GCSE’s extra time – a mixed blessing
I recently posted on my Facebook page that my daughter broke down in tears during her GCSE exam last week. Responses to that post got me thinking rather than ranting…well ranting less and inspired this blog.
I was shocked to find out that on the morning of the exam the school had timetabled TWO last minute “revision” sessions. Now this blog is not to attempt to evaluate that practice – that is a whole blog by itself – nor is it an academic piece of research full of references to evidence supporting my points. I hope this blog makes people consider the implications of the school’s practice (of having revision sessions right before an exam) and the negative impact it has especially for those students who have dyslexia and dyspraxia and other students who have extra time.
I have been involved in education all of my working life in a number of roles from nursery level to university. I understand that exams are stressful for ALL students and recognise:
- The end of term is looming and many pupils are tired at this time of year
- Hayfever season means some (like my daughter) have blocked sinuses that drains energy levels
- GCSE’s are stressful and schools are putting more and more pressure on students to gain the best grades
- Some students find managing stress challenging
Exams can be particularly challenging for those of us who have dyslexia and/or dyspraxia and often find stress and tiredness exacerbate the difficulties commonly associated with such Specific Learning Differences / neurodiverse profiles. Extra time, more often than not 25%, is awarded to students who have dyslexia and dyspraxia and is often described as a way to, “level the playing field”. Extra time is a reasonable adjustment and an accepted way to address to the following issues :
- People with dyspraxia often experience fatigue as everyday tasks take up a lot of energy
- For people who have dyslexia and/or dyspraxia it often takes longer to process information
- Retrieving information takes longer and requires significant concentration and effort
- It takes longer and more effort to organise thoughts and ideas
- Physically getting thoughts on paper can be challenging due to memory issues or handwriting difficulties
Or as my daughter puts it:
- Having extra time helps – it is thinking time and knowing I have that thinking time keeps me calmer
HOWEVER, as a life long learner, a person who has dyspraxia, a mother of a dyspraxic teenager taking exams and a practitioner I often wonder whether the awarding of extra time may, if not managed well, become an additional disadvantage. It is not that I disagree with the awarding of extra time but staff in schools should be aware of the potential implications on students and their performance BEFORE arranging pre-exam revision sessions. The educational setting should CONSIDER that students with extra time already have to manage the following:
- Longer exams – due to 25% extra time – this can mean some exams are almost 3 hours long
- Longer exams reduce the time between each exam especially if on the same day – minimising recovery time , increasing fatigue, increasing stress
- Missed breaks
- Reduced lunch times
- Staying later than others after school
- Getting no extra time in “listening” exams such a mental maths and languages as it is logistically difficult for staff to pause the tape for the correct amount of time
or as my daughter confided through tears that revision classes on the morning of the exam had left,
- “My head was swimming and I just couldn’t think clearly enough to get on paper what I wanted to say”
As I said before I am not debating the awarding of extra time nor its usefulness. I am simply highlighting that extra time, if not well managed, has the potential to make students more tired and more stressed and reduce the recovery time between exams. Research recognises that stress and tiredness have a negative impact upon dyslexia and dyspraxia and so the associated difficulties become more challenging to combat.
I am opening the debate that extra time can be a mixed blessing if not managed well by the school. My daughter’s school has a great SENCO but staff do not always take heed of guidance and often show a complete lack of awareness of the impact extra time has on the school day and the time she has available.
Thanks for all the kind thoughts and best wishes sent to my daughter.