With help from Whizzkidz here are some exam tips for disabled students. If you’re a student with a disability, you might find that exams can be an extra bit tricky to navigate. But don’t worry, with the right strategies and support, you should have the same chances to succeed as everyone else! In this article, we’ll share some personal experiences of disabled students working with Whizzkidz charity to help you succeed in your academic journey, as well as some expert tips for taking exams.
Challenges with inaccessibility and getting the right equipment
As a disabled student, you may face challenges accessing educational opportunities that others take for granted. Physical, sensory, or cognitive impairments can make it harder to learn, study, and take exams. Poor accessibility in buildings and lack of funding for accommodations can also hinder your success. However, with the right adjustments, support, techniques, and gadgets, you can level the playing field and achieve academic success.
“Accommodations for disabled students” is a term borrowed from the USA meaning: making changes to the way things are done in school so that disabled students have an equal chance to learn. These changes help overcome any challenges students may have because of their disability. Accommodations can include changes to the school environment, the way lessons are taught, or the way exams are given. The goal is to help disabled students do their best and succeed in school.
Georgia from Whizzkids: ‘’Support – You will be entitled to some form of additional support, this may be tutoring sessions, extra time in the exam, rest breaks, a scribe, a practical assistant, your own space and room to take the exam, additional support sessions with your teachers and classmates! Please make sure from day one what you are entitled to and what your school can offer you. If you do this, you’ll surprise yourself at how much pressure your taking off yourself to be perfect and get a perfect score (because that does NOT exist). With support, ensure you speak to people within your school about how exactly these adjustments will work and remember you do not need to tell anyone outside of your “network” (family, teachers) If you don’t want to. This is YOUR support, not your friends or fellow students support.
What accommodations can you ask for?
So, let’s get into some practical exam tips for disabled students! One really important thing is to know what accommodations are available to you. Accommodations are changes or modifications to the exam process that can create a fair and equal opportunity for disabled students. This could mean things like extra time, alternative formats, assistive technology, or a quiet testing environment. Make sure you talk to your school’s teaching staff about what accommodations you’re entitled to and how to request them. It’s super important to understand your accommodations so you can use them to do your best on exams.
Penelope from Whizzkids:
’When appropriate don’t be afraid to challenge what has been given to you. For context, for my GCSE’s all the students at my school sat their exams in the sports hall, in the quietest area of the school campus. All the disabled kids and kids with learning difficulties had to sit their exams in a portacabin, adjacent to a building site, on another property. When we complained they gave us ear defenders. Those obviously didn’t work. I refused to do it for the actual exams. It was a 4-month fight but eventually I won. Don’t be afraid to challenge your examiners or challenge how the school is dealing with it. Just because it is said that it has to be done a certain way doesn’t mean that is the only way.
Georgia from Whizzkids:
Judgement from others – If someone asks you “what support do you get” please do not feel you need to answer that question because you do not! If you feel you need to answer this question you can say something like “yes I have a learning support plan in place”. No one should feel the need to judge you because of support methods you have in place for your own personal situation. This just increases stereotyping and if you need to talk to someone about judgement from others especially around exams, please do!
Plan Ahead for Success
Another tip is to plan your study schedule carefully. Disability-related challenges like fatigue, pain, or difficulty concentrating can make it hard to study for long periods. That’s why it’s a good idea to break your study sessions into shorter, more manageable chunks. Make a study schedule that takes into account your disability-related needs and your exam schedule. Remember to take regular breaks and prioritize your study time based on the subjects you find most challenging.
Georgia from Whizzkids:
Communicate – this is something I wish I had learned sooner especially when I was taking my GCSE exams. I struggled A LOT with exam pressure and keeping up with revision at school. It is not a very nice hole or rut to get stuck in, but I worked with my learning support department and we came up with various methods that made my final few months of secondary school so much more smooth sailing. Some of these techniques I still use to this day, and I have improved myself as a student and an educator because of these methods. These include incredibly simple things such as creating a revision timetable, doing study sessions with my friends and people on my courses, and using my ever faithful ever trusted Pomodoro technique.
