ASD visual Dyslexia Dyslexia Reading Difficulties SpLD Examination Access Arrangements SEN SEND Specific Learning Difficulties

Exam Access Arrangements – GCSEs, A’levels and Functional Skills

Exam Access Arrangements are designed to level the playing field for any students who have a persistent and significant need.

So, someone who takes longer to process information, will require extra time – someone with illegible handwriting should be allowed to type and someone whose reading is in the ‘below average’ range (a standardised score of 84 or below) will need a reader and/or text-to-speech.

Bell Curve showing 84 or below – the standardised score required to be eligible for certain Exam Access Arrangements.

There are many different exam arrangements but here is a list of the most common:

Ones which do not require applying for online but schools should have evidence in student’s file that it is his or her usual way of working and why.

  • Word Processing
  • Rest Breaks
  • Prompt
  • Small environment or separate room
  • Exam scanner pen (this reads individual words but does not have a dictionary attached)
  • Modified paper (enlarged for example)
  • Coloured overlay
  • Read Aloud
  • Assistant for practical elements of test

Ones which require evidence from a standardised test performed by a specialist with a practising certificate or by an Educational Psychologist (alongside a history of need for the student).

  • Reader/Text-to-Speech (including TTS in the reading section of the English paper as no human reader is allowed) – this may be for comprehension even if decoding ability appears good
  • Scribe or speech recognition
  • 25% extra time

There is also more than 25% extra time and an Oral Language Modifier (OLM) – these require a standardised score of less than 69 for extra time in processing or a documented complex need and under 77 in comprehension or a documented complex need for an OLM.  A student who has severely slow processing skills may require this – the SENDCo should decide on this however – how resilient is the student to concentrate in exam for this amount of time? Would it be better to provide rest breaks?

An Oral Language Modifier (OLM – I will blog in more detail about this) can change the carrier language of an exam paper – they are not allowed to rephrase subject specific words or words from an article, in the English paper, for example.  David Didau recently blogged about how the word ‘futility’ put many students off from choosing what was otherwise an excellent question in an English Literature paper.  An OLM would have been allowed to change this word.

The Joint Council of Qualifications (JCQ) are the ones who decide which reasonable adjustments can be made for examinations; they are also responsible for ‘quality checking’ this within schools and visit exam centres every year.  There is some talk of inspectors visiting classrooms next year to ensure Exam Access Arrangements are the candidate’s ‘usual way of working’.

Some signs to look for in your students:

  • Poor spellings – I am still struggling to decide whether really poor spellers should forgo SPAG marks and have a spell checker on – some students use a narrow vocabulary due to their spelling difficulty and word processing with spell checker on would really benefit them – enough to lose SPAG marks though? I don’t know.
  • Illegible handwriting
  • Often asks for help
  • Use Teaching Assistant regularly for help
  • Difference between written and verbal language
  • Poor organisation of thought
  • Poor memory
  • Poor reading ability
  • Comprehension – struggles to understand text despite being able to decode
  • Often struggles to finish work on time
  • Struggles to understand instructions
  • Often a delay when answering questions

I believe that EAA will go one of two ways in the future:

1. Become much easier to come by – let anyone have whatever they need – I have never seen a good reader benefit from text-to-speech and speech recognition is difficult to master, so unless it really helps I doubt a student would persevere.  If ‘futility’ could have been explained to a student – would it really have been a problem? They weren’t being tested on that word were they?  Extra time is an issue – would a student go on forever?  I don’t know but I feel sure most come to a natural end eventually.

If this became usual, it would not only benefit students but also a school’s budget.  There are now companies selling these expensive exam pens, companies running courses for anyone (don’t need a degree) to pass a specialist certificate so they can use and report scores from standardised tests, companies running yearly update courses and companies creating standardised tests which cost a fortune.  Schools are paying a heavy price for Exam Arrangements.  Yes, EAA levels the playing field but it is just about allowing students to show what they know without being hampered by time restrictions, the inability to access text or the inability to record answers.  Unless students needed such adjustments, they really wouldn’t bother with them.


2. Michael Gove will return to the DFE if the Conservatives win the next election and ban all EAA.

(although he would need to get past the Equalities Act 2010 to do this – and me)

Future blogs on this – Which assistive technologies should schools invest in for EAA and What is an OLM?

Any questions please let me know.

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