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I am a student who is currently undergoing therapy for mental health issues and I seem to be making good progress towards normalcy according to my therapist. Recently, I took an exam for a co-ordinated course and I completely panicked on the exam. I made a brave attempt to remain calm and answer the question to the best of my abilities and could only manage to earn 5 points overall.

Based on my predicament, can I approach my professor and department chairperson with a request to re-take the exam? I can of course ask my therapist to provide documentation detailing my case. Do universities make allowances for students who can demonstrate a genuine case for a panic attack?

EDIT: I do realize that I should contact the counselling center beforehand to make arrangements to take the test there but unfortunately, I was doing quite well and my therapist did not see a need to supply me with a note documenting my need. I completely blacked out when I saw the questions as they were quite long and bore no semblance to the practice exams or the homework questions.

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It's generally advisable to talk to teachers and/or administration before you take exams. Your position is much weaker after you failed, because then it's not clear whether the reason for failure was your illness or your preparation. – Raphael Apr 12 '14 at 7:50
But do ask yourself: do you really want to be treated any differently? Is it so bad to retake the class? – PatrickT Apr 12 '14 at 11:41
@PatrickT: This isn't necessarily going to be a one-time problem. – aeismail Apr 12 '14 at 16:36
@PatrickT Yea, you don't really want that on your transcript. If you don't have to do an entire semesters worth of work over by showing that you had a legitimate barrier, and just have to take one or even two exams over, then that's worth it. People shouldn't feel ashamed for getting what they need. – JFA Apr 12 '14 at 16:45
@PatrickT: This is the only class required for my graduation and I have an offer for a summer internship and have received admission to graduate school and they hinge upon the completion of this course. – user14176 Apr 15 '14 at 19:03

If you are in the US, your school is required by law (the Americans with Disabilities Act, often abbreviated ADA) to make reasonable academic accommodations for students with disabilities. This includes mental illness.

In the US, schools have a formal ADA policy that describes the procedure for requesting accommodations. This includes a description of who to contact to make these arrangements. This person is trained in dealing with these issues.

Your next step should be to contact this person, find out what can be done about this exam, and find out what accommodations they can offer for future exams. (For example, they may help you arrange to take future exams in a separate room with no other students and/or with extended time, which may help you stay calm.)

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Yes, I am in a US school. I did not know about the ADA, I will contact the counselling center to see what can be done. Thank you for reply. – cherrywheat Apr 11 '14 at 15:35
@cherrywheat My university has a disability services office. You have to register with them, proving your disability and requesting accommodations. You can be given access to the testing center (a sound-proof room with a bunch of cubicles, basically) and alternative test taking times. In some cases, you can get other amenities such as proctored bathroom breaks or the ability to record lecture with your professors' permission. Check with your university. – 2rs2ts Apr 11 '14 at 19:21

Based on my predicament, can I approach my professor and department chairperson with a request to re-take the exam? I can of course ask my therapist to provide documentation detailing my case.

Approach only the professor first. If you are already escalating to the department head in your first mail, the professor may not take it well. That being said, I see no reason why you should not contact her/him.

Do universities make allowances for students who can demonstrate a genuine case for a panic attack?

Most universities have a contact person responsible for accessibility and non-discrimination of students with disabilities. I am not sure whether they are in general also responsible for documented cases of mental health issues, but it would not surprise me. In the future, it makes sense to get in touch with the responsible contact person before the exam, so as to clarify whether something can be done in advance to make taking the exam easier for you.

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I did see the professor first and because they are an adjunct, they did not want to make any policy statements and so I was directed to get in touch with the department head. Thanks for your answer. – cherrywheat Apr 11 '14 at 15:37
Unless the professor has the wrong end up entirely, the only thing he can do is tell the student to go to the department head or CAPS. Their job is to educate and do research; the psychological needs of students are not their area of expertise. It's probably good to let the professor know first, but there is little the professor can do. – JFA Apr 11 '14 at 23:14
@JFA: I don't completely agree. "Psychological needs" are not the professor's responsibility, but offering makeup exams or other accommodation for student emergencies certainly is. – Nate Eldredge Apr 12 '14 at 15:25
@NateEldredge: The professor can, as cherrywheat suggests, basically "kick the problem upward" by saying that somebody else needs to determine that the student is eligible for a new exam. – aeismail Apr 12 '14 at 16:35
@NateEldredge I must have been unclear. I was saying that you have to go through whatever structure your school provides. The professor cannot make the call on whether or not you deserve extra time; they are not qualified to do so. They are required to make whatever accommodations are necessary, or if they can't, send the exam to the testing center who can. – JFA Apr 12 '14 at 16:36

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