A brief guide for  candidates of GCSE  & IGCSEs, A Levels and IB exams. 

Access arrangements are special adjustments for candidates with disabilities and learning difficulties. These adjustments refer to ways of testing in examinations. Examinations involve internal school tests, mock examinations as well as formal examinations such as GCSE, IGCSE, A levels, IB.

The purpose of an access arrangement is to ensure that all candidates have equal access to exams. Therefore,  the candidate who is disabled can receive recognition for his/her attainment. Otherwise, he/she would be at a substantial disadvantage in comparison to someone who is not disabled.

According to the Equality Act 2010/Section 6 (Appendix I) disability is defined as  a ‘physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long term adverse effect on someone’s ability to carry out normal day to day activities’.

Access arrangements are agreed upon before an assessment. Reasonable adjustments must not, however, affect the reliability or validity of assessment outcomes nor must they give the learner an unfair assessment advantage over other learners undertaking the same or similar assessments.


Adjustments for candidates with disabilities and learning difficulties

The candidate must have an impairment in their first language which has a substantial and long term adverse effect. A candidate does not have a learning difficulty simply because their first language is not English.

Candidates with Disabilities and Learning Difficulties may have

  • Cognition and Learning Needs, e.g. General and/or Specific Learning Difficulties
  • Communication and Interaction Needs, e.g. Autistic Spectrum Disorder , Speech, Language and Communication Needs
  • Sensory and Physical Needs, e.g. Hearing Impairment , Multi-Sensory Impairment, Physical Disability, Vision Impairment
  • Social, Mental and Emotional Needs, e.g. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder , Mental Health Conditions

Candidates with disabilities may not require the same access arrangements. As subjects vary, leading to different demands of the candidate, support may be needed in just one or two subjects; another candidate may need support in all subjects.

Candidates with learning difficulties may require for example:

  • supervised rest breaks
  • extra time
  • a computer reader or a reader
  • a word processor
  • a scribe
  • a prompter
  • a practical assistant
  • coloured overlays
  • coloured/enlarged papers
  • modified language papers

How are access arrangements awarded?  

The role of the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo) at the school

Access arrangements should always be processed at the start of the course.

The candidate will then know what is available and will have the opportunity to systematically practise using this support for his/her coursework, in the classroom and for school exams. This is commonly referred to as ‘normal way of working’. This is typically recorded by the SENCo and submitted as evidence to the exams office. The SENCo provides evidence of a history of support and provision. 

The involvement of teaching staff

The SENCo also shows the involvement of teaching staff in determining the need for access provision. The arrangement cannot be suddenly granted to the candidate at the time of his/her examinations. If a candidate has never made use of the arrangement granted to him/her, e.g. 25% extra time or supervised rest breaks, then it is not his/her normal way of working. The arrangement should not be awarded for examinations.

The role of the specialist assessor

The SENCo refers the candidate for a specialist assessment. This must be conducted no earlier than the start of Year 9, for the recommendation of 25% extra time to be valid for GCE, AS and A-level examinations.

A specialist assessor can determine from the vast range of learning difficulties and other disabilities, the candidate’s psycho-educational profile and needs. 

A specialist assessor is:

  • a specialist teacher with a current SpLD Assessment Practising Certificate
  • an appropriately qualified psychologist registered with the Health & Care Professions Council
  • a professional who holds a post-graduate qualification in individual specialist assessment at or equivalent which must include training in all of the following:
  • the theoretical basis underlying psychometric tests,
  • the appropriate use of nationally standardised tests,
  • the objective administration of attainment tests (tests of reading accuracy, reading speed, reading comprehension and spelling, appropriate methods of assessing writing skills,including speed)
  • the use of cognitive tests
  • the ethical administration of testing including the ability to understand the limitation of their own skills and experience, and to define when it is necessary to refer the candidate to an alternative professional.

To sum up, access arrangements are provided based on

a)core evidence (the quantitative data from the specialist assessor’s report) and

b)supplementary evidence (the SENCo and school staff painting the picture of need), i.e.  internal school tests/mock exam papers showing the application of extra time, comments and observations from teaching staff as to why the candidate needs extra time and how he/she uses the extra time awarded.


