Access to exams and tests
Visual impairment in children is a low incidence disability and it is likely that many schools and colleges will only come across it occasionally.
Here are some key points to consider when entering a blind or partially sighted learner for external exams.
Most courses are fully accessible to candidates with visual impairment. However, with some practical subjects or those involving inherently visual skills there may be some assessment requirements which a candidate may not be able to meet and for which they will therefore lose marks. It is important to check before a learner starts a course whether this is likely to be the case and what impact it might have on their final grade.
GCSE and A Level consultation
Ofqual is consulting on further reform of GCSEs and A Levels and you can view the consultation documents on the Ofqual website. If you would like to feed in your views about how the proposed reforms could impact on students with a vision impairment please contact Rory Cobb who will be putting together a response from RNIB. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org before 21 July 2014.
Our 'Overview of Exam Access Arrangements' guide provides a broad overview of access arrangements for tests and examinations. You may also wish to read the Exam Access Arrangements FAQs document, which is organised around the questions that commonly occur on this topic.
We have also produced an Exam Access Arrangements Checklist to help ensure everything is covered.
- Overview of exam access arrangements (Word, 174 KB)
- Exam access arrangements FAQs (Word, 661 KB)
- Exam access arrangements checklist (Word, 167 KB)
With all access arrangements, the guiding principle is that a learner's exam experience should match as closely as possible the way they work in the classroom. Consulting visually impaired learners themselves is an essential way of making sure that this happens.
Seeking specialist advice
Most visually impaired learners will receive specialist input from a qualified teacher of children with visual impairment (QTVI). It is important to consult the QTVI before deciding what access arrangements to request.
Most visually impaired candidates will require extra time in their exams because of a reduced speed of information processing which relates to their disability. There should be no need to provide evidence from standardised reading tests to justify a request for extra time for a visually impaired candidate. The amount of time requested should be based on the student's normal method of working in the classroom. Amounts vary from 25-100 percent depending on the individual learner and the content of the exam.
Awarding bodies offer a range of 'standard' formats for modified papers in accessible formats. It is important to check which format is best suited to a learner's needs and not to order a format with which they are not familiar. If in doubt, ask the awarding body concerned for samples. You can find out more about accessible formats in our papers in accessible formats section below.
The 'standard' list of accessible formats is not exhaustive and you can ask for papers in a format not listed if you have strong evidence that a candidate needs this. This might involve seeking permission to open papers early to modify them further. In some instances it may be appropriate to ask for papers in an electronic format to be accessed by the learner on a laptop, tablet or braille device. Care needs to be taken here to ensure that an electronic version of the paper will be fully accessible to the learner. If in doubt, seek technical advice.
The deadline for modified papers is earlier than that for other access arrangements in order to give awarding bodies the time to produce the papers in the formats requested. It is important to keep to these deadlines to guarantee that the papers can be produced in time. We have further information on modified papers below and production of exam papers section below.
Further information on access arrangements
General qualifications (GCSE etc)
Details of access arrangements are available in a publication called "Access Arrangements, Reasonable Adjustments and Special Consideration" which is updated each year and available to download on the Joint Council for Qualifications website.
For enquiries about specific access arrangements, contact JCQ
Tel: 020 7638 4132.
National Curriculum tests (SATs)
General information about assessment and reporting arrangements, including access arrangements, for the Early Years Foundation Stage and Key Stages 1-3 is available on the Department for Education website.
For information about modified tests for visually impaired pupils contact the Modified Test Agency helpline on 0300 3033019 or email email@example.com.
RNIB and GL Assessment, one of the UK’s leading independent test publishers, have developed user guidelines for schools, local authorities and VI services for decisions about the use of 11+ test papers for pupils with vision impairment. These guidelines will also be useful to anyone interested in making cognitive ability tests (eg CAT) accessible to children with vision impairment. Download the guidelines and a case study about making reasonable adjustments for pupils with vision impairment from the GL Assessment website.
Past exam papers
Using past papers is an important way for students to practise for exams and is also a good way of ensuring that they have chosen the correct format. Our Obtaining past exam papers section below has more details.
Papers in accessible formats
Here we provide an overview of the main formats available for blind and partially sighted candidates.
