Typing In GCSE Exams

When it comes to GCSE exam time, if your child has handwriting which is perhaps painful, slow or illegible, they may end up losing marks. They may struggle to finish their work in timed conditions which can be really frustrating for them especially if they are full of great ideas but can’t get them down on paper quickly enough.

Perhaps they have dyslexia, dyspraxia, dysgraphia or another learning difference. One solution to help them is to use a laptop to type in GCSE exams. For this to happen your child has to be assessed by the SENDCo at school.

The use of laptops in exams is designed so that children with special educational needs have the same equal educational opportunities as able-bodied students. And although using a laptop in exams should not give a child an advantage over their peers, with the average writing speed being less than 30wpm, there’s a huge advantage to be able to touch type for exams, where you can achieve speeds in excess of 70wpm.

What are ‘Access Arrangements?’

In order to qualify for what is known as ‘access arrangements’, in order to use a laptop in GCSE exams, you can ask to have your child’s handwriting tested. The first person to speak to is your child’s SENDCo at school.

It’s important not to get your child assessed too late, so don’t leave it until just a few weeks before exam time. There are two reasons for this.

Firstly, the exam boards need proof that using a laptop is their ‘normal way of working’. So, you have to show evidence that they usually use a laptop in lessons and for assessments. If you apply too late, they may not grant them the access arrangement in time.

For this reason, it is advisable that these assessments are completed at the end of year 9 as they are valid for two years and so can take them up to year 11 and GCSE exam time.

The second reason for not leaving it too late is to ensure that your child gets plenty of practice using these arrangements i.e. their laptop, in practice papers and mock exams. They also need to have enough time to build their typing speed by learning to touch type, so that typing isn’t more of a hindrance than a help.

It’s important to note that just having a diagnosis of dyslexia does not mean automatic exam Access Arrangements – it is the evidence of the student’s needs in their normal learning situation which is most important.

What evidence does the SENDCo need to show to the exam board?

Every year the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), the membership organisation of the UK’s eight largest exam providers, produce a document containing the rules, regulations and guidance on what a student may, or may not receive when sitting formal examinations.

The idea behind Access Arrangements is to allow students with special educational needs, disabilities or temporary injuries to:

  • Access the assessment/GCSE exam
  • Show what they know and can do without changing the demands of the assessment/exam.

These are part of the ‘Reasonable Adjustments’ of the Equality Act 2010 which requires an awarding body (any organisation that produces formal examinations) to make reasonable adjustments where a student who is disabled within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010, would be at a substantial disadvantage in comparison to someone who is not disabled.

As well as typing, what other access arrangements are available for GCSE exams?

There are other access arrangements that can be put in place if your child has a need.

There are two categories to consider – the first where students are formally assessed by a specialist assessor, and the second where formal assessments do not need to be applied for. But the SENDCo at school would still need to do an assessment to check that using a laptop is part of a student’s everyday way of working.

  1. Access Arrangements that require students to be formally assessed by a ‘specialist assessor’ before a school can apply for them:
    • Extra Time (this is generally up to 25% extra time for each paper and course work or controlled assessments).
    • A reader. A reader will read all exam questions and read their answers back to them.
    • A computer reader. A computer reader is software that accurately reads out text. Where a student has a computer reader the school can open the exam papers 90 minutes before the exam to scan the paper into an accessible electronic format
    • Use of a word processor (laptop) with the spell check enabled.
    • A Scribe. The role of a scribe is to write exactly what the candidate dictates to them in the GCSE exam.
    • Voice activated software that converts speech to text.
  2. Access Arrangements that can be given by a school or college without formal assessments and do not need to be applied for:
    • Coloured overlays.
    • Read aloud (some students find that reading aloud helps them understand what they have read. Obviously, this would be a distraction for others so they can sit their exams in a separate room with an invigilator present).
    • Use of a word processor with the spell check disabled.
    • Examination reading pen. E.g. scanning pens.

For all Access Arrangements the SENCo must also produce a document that, according to JCQ, ‘paints a holistic picture of need’.

This confirms a student’s normal way of working in school and could contain the following:

  • Arrangements used in SATs at the end of primary school
  • Comments and observations of teaching staff
  • Interventions used during years 7,8 and 9 (individual learning plans, support given, small group work)
  • Screening test results
  • Reasonable adjustments such as assistive technology used when working in the classroom, mock exams or internal school tests.

This emphasises how important it is that schools ensure Reasonable Adjustments are in place as soon as possible for children with identified learning difficulties.