Access arrangements available

  1. Supervised rest breaks

The SENCo must be satisfied that there is a genuine need for the arrangement on account of:

  • cognition and learning needs;
  • communication and interaction needs;
  • a medical condition;
  • sensory and physical needs;
  • social, mental and emotional needs.


  1. 25% extra time

In order to award 25% extra time the school first evaluates the needs of the candidate based on one of the following documents:

  • a Statement of Special Educational Needs (provided by the school) relating to secondary education which confirms the candidate’s disability 
  • an assessment carried out no earlier than the start of Year 9 by a specialist assessor confirming a learning difficulty relating to secondary/further education.

 So as not to give an unfair advantage, the specialist assessor’s report must confirm that the candidate has at least one below average standardised score of 84 or less which relates to an assessment of:

  • speed of reading; or
  • speed of reading comprehension; or
  • speed of writing; or
  • cognitive processing measures which have a substantial and long term adverse effect on speed of working

 In exceptional circumstances 25% extra time may be awarded to a candidate where the assessment confirms that the candidate has at least two low average standardised scores (85-89) relating to speed of processing (as above).

 In rare and very exceptional circumstances 25% extra time may be awarded, where there are a cluster of scores just within the average range (90 to 94). This would be where a candidate has been formally diagnosed as having a significant learning difficulty or disability which has a clear, measurable and substantial long term adverse effect on performance and speed of working.

The amount of evidence required to paint a picture of need will vary according to the candidate’s standardised scores.


  1.  Extra time of up to 50% (between 26% and 50% extra time) 

There must be a strong justification as to why more than 25% extra time is required.

Extra time between 26% and 50% is an exceptional arrangement. Only a very substantially below average standardised score of 69 or less is acceptable and must relate to:

  • speed of reading; or
  • speed of reading comprehension; or
  • speed of writing; or
  • cognitive processing measures. 

The candidate will have been assessed by a specialist who will have conducted an appropriate up to date test within 26 months of the final examination.


  1. Extra time of over 50% 

In very exceptional circumstances, a candidate may require more than 50% extra time in order to manage a very substantial impairment.

The school must indicate:

  • the maximum amount of extra time required, e.g. 75%;
  • how the amount of required extra time has been determined;
  • whether the candidate will be working independently with Braille or modified enlarged papers;
  • whether the candidate will be using a computer reader/reader and/or a scribe; and
  • the candidate’s normal way of working within the school. 


  1. Computer reader/Reader

A computer reader refers to any computer software which accurately reads out text but does not decode or interpret the paper. A reader is a responsible adult who reads the instructions of the question paper and the questions to the candidate. This may involve reading the whole paper to the candidate or the candidate may request only some words to be read.

A computer reader or a reader will only be allowed if a candidate has:

  • language and vocabulary difficulties which have a substantial and long term adverse effect on his/her ability to access written text; or
  • a substantial and long term vision impairment and cannot read a Braille paper or a modified enlarged paper independently, or at a sufficient speed even with extra time allowed. 


  1. Read aloud and/or the use of an examination reading pen

It can make a significant difference to a candidate who persistently struggles to understand what he/she  has read, but who does not qualify for a reader, to read aloud. Where a candidate is reading difficult text, he/she may work more effectively if they can hear themselves read. 


  1. Scribe / Speech recognition technology

A scribe is a responsible adult who, in controlled assessment, coursework and/or in an examination but not in orals, writes down or word processes a candidate’s dictated answers to the questions. The candidate may alternatively use a word processor, speech recognition technology or computer software, producing speech. However, the candidate will not have access to marks awarded for spelling, punctuation and grammar.

A scribe will only be allowed where:

  • an impairment has a substantial and long term adverse effect on the candidate’s writing; or
  • a candidate cannot write, type or Braille independently, or at sufficient speed to record their answers even with extra time allowed, as a result of a substantial and long term impairment.


N.B. Many candidates who produce inaccurate spellings actually write legibly as they make reasonable phonic approximations of the word in question, which can be read by the examiner. These candidates are unlikely to need the help of a scribe unless they have other substantial and long term writing difficulties.


