Organising exam support for students with learning difficulties


In this post I am going to give a brief overview as to how extra support for exams (called ‘Access Arrangements’) are organised for students with learning difficulties such as dyslexia. The focus of this blog post is for students at GCSE level.

What are Access Arrangements?

The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) represent the examination bodies and produce the guidance for access arrangements. Access arrangements are for candidates with the required skills, knowledge and understanding of a subject but who are unable to demonstrate these in an assessment due to their  disability/difficulty.

Types of Access Arrangements

A student may be eligible for a reader, a scribe, rest breaks, access to a word processor, speech recognition technology, 25% or more extra time, modified papers, a practical assistant or prompter. See the JCQ website for more types of access arrangements.

How to apply for Access Arrangements

The student’s school will make the application for Access Arrangements through ‘Access Arrangements Online’. Parents cannot apply independently so they must talk to the school if they have questions or concerns regarding Access Arrangements. The JCQ will have the final say on whether the access arrangements requested for are permitted. It is now not possible for a teacher/SENCO without a professional assessment qualification to carry out assessments for access arrangements. Therefore, an Educational Psychologist or Specialist Assessor is typically required.

Which Access Arrangements are useful for dyslexic students?

A reader can be useful for students with reading difficulties. If a student has illegible writing or writes at a slow pace then extra time or a scribe may be useful. If a student has slow processing then extra time can be beneficial. Supervised rest breaks can be more useful in some cases than extra time so it is important to consider this as an option. A standardised score of below 85 is typically required to get the Access Arrangement. Depending on the Access Arrangement required, this may be a score of below 85 in reading speed, reading accuracy, reading comprehension, writing speed or cognitive processing (including working memory).

Things to note

The JCQ will be looking to see that whatever support is being requested is the usual way of working for that student. For instance, if the application is for a scribe, the school would need to show that this support is needed in class, for example, during in-class assessments.  A diagnosis of dyslexia or evidence of a discrepancy between IQ and literacy ability are not enough to ensure that an access arrangement will be granted. It is the scores below 85 and the evidence of usual way of working that will have the most weight with the JCQ. It is useful to note that permission for the arrangement lasts 26 months from the date of application so could cover coursework plus mock exams and the real exams.

More detailed information can be found online at

I hope this was hopeful. Please leave a reply if it was.