I think the OP is refering to questions on the CSS profile that ask for the total amount of retirement savings.
Despite some very lean years, my policy had always been to "pay myself first" and with an EFC of about 8000 we have retirement savings that equal about 3-4 times our income.
I remember being concerned about this this question on the CSS profile as well and I'd read a thread about how schools only ask this to get your whole financial picture, and don't really consider this money.
However, the the more I learn about the financial aid process the more I've come to realize that there are no set "rules" for using profile info. Each school has their own formulas and policies for using the profile info. In other words, when it comes to institutional aid they can "play by their own rules"
I wish I could give you a definitive answer, but I don't think there is one.