  1. Word processor

Schools are allowed to provide a word processor to a candidate where it is their normal way of working and is appropriate to their needs. For example, the quality of language significantly improves as a result of using a word processor due to problems with planning and organisation when writing by hand.


  1. Transcript

A transcript may be permitted by the school where:

  • a candidate has a temporary injury which means that his/her handwriting may be hard to decipher at times (but is not illegible);
  • the use of a word processor is not appropriate, e.g. subjects such as Mathematics and the Sciences.

A transcript is an exact copy of the candidate’s script which is made after the examination has taken place and without the participation of the candidate.


  1. Prompter

A prompter may be permitted where a candidate, for example:

  • has little or no sense of time (e.g. candidates with Attention Deficit Hyperctivity Disorder or Autistic Spectrum Disorder); or
  • persistently loses concentration; or
  • is affected by an obsessive-compulsive disorder which leads them to keep
  • revising a question rather than moving onto other questions.


  1. Oral Language Modifier

An Oral Language Modifier is a responsible adult who may clarify the language used in the examination paper when requested to do so by a candidate. The Oral Language Modifier must not explain technical terms or subject-specific terms. The ability to understand these terms is part of the assessment. It must only be considered for those candidates whose disability has a very substantial and long term adverse effect resulting in very persistent and significant difficulties in accessing and processing information.


  1. Live speaker for pre-recorded examination components

A transcript of a listening test may be read to enable the candidate to also lip/speech-read.


  1. Sign Language Interpreter

The role of a Sign Language Interpreter is to present the questions in a different language without:

  • changing the meaning;
  • providing any additional information; or
  • providing an explanation as to what the question requires of the candidate.


  1. Practical assistant

For example:

A candidate with very poor motor co-ordination may need help in holding a ruler, placing a ruler in the correct place for a line to be drawn or turning the pages of the script. The candidate may also need help when using Mathematical equipment. A candidate with a severe vision impairment may need his or her hand to be guided to the relevant page or section of text in a paper. A Blind candidate may require a practical assistant to record the position of points or lines indicated on a tactile graph by means of pins and elastic bands.


  1. Alternative site for the conduct of examinations

The candidate will be sitting his/her examination(s) at a residential address or at a hospital which is a non-registered centre due to, for example:

  • a medical condition which prevents the candidate from taking examinations in the centre; or
  • Social, Mental and Emotional Needs


  1. Other arrangements for candidates with disabilities

Amplification equipment


Closed circuit television (CCTV)

Colour naming by the invigilator for candidates who are Colour Blind

Coloured Overlays (this would also include reading rulers, virtual overlays and virtual

reading rulers)

Low vision aid/magnifier

Optical Character Reader (OCR) scanners

Separate invigilation within the school


  1. Exemptions

An exemption is an agreement reached by an awarding body, before the examination, for a disabled candidate to miss a component or components.


  1. Bilingual translation dictionaries with up to a maximum of 25% extra time

A bilingual translation dictionary must:

  • only be used in examinations by candidates whose first language is not English,
  • and reflect the candidate’s normal way of working.


Additionally, due to the assessment of spelling, punctuation and grammar a bilingual translation dictionary must not be used in:

  • GCSE English Literature examinations;
  • GCSE Geography examinations;
  • GCSE History examinations; and
  • GCSE Religious Studies examinations.


  1. Modified Papers

The standard formats available are:

  • A4 modified 18 point bold
  • A3 modified 24 point bold
  • Braille papers and tactile diagrams with Braille labels
  • Modified language (where available)
  • Non-interactive electronic (PDF) question paper
  • Tactile diagrams with print labels
  • Transcript of listening test/video


Temporary conditions (GCSE and GCE qualifications)

Access arrangements online must be used for GCSE/GCE candidates with a temporary injury or impairment, such as a broken arm. These arrangements can be processed as the need arises. The school must ensure that appropriate documentation (where required) is held on its files to support any arrangement made.



Appendix I

The Equality Act 2010 definition of disability

Generally, impairments have to meet the statutory requirements set out in section 6 and Schedule 1 to the Equality Act 2010 and associated regulations.

