Exam access for students with vision impairment: planning and implementing adjustments

Post date: 
Thursday, 2 March 2017
School exam room

Anna Pilson and Simon Kerrigan, both QTVIs from Sheffield, share how to plan and implement exam access arrangements for candidates with vision impairment.

In advance of this year’s deadlines for applying for exam adjustments, we provided an overview of what adjustments are available and pointers on how schools should go about planning and applying for them. After sending off the application for access adjustments, the planning stage for the exam series begins. Several parties, including the school’s exams officer, the pupil’s mainstream teacher and their QTVI, should be involved in this collaborative process to ensure everything is in place.

The checklist below provides a detailed (but not exhaustive) guide, outlining considerations for the planning and implementation of access arrangements during exams.


Modified papers

It’s crucial students have access to past exam materials in the format they will use in the exam so they can practice with realistic materials. Many exam boards store past modified papers on the secure section of their websites, which school exams officers should have a password for. Class teachers can request the exams officer download specific papers by providing them with the year, paper code and series (the month the exam was sat). If a student uses non-interactive PDF formats, the school will need to test past papers in advance of the exam to check they are compatible with the access technology on their device.

Modified papers may arrive separately to standard papers for that subject, sometimes very last minute. The envelope containing the paper should include all relevant extra materials required, such as a large print or a braille periodic table for science.

Schools need to consider storage requirements, as braille and tactile format papers can be bulky. Some exams may require schools to request in advance that a 3D model be produced to replace an image in a test. If there is no technician onsite, the school will need to liaise with their QTVI to arrange this (in our experience the exam board sends advisory notes to the school, often giving the QTVI up to a month to source or create a 3D model). Confidentiality needs to be ensured – instructions must only be shared on a need-to-know basis, to preserve the security and integrity of the exam.
On the day of the exam, the exams officer must take into account the early opening of papers (if applied for). Early opening is not an access arrangement in its own right but in certain situations exam boards will allow a centre to can open a paper up to 90 minutes. For example when a student requires further enlargement of already modified papers, in which case these modifications should be completed in a secure room before delivering the paper to the correct exam room.


Many schools provide separate rooming for candidates entitled to additional time to avoid disruption when students with the standard time allowance leave the room. Things to consider when setting up the room:
  • Lighting: If the room is dull or windowless, some students may require extra task lighting to ensure optimal visibility.
  • Glare: Conversely, some students may struggle with glare, especially if they use a device with a screen, such as a laptop or iPad. They may need to sit away from windows or position themselves with their screen facing a certain direction to minimise brightness.
  • Devices: Students with devices may also need to be positioned near a power source and will likely need a larger desk to fit their device, exam paper and accompanying materials comfortably.
  • QTVI assessment: Seating arrangements in the room should be subject to an environmental assessment by the QTVI before exam day to identify potential issues.


Many students with vision impairment will need adult support in their exam settings. This could be in the form of a reader, scribe or practical assistant.
  • Practical assistants: A practical assistant may be approved to work with a braillist to complete some practical tasks under the candidate's instructions.
  • Exams officers: The exams officer will need to know how many rooms separate to the main exam hall will be required to plan the number of invigilators needed.
  • QTVIs: The QTVI will need to ensure they are available to complete any further modification required on exam day (as agreed by the exam board).


Some candidates are entitled to up to 100 per cent additional time. This could prove problematic on days where two exams are scheduled, especially when rest breaks need to be taken into account. In this situation, the student could start their morning exam early if permission is granted from the exam board, otherwise they would start at the scheduled time and finish later. The student may need to be isolated between their exams to prevent contact with students who have already completed it. Supervised breaks of approximately fifteen minutes can be scheduled during the exam.

Technology and ICT organisation

Many candidates with vision impairment use assistive technology, such as word processing devices like laptops or iPads, which need to be checked that they are in full working order before being issued on exam day.

To ensure the student does not have access to any programs that may give an unfair advantage, schools set up specific exam log-ins that have no internet connection and only allow access to certain programs, such as Word and accompanying voice recognition or screen reader software.

This should be fairly simple for a school IT technician to set up in advance (we also use this setting for mock exams to familiarise students with the settings). Candidates need to be able to save their work on the device throughout the exam. The work is printed by the exams officer, the student must sign each page and it is then sent to the exam board. The work is then deleted from the device. Schools usually have systems for printing work, such as the invigilator saving it onto a memory stick before printing.

Other equipment required

Practical assistants should prepare an exam pack containing specialist equipment that may be needed for accessing tactile exam formats. The student may have a lot of this equipment themselves, but it is always useful to prepare an exam pack too.
Materials could include:
  • A large print or tactile ruler and protractor
  • A talking or large display calculator
  • Cork boards and pins for producing graphs or diagrams
  • Geometry mats used as a surface for drawing on German film
  • Wikki Stix and Bumpons
  • Blu-Tack
  • Thick-lined paper and thick-nibbed pens, and
  • A mini whiteboard and dry wipe pen.

Read how an exam series was organised at Tapton Secondary School in Sheffield

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