GCSE and A level
This is the standard paper enlarged onto A3 paper, providing a print size of around 14 point for most papers.
Here the layout and presentation of the standard paper is simplified to remove elements of visual complexity, without changing the demands of the question paper. Papers are available in two sizes:
- 18pt Arial Bold on A4-size paper
- 24pt Arial Bold on A3-size paper
Contracted Grade 2 braille
Here the layout and presentation of the standard paper is modified in line with the approach described above for modified enlarged papers.
Exam boards offering general qualifications offer PDF versions of their papers to be read on screen. However, there is no guarantee yet that these papers will be fully accessible, so centres should request sample papers to check whether they are compatible with the assistive technology being used by their students. An alternative approach is to ask for permission to open papers one hour early to scan and produce electronic versions locally, but the feasibility of this will depend on the nature of the paper and the expertise available in the centre to convert it successfully.
It is important to check with the awarding body concerned that they will be able to provide papers in the format you require. Disabled candidates taking general qualifications are covered by the Equality Act 2010, which places a duty on awarding bodies to make reasonable adjustments to meet their needs on an individual basis. If a candidate's needs cannot be met by the range of formats listed above centres should contact the awarding body concerned to discuss alternative provision.
National Curriculum tests (England)
Key stage 1 Maths and English tests
- Modified large print. This a version of the paper designed for visual simplicity in 24 point print on A4-size paper.
- Contracted Grade 2 braille.
Key Stage 2
- Modified large print. This is a version of the paper with diagrams modified or omitted, printed in 19 point print on B4-size paper.
- Contracted Grade 2 braille.
Optional tests are also available in the same range of formats as Key Stage 2 tests.
Obtaining past exam papers,
Using past papers is an important way for students to practise for exams and is also a good way of ensuring that they have chosen the correct format. Awarding bodies should be able to provide past papers in accessible formats. However, it is not always possible to obtain past papers in all formats for a particular examination if they were not produced at the time. Where this is the case awarding bodies should help you to find past papers in the appropriate format set out in a similar style.
To find out more and request past papers visit the relevant exam board information detailed below:
To obtain past SATs papers, contact the Modified Test Agency helpline by calling 0300 3033019 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
General qualifications (GCSE, A level etc)
To obtain past AQA exam papers, visit the AQA website. Here you can select the specification (eg GCSE, A-Level), and the subject. Once in the specific subject area, select the 'Key Materials' tab and then select modified papers. Past papers are within each specification, along with teaching materials and the standard papers.
City and Guilds
To obtain past papers from City and Guilds, email email@example.com with details of the papers and formats you need. Please note that City and Guilds provide sample papers rather than past papers and that they are not available for all qualifications.
To obtain past papers from Edexcel, email: firstname.lastname@example.org and provide details of the subjects and specific component codes, the modified format and any specific session that they may require. This will then be returned to them by email if it is available.
To obtain past papers from OCR vis it the OCR website. Here you can select the subject, qualification type, qualification year and series.
To obtain past papers from WJEC, email email@example.com with details of the papers and formats you require.
To obtain past papers from CCEA, visit the CCEA website. You will then need to select the specification, select the level, select Examinations and then select the Modified Past Papers tab.
Modification and production of exam papers
Exams in accessible formats for general qualifications (GCSE, A level etc) are produced in line with nationally agreed guidelines to make sure they are consistent in quality and style.
The guidance document is produced by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) in conjunction with RNIB. It provides important information for anyone preparing students for external exams or producing practice exam material locally. Similar unpublished standards are followed in the production of SATs tests.
Download the latest "Guidance for the modification and production of examination papers for candidates with a visual impairment" below:
- Guidance for the modification and production of examination papers for candidates with a visual impairment 2012-13 (Word, 228 KB)
- Guidance for the modification and production of examination papers for candidates with a visual impairment 2012-13 (PDF, 254 KB)
Make sure your school has a copy of Well Prepared! RNIB's definitive guide to modifying examination, assessment and curriculum materials for blind and partially sighted learners (Price £15). It is important that school assessments and learning materials introduce the layout and modifications a blind or partially sighted child will use in public examinations.
To order, call the Helpline team on 0303 123 9999 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on accessible resources, visit our school age education section.
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