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What support can I get in exams?

Photo: You may need to give details of your hearing loss and how it affects you

Whatever stage of education you are at – school, college, an apprenticeship or university – you are entitled to reasonable adjustments to ensure you can access tests, assessments and exams fairly. These adjustments are called access arrangements.

Access arrangements for exams are not automatically provided. You or one of the professionals supporting you will need to request them. This may involve giving evidence of your hearing loss and how it affects you.

Watch this video to find out more about Priya got support with her exams.

Depending on what stage you are at and your circumstances, there are different people who could help, such as:

  • Teacher of the Deaf
  • special educational needs coordinator (school)
  • student support or disability advisor (college and university).

You should request support well in advance of any exams or assessments, ideally at the start of the year or your course.

The arrangements should be based on your normal way of working. Having the right support from the beginning will help you get used to the arrangements and make sure they meet your needs.

If you have annual reviews about your support, then your access arrangements should be included and discussed at these before you start any new courses.

If you’ve already started a course but still have exams and assessments to take then it isn’t too late to ask about access arrangements.

The Joint Council for Qualifications has detailed information and official guidance on exam access arrangements and reasonable adjustments. Awarding bodies and universities must make sure that access arrangements don’t make exams easier for deaf students.

The access arrangements you need will depend on your needs and the subjects you are studying.

Examples of support for deaf students in exams and assessments include:

  • Technology – the equipment you use every day should be allowed in exams where possible. For example, if you use a radio aid in class then this could be worn by the exam invigilator who gives instructions during the exam.
  • Extra time – some deaf students need longer to process what they read, so you may able to get 25% extra time to allow for this. If you are at school or college then they will need to make an application and give evidence to the exam board for you to receive extra time.
  • A separate room – to minimise background noise and distractions deaf students may be able to sit exams in a separate room.
  • Live speakers – some exams have pre-recorded audio parts for listening assessments for subjects such as French. If you have difficulty following speech without lip reading then you could request a live speaker. A live speaker could read out the transcript of the recording, repeat lines and fingerspell or write the initials for words that could be easily confused.
  • Modified language papers (England, Wales and Northern Ireland only) - the language and sentence structure of exams can be changed so that deaf students find it easier to understand the question. While awarding bodies work hard to make sure that every paper is written in plain and clear English, modified papers can still be useful.
  • Readers – some deaf students have difficulty processing written words but can understand the spoken word more easily so a reader can be used. In some exams where reading is being assessed, only an electronic reader will be allowed.
  • Oral language modification (England, Wales and Northern Ireland only) – oral language modifiers help by clarifying the wording of questions for students by rephrasing it. This could be done by a teaching assistant, communication support worker or Teacher of the Deaf.
  • British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation – students who use BSL can have the exam paper questions signed to them. Students can sign some or all of their answers and have them filmed. BSL interpretation isn’t allowed for some language exams but is allowed for the speaking, listening and communication element of the Functional Skills qualification in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  • Exemption from part of an exam – sometimes the nature of the exam will mean it isn’t possible to make an adjustment to the exam without fundamentally changing it. Where no adjustment can be made you may be given an exemption from the exam. This means your grade is worked out based on the other parts of the exam that you took. You need to complete at least 60% of the parts of the exam but you can still get the highest mark.

If you feel that you should have a certain adjustment but you’ve been told that it won’t be made, or if you have taken an exam in which adjustments should have been made but weren’t, you should discuss this with your special educational needs coordinator, Teacher of the Deaf or disability advisor. If you would like further support to challenge a decision about access arrangements please contact our Helpline.