What are exam access arrangements?

Exam access arrangements are the reasonable adjustments that can be made for students to make exams more accessible for students with special educational needs (SEN). Reasonable adjustments might include things like extra time to complete the exam, the use of assistive technology, (AT) or breaks during an exam.

An access arrangement can be put in place if it’s the student’s “normal way of working” during everyday lessons. Reasonable adjustments must reflect the support a student has been receiving over the last few years, as well as assessment test results.

In this section:

What types of exam access arrangements are available?

Are special considerations different from exam arrangements?

Assistive technology and exam access arrangements

Podcast: Redefining inclusion beyond exams

What types of exam access arrangements are available?

An exam access arrangement means that one or more aspects of the exam conditions have been altered so that a student with a disability can fully demonstrate their mastery in any given subject. Access arrangements generally mirror any reasonable adjustments made for the student in the normal classroom environment, generally referred to as a student’s “normal way of working.” Some of the most common access arrangements include:

Extra time or breaks

The most common access arrangement is extra time. Usually students with this access arrangement are granted 25% more time. Some students may also require breaks throughout the duration of an exam.

A reader

Students who have visual impairments or a disability that affects their ability to read accurately themselves may use a human reader, or a computer reader. In an exam where reading is being assessed, only a computer reader may be permitted. This is because the JCQ - the exam governing body states that students must “independently access the exam text.” A human reader may stress particular words which could give an unfair advantage to a student or repeat phrases at different speeds which could cause confusion.

A scribe

For students who have a disability or injury which affects their ability to write legibly a human scribe is allowed to complete their written answers for them.

Assistive technology

Students who use AT as their “normal way of working” are permitted to continue using the AT during exams. Word processors, exam reading pens, text-to-speech software, and voice-to-text software.

Modified exam papers

These papers must be requested far in advance of the exam and can be requested in different fonts and font sizes, colours, braille or modified language.

Separate room

To reduce distractions some students may be allowed to sit their exam in a separate room. Those students who are also allowed extra time generally sit their exam in a separate room to avoid the distraction of their peers leaving at the end of their allocated time.

Are special considerations different from exam arrangements?

JCQ, the exams governing body defines special considerations as, “a post-examination adjustment to a candidate's mark or grade. This is to reflect temporary illness, temporary injury or some other event outside of the candidate's control at the time of the assessment.” Special considerations are separate from exam access arrangements and can only be applied after the exam has been completed, and only in short term or temporary circumstances. Like exam access arrangements the application for special considerations do need to be supported by evidence.

Using assistive technology as part of your exam access arrangements

SEN students with documented disabilities must be allowed to use assistive technology (AT) in exams if it’s their normal way of working.

AT used during exams makes sure that every student can show their knowledge and mastery to the best of their abilities. AT is a means of levelling the playing field for SEN students. Exam scenarios where students can use text-to-speech, or speech-to-text technology gives the student the opportunity to sit a test independently, without relying on a teacher or other human intervention.

What technology can be used in exams?

Any tool that a student already uses in a classroom environment may be approved for use during exams.

The most common AT access arrangements are:

  1. Computer
  2. Tape recorder
  3. Dictaphone
  4. Audio Amplification
  5. Text-to-Speech software
  6. Speech-to-text technology
  7. Screen magnifier
  8. Screen overlay
  9. Word prediction technology

Redefining inclusion beyond exams

The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) recommends that access arrangements for exams are part of a student's "normal way of working". But what does this mean and what does this look like in a busy classroom environment?

In this episode, we're putting these questions and more to Simon Tanner from Bohunt Education Trust. Simon shares his experience as Director of SEND in supporting students to produce their best work and have the right opportunities come exam time.

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