When it comes to using an overhead projector for standardized testing, this is typically not the “best” option for students, and wasn’t my first choice when I had to take large print exams as a student with low vision. However, one of the lessons I learned about receiving assistive technology services in public schools is that I am not entitled to the “best” technology, and I must learn to work with whatever is provided to me, even if it is less than ideal. Using an overhead projector as a magnification aid is an example of learning to work with what I have, and today I will be sharing my tips for using an overhead projector for standardized testing, based on my own experiences.
Alternatives to using an overhead projector for low vision students
While attending public schools, I had an IEP for visual impairment, and later received disability accommodations in college for low vision as well. When I take exams, I typically use one or more of the following options:
- Taking exams in a digital/electronic format so that I can use text-to-speech or screen magnification to enlarge information
- Large print test in a font size I can read
- Using a desktop or handheld video magnifier/CCTV to enlarge too-small text
- Enabling Guided Access on my iPad and using the Notability software to enlarge and write on an exam
Unfortunately, none of these were approved options for the standardized tests I took in high school, because:
- The online format of the state standardized tests does not support screen magnification or large print tools, and could not be enlarged with the projector
- The large print test is printed in a set font size (around 18-20 pt font) and custom tests cannot be printed in a larger font size
- Desktop and handheld video magnifiers were not available for me to use
- Exams cannot be taken in a digital format
I also took a few non-standardized tests with the help of an overhead projector when one of my teachers would forget to procure a large print copy of the test, and there wasn’t time to create an accessible copy.
- Testing Accommodations For Low Vision Students
- Remote Testing Accommodations For Low Vision
- A to Z of Assistive Technology For Low Vision
- How To Use Guided Access For Testing And Exams
- Notability and Low Vision
Setting up the testing environment
In order to use an overhead projector for standardized testing, my case manager applied for disability accommodations that included small group testing, use of a projector, and adapted lighting, among other things. A large print exam was still ordered, even though I couldn’t read the test without additional magnification.
My testing environment consisted of an empty classroom with 2 proctors and overhead lights that had been dimmed. The test was positioned underneath a document camera that connected to the projector, and I sat at a large table in the front of the room with scratch paper, pens, and a chair.
- SOL Test Accommodations And Low Vision
- SAT Accommodations for Low Vision
- ACT Accommodations For Low Vision
- AP Exam Accommodations For Low Vision
Projecting the test
One question is displayed at a time on the projector, with each question being multiple choice. I would verbally ask the proctor to display different questions or adjust settings such as camera zoom, and was not permitted to touch the document camera or any other settings. I was allowed to ask my proctor to read a question or answer choices out loud, and I would often write the questions/answers in larger print on a whiteboard or on a separate page. I was allowed to move around the room to get a better view of the board, but not allowed to leave or take breaks outside of the classroom.
For graphs or images, I would often ask for a higher magnification level compared to text, as I often had trouble identifying details in images. Since I often had to change the magnification/zoom level for different questions, it made more sense to use a digital magnification tool like a camera instead of a magnifying glass with a fixed magnification level.
- How To Make Things On The Board Easier To See
- Magnifying Glasses For Low Vision
- Five Things Your IEP Case Manager Won’t Tell You
- How My Guidance Counselor Helped Me As A Low Vision Student
Answering test questions
After working out questions on scratch paper, I would write the letter of the answer followed by the text of the answer, such as “C- 42.” I would circle the answer on the paper copy of the test as well as write the letter in large text next to the question, so that it was easier for the scribe and I to document answers on the bubble sheet.
Strategies that helped me with using an overhead projector
After having to walk back and forth for 40 questions during the first standardized test I took with an overhead projector, I realized that I needed to make sure I didn’t exhaust myself towards the end of the test. Some strategies that helped me with using an overhead projector included:
- Taking a break from looking at the screen/turning off the projector for a short break so that I wasn’t constantly bombarded by light
- Scheduling tests for a morning start time so that I wasn’t fatigued by the end of the day
- Familiarizing myself with the different options for the document camera before test day, such as zoom levels, options for contrast filters/screen inverting, and adjusting brightness
- Being okay with asking for help or asking for people to read things- it’s important that I don’t try to guess what I am looking at when it comes to exams!
Now that I am looking back on my experience of using an overhead projector for standardized testing, some things I wish I did include:
- Adjust the brightness of the projector itself so that the light wasn’t so sharp
- Request a printed copy of the test that wasn’t in large print, which would have been easier to manipulate underneath the document camera- some information would get cut off with the larger font size
- Practice more with reading information on the projector instead of reserving this experience only for test day- this wasn’t how I normally accessed information in the classroom, so it took time for me to adjust
- Speak up if there was an issue with the testing environment- I ran into an issue when there was a flickering light in the testing environment and the proctor told me to “power through” and ignore the problem, only to fail the test
- Ten Ways To Reduce Eye Strain From Screens With Technology
- My Talk At A Future Date: What I Wish I Learned About AT Before Starting College
- Learning to Self-Advocate
- Environmental Accommodations For Low Vision Students
More tips for using an overhead projector for standardized testing
- Before test day, do a “practice run” and have the student and proctor familiarize themselves with the classroom and the camera/projector being used
- In Virginia, state standardized tests are untimed, but for states or exams that have time limits, I strongly recommend requesting extended time- learn more in All About Extended Time Accommodations
- Ensure that the projector is working prior to test day and that the display is not flickering or fading, as this can contribute to eyestrain or feeling disoriented