Some examples where students might use a word processor in GCSE exams (jcq.org.uk):

  • A candidate who cannot write legibly because she has significant learning difficulties asks to use a word processor in her examinations. It is her normal means of producing written work within the centre because her teachers cannot read her writing. She is very proficient in using a word processor. The SENCo allows her to use a word processor in her examinations.
  • A candidate does not have a learning difficulty but is a ‘messy’ writer. His handwriting is hard to decipher. He requests the use of a word processor. This is granted by the SENCo because it reflects his normal way of working within the centre.
  • A candidate wishes to use a word processor since this is her normal way of working within the centre. However, the candidate additionally wishes to use the spelling and grammar check facility. Given that she does not meet the published criteria for a scribe, the candidate cannot use the spelling and grammar check facility. The SENCo allows her to use a word processor in line with the regulations as set out in the JCQ ‘ICE’ booklet.
  • A candidate who has significant learning difficulties has quite legible writing. However, he makes many omissions and cannot order his ideas correctly. His written scripts are legible but covered in crossings-out and omission marks. He requests a word processor and this is granted by the SENCo. The use of a word processor allows him to correct text, sequence his answers and reflects his normal way of working within the centre.
  • A blind candidate asks to use a word processor in his examinations. He also requests the use of a screen reader to allow him to ‘read’ back and check the answers he has typed. These arrangements are permitted when using a word processor in his examinations. However, if the candidate also wants to use predictive text and/or the spelling and grammar check facility he must meet the published criteria for a scribe, with an approved application in place.

How fast do they need to be for typing in GCSE exams?

Most schools should test your child’s typing speed to ensure it is sufficiently fast enough to not set them at a disadvantage. They need to be competent in order to use a laptop in their GCSE exams.

Some schools set the bar quite high when it comes to the typing speed required, sometimes in excess of 40wpm. If your child’s typing isn’t good enough, most schools will recommend that they learn how to touch type. If they are typing at less than 30wpm, their speed may not be fast enough.

More importantly than speed is accuracy. Maintaining a high accuracy over 95% means that your child won’t have to constantly hit the backspace key and slow down to correct their errors. It could be argued that writing an extra correct sentence by typing fast, could gain an extra mark, so it’s important to learn how to touch type at a good speed. Hunting and pecking by looking down at the keyboard won’t allow your child to get to the high speeds that are necessary for writing in their GCSE exams.

Advantages of using touch typing in exams rather than writing

1. Complete work much quicker than handwriting

A student’s ability to write under time constraints is an important contributor to their exam performance. Given the number of extra sentences that fast typists of all ages can achieve, this could represent the difference between a fail and an impressive pass.

2. Work is more legible

No marks are lost because of difficulties deciphering handwriting.

3. Copy correct spellings

Correct spelling can be copied without slowing down. This is particularly important in exams when marks are deducted for incorrect spelling.

4. Easily re-organise & amend

Capture ideas then re-organise, and correct work quickly and easily.

5. Computer reader

If a student is using a laptop in exams it is much easier to have a computer reader read the question papers aloud to students wearing headphones.

Is my child allowed to use a laptop in a GCSE exam if you normally use a laptop to work?

Yes they can! According to the JCQ, centres e.g., schools, are allowed to provide a word processor with the spelling and grammar switched off to a candidate where it is their normal way of working within the centre. So, if there is a school where all students use a laptop in class for writing and for assessments and tests, then this is acceptable to use in their GCSE exam. They can even choose to type for certain questions only, i.e., those requiring extended writing such as English or History and to handwrite shorter answers within the answer booklet. This avoids the difficulty of visually tracking between the question and the computer screen.

Don’t Delay – Get Touch Typing!

In conclusion, if you are concerned about your child’s handwriting or ability to get their thoughts down quickly using pen and paper, do not hesitate to speak to the SENDCo at your child’s school.

Typing significantly faster than writing by hand helps to level the playing field and can make a significant difference to grades achieved and future opportunities.

But don’t delay! Reasonable adjustments should be put in place as soon as possible so it’s not suddenly presented to them just before sitting their first GCSE exam. This enables the student to develop their exam techniques over time so an access arrangement is their normal way of working.

If a student can consistently type their work before starting secondary school, typing should automatically be their ‘normal way of working.

Using a laptop for their GCSE exam can give a young person the potential to experience the exam success they are capable of.

If your child has a specific learning difference and is not currently a laptop user in exams, it would be worth exploring this with the school ASAP!!

Check out our range of touch typing courses to see which would suit your needs and enable your child to learn how to type faster and enrol online. Alternatively, give us a call on 020 8434 7111 to have a friendly chat about how we can help you!

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