Since the 2010s, conversations about extra time for disadvantaged students have become more and more popular. In the UK, extra time was never an important or particularly well-known concept. However, the government and other figures over-seeing education in the UK have started to realise its importance. Knowing and understanding how to qualify for extra time and who it can benefit is vital. Especially for students who may receive lower grades due to their lack of understanding for what the concept is.
In order to get extra time for exams in the UK, you must undergo a series of tests run by the exams officer at your school or college. If these tests prove that you process information more slowly than your peers, JCQ should allow you extra time in exams. The standard extra time allowance is 25% for GCSE and A-Level exams for all exam boards. At university, the extra time allowance is decided by professors and exams officers.
For more information about who qualifies for extra time and what other measures can be put in place if you do not qualify for extra time to make testing and exams as fair as possible, read on.
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How can you get extra time for exams in the UK?
Most of the time, extra time is given to people who have a genuine medical condition or learning difficulty, such as dyslexia. If your school is aware of your circumstances, applying for extra time from JCQ is far easier. However, just because you haven’t been diagnosed with an official condition, does not mean you cannot gain access to extra time.
To start the process, you will need to undergo a series of tests evaluating your cognitive processing, run by the exams officer in your school. Depending on the school, these tests may be taken by all students at the start of Years 7 and 9 in order to pick up on any issues as early as possible.
Extra time can only be awarded to students who show problems over a long period of time, usually several years. For this reason, it is important to start testing early as the more evidence the school can obtain, the more likely JCQ is to award extra time.
As part of the testing process, you will need to complete multiple assessments judging your reading and writing speed. In order to be awarded extra time, you must show a significant lack of speed in these areas as compared with your peers.
Once the tests have been completed, the school must apply to JCQ, not each individual exam board. From there, the school has no input into whether you will be given extra time or not and must simply wait to hear the results. You should be informed if you qualify for extra time as soon as the school is made aware.
This article written by the Good Schools Guide goes into further detail about the process.
Is the extra time application process the same for GCSE and A-Level exams?
For both GCSE and A-Level exams, the process following the JCQ guidelines is observed. Most cases requiring extra time are picked up before GCSE so that students can sit both sets of exams with extra time provisions in place.
In fact, unlike in Year 9 when the testing for learning difficulties usually begins in preparation for GCSE exams, there are no tests taken collectively by students in Years 12 and 13. This is because most issues have already been picked up on.
However, if you are a student in Year 12 and believe you may qualify for extra time, you should either speak to your teachers or contact the exams officer directly. This is especially applicable if you struggled with time management at GCSE as compared with your peers.
How does the extra time application process change for university exams?
For university, however, the whole process changes. As JCQ is not involved in the regulation of extra time allowance for higher qualifications. Each university can effectively choose who can have extra time based on their own terms. Have a look at this article to see the other main differences between further and higher education.
Usually, if you were given extra time in school throughout GCSEs and A-Levels, you will most likely be allowed the same provisions in university. They may, however, wish to run a short set of assessments on your cognitive processing abilities just to make sure you are still in need of extra time. The same may occur if it is clear to your professors that it takes you longer to complete tasks or you do not finish exams on time.
Again, it depends on the university you choose to study at and their willingness to allow extra time. Some will not put any provisions in place unless necessary, whilst others are more than happy to accommodate learning issues.
Have a look at this article from the University of Reading describing how they decide on extra time provisions for students. This is a typical reflection of most universities in the UK.
What is extra time in exams?
Extra time is a form of Exam Access Arrangement (EAA) and the most common kind. This effectively means that the exam board are willing to make adjustments (within reason) to give all students a fair chance. For students with extra time, this involves the addition of added time at the end of the exam where they can continue working on their paper whilst other students must stop.
Special arrangements like this help students who have been disadvantaged by learning difficulties in their exams. For example, those who take longer to read and process questions or write answers.
The standard extra time allowed for students in this situation is 25% of the time allocated to the paper. For example, if a maths paper is two hours long, the total time allowed for an extra time examinee would be 2 hours and 30 minutes.
This document written and released by JCQ describes more about what extra time is and who qualifies for it.
Who qualifies for extra time in GCSE, A-Level and university exams?
There are a variety of reasons which JCQ deem acceptable for extra time applications. Most of these are learning disabilities which include but are not limited to:
- Dyslexia – According to the British Dyslexia Association as noted in this article, around 10% of school children in the UK have dyslexia, causing them to require extra time.
- ADHD – Whilst there are other provisions in place for most students with ADHD, one of these is extra time.
- Autism – Depending on the severity of the autism, different provisions for GCSE and A-Level exams are in place, but extra time is certainly one of them.
- Mental health conditions – Although it is difficult to receive extra time from JCQ, they are very understanding when it comes to the circumstantial causes of learning difficulties, such as anxiety.
In each of these situations, JCQ will consider each case individually and make an informed decision on whether students can qualify for extra time or not. If they do not, there are also several other Exam Access Arrangements which you could apply for instead, as mentioned below. For more on this, check out this guide by JCQ.
Who does not qualify for extra time in GCSE, A-Level and university exams?
Extra time is designed to give every person an equal opportunity in their exams. However, it is only given to students who are seriously disadvantaged, otherwise students who were not as disadvantaged would have a greater chance against others.
In other words, unless you can clearly show genuine and consistent issues with reading and writing within a time limit, you will not be awarded extra time. This is to stop students who fake learning difficulties such as dyslexia from unfairly gaining extra time.
It is important to note that exams are supposed to be difficult, and the point is to challenge your ability to think under pressure. The exam board purposefully reduces the amount of time you are given to answer questions in an exam so that you are forced to think quickly and instinctively.
For example, in essay subjects such as English, if you were allowed to write essays over an extended period, lots of students would include unnecessary information. For an examiner, it is important that the key information is laid out in front of them to mark. They do not want to be sifting through pages and pages of waffle to find the key points for every paper. For more on this, check out this guide by the University of Essex, which explains the role of essays in exams.
Therefore, just because you find it difficult to finish within the time constraints of the exam, this does not necessarily mean you require extra time. You should instead learn exam technique, practice timed papers and improve your speed under pressure. For more revision techniques, check out this Think Student article.
Are there any other special measures for students instead of extra time?
Alongside extra time, there are around five other main Exam Access Arrangements (EAAs) available for students depending on what their problem is. These other measures are as follows:
- A reader or computer dictation– As the second most common form of Access Arrangement, readers are given to auditory learners who cannot process words on a page quickly enough to formulate a response. Students with readers must take exams alone to avoid distracting others.
- A scribe or speech recognition device – A scribe is someone who writes down what the student sitting the paper dictates to them. These are for students who cannot write quickly enough to finish their exam but also have a condition where processing answers aloud benefits them. Again, students with scribes must take their exams in a separate room.
- An English language dictionary – Students who have migrated from various other countries and are not confident with the English language may be allowed a bilingual dictionary on their desk. This usually comes alongside extra time to translate questions and answers into the correct language.
- Rest breaks during the exam – Most commonly given to those with ADHD, some students require breaks in between questions during the exam. This allows them to complete the paper with maximum concentration where they may not be able to if no rest breaks were allowed.
- Extra time – Although this article focuses on students requiring extra time at the standard 25%, there are some cases where additional time on top of this may be required. Depending on the severity of learning disabilities, students can claim up to 50% extra time for their exams.
For a full run down of the EAAs available in the UK and who qualifies for each, read this government article.