Research student, HCARE, School of Healthcare Sciences
I am the Senior Neurodiversity Adviser at the University of Cambridge and am a qualified specialist teacher and SpLD diagnostic assessor with a postgraduate diploma in teaching students with SpLD. I am an associate member of the British Dyslexia Association, a member of PAToSS and obtained my MSc in Developmental Disorders from the University of South Wales. I am currently studying for a PhD at Cardiff University researching the impact of exam access arrangements (the use of a word processor and/or 25% extra time) on University students with specific learning difficulties.
Duncan H., & Purcell, C. (2017). Equity or Advantage? The effect of receiving exam access arrangements in University exams on Humanities students with SpLD. Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning. 19 (2)
Duncan H., & Purcell, C. (2019).Consensus or contradiction? A review of the current research into the impact of granting extra time in exams to students with Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD). Journal of Further and Higher Education.
Equity or Advantage? The effect of receiving access arrangements in university exams on students with specific learning difficulties.
My research study explores whether the granting of 25% extra time (or the use of a word processor in addition to 25% extra time) in exams achieves its aim of normalising the marks of candidates with specific learning difficluties (SpLD) to those of their typically developing (TD) peers or whether it confers an advantage.
Data relating to word count, mark and degree classifications has been collected from the 2016, 2017 & 2018 University examination scripts of students with a SpLD who were granted exam access arrangements and this data has been compared with similar data from the exam scripts of their TD peers who took the same exam under standard conditions. 714 participants have taken part in this study, drawn from the Faculties of Law, History, English, Maths, Medicine.
Three sample groups are involved consisting of the following participants:
- Students with a diagnosis of a SpLD who were granted 25% extra time in their exams and produced a handwritten response
- Students with a diagnosis of a SpLD who were granted 25% extra time and used a word processor in their exams
- TD Students who did not disclose a SpLD and who sat the same exams under standard conditions
The SpLD participants were paired with an index group (TD students) of similar numbers of candidates who sat the same examination question paper under standard exam conditions. The following data has been collected and analysed from the each participants’ exam papers:
- Total number of words on each exam script (essay style papers)
- Number of words per minute produced by each participant (essay style papers)
- Number of crossed out or illegible words on a script (essay style papers)
- Marks each exam paper received and the degree classification conferred
- Dissertation mark each participant received and dissertation classification conferred
The data identified significant differences between the total word count produced by the SpLD and TD groups in Humanities exams, with the SpLD group producing fewer words overall on a script. The effect size was small and related only to the SpLD group who handwrote their scripts with 25% extra time – no statistically significant differences were observed in the length of scripts produced by the SpLD group who word processed their scripts with extra time and those of their TD peers who sat the same exam under standard conditions. In addition, statistically significant differences were observed between the number of words that the SpLD group produced per minute of the exam and the number of words that the TD group produced in each minute of the exam, with the SpLD group producing fewer words per minute (this was the case both for the SpLD group who handwrote their scripts and for the SpLD group who word-processed their scripts). The effect size was large. This finding supports the rationale for granting extra time in exams to candidates with SpLD. When performance in terms of exam mark and degree classification was analysed across all subject areas, significant between-group differences emerged, with the SpLD participants achieving significantly lower exam marks and lower exam classifications than their TD peers who sat the same exams under standard conditions. However, no differences in dissertation marks between the two groups were idenitified, which suggests that the SpLD group are underperforming in the exam even with the exam arrangements.
The next phase of this research will focus on students with SpLD who are diagnosed with SpLD part-way through their university degree programme. The exam results the students with SpLD achieved before exam arrangements were granted (i.e. before the student was diagnosed) will be compared with the exam results of the same student after they received exam arrangements. This data will be compared to simliar data from TD students who sat the same exams under standard conditions throughout their course to see if any observed differences are statistically significant.