Alternative exam presentation for pupils with low vision

Title: Evaluation of alternative exam presentation methods for pupils with low vision.

Authors: Dr Graeme Douglas, Dr Mike McLinden, Annette Weston, Publisher: RNIB, Year of publication: 2010.


RNIB commissioned research on examination access by blind and partially sighted learners. The research was designed in 2008 in response to the Research Brief prepared by RNIB Corporate Research Team: “Passing the test: how accessible are public examination systems for blind and partially sighted pupils in the UK?” The work was carried out between April 2009 and July 2010 by a team from the Visual Impairment Centre for Teaching and Research (VICTAR) at the University of Birmingham and CALL Scotland, University of Edinburgh.  The research was carried out in two phases:   

  • Phase 1: International comparison of approaches.    
  • Phase 2: Trialling and functional specification of RNIB ‘E-formatting’ software.

Key findings

Modified Large Print

How do the Modified Large Print (MLP) versions of papers produced by RNIB E-formatting software compare to traditional MLP papers? (both process and outcome)

  • Findings from a trial involving 21 students with low vision suggest that examinations that are formatted using the RNIB E-formatting software neither significantly advantages or disadvantages student performance compared with existing MLP approaches. Familiarity with examination format appears to be a more important variable.
  • Professionals interviewed were broadly positive about the RNIB E-formatting software:   
  1. They were positive about having a greater range of options for examination formats which the software could offer    
  2. They particularly identified control over page breaks and formatting of pictures/diagrams as key areas for further development    
  • There were mixed feelings about how the process of formatting and production could be incorporated into the short one hour period before the examination. Some had concerns about technical problems and working under time pressures. There is evidence that appropriate and consistent modification of examinations is of key concern to professionals irrespective of the method of delivery. The process of producing the software versions of the examination papers (from four different examination boards) appears to have an important associated benefit, namely standardising of the modification process and the general format of the examination papers. Case examples of five students who preferred very large print (greater than 24 point) demonstrated that they appear to benefit from hard copy large print formats which are different from those available through existing MLP approaches. An estimated 9 per cent of GCSE-aged students with a visual impairment in England and Wales use font sizes greater than 24 point.

Methods of accessing examinations

  • What methods of accessing examinations are useful for the future, and can the RNIB E-formatting software (or a developed version of it) play a useful part? (e.g. electronic copies, interactive papers)When reflecting on the ‘perfect scenario’, many professionals reported that students should have access to examinations which had been modified appropriately and could then be formatted in a flexible way to meet individual needs. The use of technology was seen as an important part of the formatting solution by all participants (teachers, students with low vision and non-print readers). This suggests a distinction between appropriate modification of a paper ‘at source’ and the formatting options that could potentially be provided by the software.
  • Access to on-screen interactive examinations was seen by both students and professionals as offering a range of opportunities for improving access. Nevertheless, further work is required to enable these opportunities to be developed further. Key challenges identified through discussion with students (blind and low vision) as well as professionals included:    
  1. technical work is required to ensure computer-based material is fully accessible    
  2. appropriate examination modification is carried out ‘at source’    
  3. training of students in the use of assistive technology to access exams    
  4. training of staff to teach students how to use this assistive technology for exams access. Future development needs to be flexible enough to offer a range of on-screen formats (e.g. a range of fonts, sizes, colours, and zoom facilities). They also need to include options for hard copy versions of questions and/or supporting information such as diagrams and tables to be produced in a variety of formats.