally diagnosed with a 504 plan was no easy process. Right off the bat, I was told that it would be difficult for me to get extra time, since I was in all honors classes and got “good enough grades.” I was told that my diagnosis and my need for accommodations would be doubted because of the classes I was in. I was even told that it wasn’t possible for someone with anxiety to earn A’s.

Even though I’m in high-level classes, I still have extreme anxiety and need help. It’s absurd to me that just because a student is in high-level classes and earns decent grades, they are magically immune to anxiety. Why are schools discriminating against students who exhibit signs of anxiety, but are in more challenging courses? It’s not fair to judge somebody’s mental health based on the classes they are in, or the grades they receive. Mental health does not, and never will, have a GPA requirement.

Most of the time, high-achieving students need extra time just as much as students who aren’t in honors classes. To deny someone access to accommodations they need is like denying a sick person access to healthcare, or glasses for someone with impaired vision. Glasses are not a privilege. Wearing glasses does not provide unfair advantages, they simply allow people to function like those with normal vision.

In general, there is way too much bias surrounding extra time. I’ve dealt with many teachers that don’t trust me and think I’ll use my extra time to cheat. I’ve also dealt with people telling me that I have an advantage, and that I’m “lucky” to have extra time. Am I really that “lucky” that I have to deal with constant, crippling anxiety? Am I really that “lucky” that I haven’t had a normal high school experience because my anxiety won’t allow me to?

Let me be extremely clear when saying this: Extra time is not something that puts me at an advantage. Extra time only makes test taking fair and puts me at the same level as someone without anxiety. I need extra time to be able to think through my answers without anxiety muddling my thoughts.

Extra time is a security blanket that I can lean into when I’m feeling anxious. I’m able to get through my tests with enough time, and have seen a huge improvement in my grades and motivation. Extra time has truly saved me.

As I enter my junior year, I hear more and more students talking about how they wish they had extra time so that they could have a few extra minutes to check over their answers. But the majority of these people don’t understand the reality of extra time. Everyday I struggle to simply show up to school and be a functioning human being. I’m not lucky, and neither is anyone else who deals with anxiety or other struggles that make them need extra time.

A word of advice to teachers, please be patient with students who need extra time. When we panic and get stuck on material, don’t view this as a sign of not studying. Most of the time, all of our devotion to learning the material has been overcome by anxious thoughts. Simply checking in with us goes a long way.

To anyone struggling with anxiety, know that you’re not alone. The most important thing you can do for your mental health is develop techniques that help you calm down, and, please, be easy on yourself. When you’re consumed by anxiety, take time to relax and breathe. I feel you, and know that your life means more than the toll anxiety takes on it.