The Equality Act 2010 definition of disability is usually considered cumulatively in terms of:

  • identifying a physical or mental impairment;
  • looking into adverse effects and assessing which are substantial;
  • considering if substantial adverse effects are long term;
  • judging the impact of long term adverse effects on normal day to day activities.


Statutory guidance on the Equality Act 2010 definition of disability has been produced by the Office for Disability Issues (within the Department for Work and Pensions) to help better understand and apply this definition – http://odi.dwp.gov.uk/docs/wor/new/ea-guide.pdf The clear starting point in the statutory guidance is that disability means ‘limitations going beyond the normal differences in ability which may exist among people’. ‘Substantial’ means ‘more than minor or trivial’. Substantial adverse effects can be determined by looking at the effects on a person with the impairment, comparing those to a person without the impairment, to judge if the difference between the two is more than minor or trivial.

‘Long term’ means the impairment has existed for at least 12 months, or is likely to do so. ‘Normal day to day activities’ could be determined by reference to the illustrative, non-exhaustive list of factors in pages 47 to 51 of the statutory guidance relating to the Equality Act 2010. (Study and education related activities are included in the meaning of ‘day to day’ activities.)

The guidance from the Office for Disability Issues referred to above illustrates the factors which might reasonably be regarded as having a substantial adverse effect on normal day to day activities. Factors that might reasonably be expected not to have a substantial adverse effect are also provided.

Factors that might reasonably be expected to have a substantial adverse effect include:

  • persistent and significant difficulty in reading and understanding written material where this is in the person’s native language, for example because of a mental impairment, a learning
  • difficulty or a sensory or multi-sensory impairment;
  • persistent distractibility or difficulty concentrating;
  • difficulty understanding or following simple verbal instructions.

Factors that might reasonably be expected not to have a substantial adverse effect include:

  • minor problems with writing or spelling;
  • inability to fill in a long, detailed, technical document, which is in the person’s native
  • language without assistance;
  • inability to concentrate on a task requiring application over several hours.


Appendix II

Examples of reasonable adjustments for disabled candidates:

A candidate with Dyslexia needs to use a coloured overlay and a word processor, and requires 25% extra time. The use of a yellow coloured overlay is a reasonable adjustment for the candidate since it helps him to improve his reading accuracy. The use of a word processor is a reasonable adjustment since it is his normal means of producing written work within the school  and is appropriate to his needs.

The candidate has been assessed by a specialist assessor using an up to date nationally standardised test. The assessment shows that the candidate has a substantial and long term impairment as his working memory score is in the below average range. The candidate has a standardised score of 79. The school can supplement the specialist assessor’s report with a picture of need showing 25% extra time as his normal way of working within the school.  The application of 25% extra time is a reasonable adjustment and the school processes an application on-line using Access arrangements online.

  • A candidate not awarded extra time:

A Year 11 GCSE student has a specialist assessment which identifies that his underlying cognitive abilities fall in the upper range, with a score of 125. His literacy skills are within the average range and his processing ability scores are in the range of 94-96. There is no evidence that he requires extra time in light of his performance in the classroom, in internal school tests and in his GCSE English Language examination sat in Year 10. An application for extra time is not pursued as he does not meet the published criteria.

  • Using evidence of working memory difficulties

A GCSE student has a specialist assessment which confirms the presence of a weak, below average working memory (a standardised score of 77). Her teachers observe she is slow at gathering her thoughts and putting them down onto paper, especially under the timed conditions of an examination. They confirm she regularly needs verbal instructions repeated. Class test papers additionally show that the quality and quantity of her written answers improves significantly with the allowance of extra time. The school processes an on-line application for 25% extra time on the basis of her below average working memory and the substantial picture of need.


Appendix III

Contact details

  • inclusion@ibo.org
  • JCQ

e-mail: centresupport@jcq.org.uk

Website: www.jcq.org.uk

  • AQA

Website: www.aqa.org.uk

  • City & Guilds

Website: www.cityandguilds.com

  • CCEA

Website: www.ccea.org.uk

  • OCR

Website: www.ocr.org.uk

  • Pearson




Website: www.wjec.co.uk

This article is based on information from the Joint Council for Qualifications and International Baccalaureate.