Access to exams and tests

Equal access to examinations and qualifications forms an essential part of the entitlement of children and young people with vision impairment to high quality educational outcomes.

 We offer some key points to consider when entering a blind or partially sighted learner for external exams.

GCSE exam survey

We will be carrying out a survey of exam provision in June 2015 as part of a new research project. The aims of the research are:

  • To get a better understanding of the potential problems with the provision of GCSE exam papers in accessible formats for blind and partially sighted candidates.
  • To find out how widespread the problem is.
  • To find out the key issues of concern.

The survey is available now on our Exam access questionnaire page .

Exam Access Arrangements

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.
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 learners themselves is an essential way of making sure that this happens.

Choosing courses

Most courses are fully accessible to candidates with vision 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.

Seeking specialist advice

Most visually impaired learners will receive specialist input from a qualified teacher of children with vision impairment (QTVI). It is important to consult the QTVI before deciding what access arrangements to request.

Modified papers

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 the downloadable document 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. 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. 
Download our guide to modified papers here.

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 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:

Well prepared

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 For more information on accessible resources, visit our education resources section.

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

11+ and Cognitive Ability Tests

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.


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