Practice, practice, practice! Practising is one of the best ways to build your confidence, improve your skills, and get used to the exam format and content. Try using practice exams, quizzes, and past papers to help you prepare for exams. Do your best to practice under test conditions as much as possible, so you can get used to the exam format and timing. And don’t forget to review your practice exams to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Consider practising stretching and exercise techniques you can use if you will be in the same physical position for a long time during the exam.
Georgia: “Don’t shy away – Your school will usually offer after school revision sessions and some learning support assistants may run their own personal sessions if they know or feel you are struggling in a particular section or subject (I had this for science and it was a life saver!). If this support is offered to you please accept it! Your school will not tell any other students that this is in place or happening and you will usually also attend these sessions with other students and friends as well! If this isn’t something that has been mentioned to you, do not be afraid to ask for this. Remember the worst they can say is no’’.
Stress can be a major obstacle during exams, but there are ways to manage it. Anxiety, fear, and pressure can all affect your exam performance and make it hard to focus and think clearly. Use stress-management techniques like deep breathing, visualisation, or progressive muscle relaxation to help you stay calm and focused. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and exercising regularly to reduce your stress levels. And take regular breaks to do things you enjoy and help you relax and recharge. Try to reduce stress ahead of the exam by finding out exactly where the exam will be held and any requirements that you have are met.
Penelope from Whizzkids
‘’Last year at Uni we had a 48-hour open book exam which was great, it was the same for all students. If I got tired I could rest and still complete my exam on time. This year, the process changed to 3 hours. We had to do our mocks in that 3-hour period in person, I was ill at the time and there was no alternative provision. I feel I got more sick after having to do that. The change in process affected not only the disabled students but also the international students who had previously arranged travel home. Eventually it was changed to 24 hours instead of 48 hours. The accessibility department themselves have been great, it is a different institute to my course department who just didn’t listen to them at all. Funnily enough I haven’t even started in my new University in Europe yet, but so far, they are meeting all my expectations and needs. I love Europe. It is so great’’.
‘’Make sure your exam space has been checked for full accessibility before your exam, and perhaps choose a back up location. During a recent exam, the closest accessible toilet was out of order, so I had to move to another location where there were also issues. This all adds to the pressure on the day’’.
Assistive Technology and Helpful Equipment
Find out about using assistive technology to help you study and during your exams. There are lots of different types of assistive technology available, like text-to-speech software, screen readers, magnification tools, and speech recognition software. These tools can help you access information, communicate, and complete tasks more quickly and efficiently. Here are some low-cost items that can help that are available to buy on the Disability Horizons Shop:
Trabasack is a lap tray and bag that provides a stable work surface and storage for study materials. Keep your pens, calculator and laptop close at hand. A portable desk that can be used in any setting.
Feathertail Hands-free wearable mouse can help disabled students to use computers and other equipment more easily. It helps with RSI and can be used on a leg or head with switches that you already own instead of a traditional mouse.
To-do pads created by a disabled entrepreneur and artist help with organisation and task management with a playful twist!
Exam Tips for Disabled Students: Before the Exam
Organise Your Thoughts
Organising your thoughts is another crucial exam tip for disabled students. If you have a cognitive disability, organising your thoughts can be challenging and difficult to express your ideas clearly and coherently. That is why it is important to practice organising your thoughts before the exam.
Use mind maps, outlines, or graphic organisers to help you organise your thoughts and ideas. These tools can help you structure your answers and ensure that you include all the important information. And don’t forget to proofread your answers carefully to ensure that they are clear and well-organised.
Use Memory Aids
Memory aids can be a valuable tool for disabled students during exams. If you have a memory impairment, it can be difficult to remember important information and recall it accurately during the exam. Memory aids can help you remember key facts, dates, and concepts more easily.
Use flashcards, mnemonics, or other memory aids to help you remember important information. Practice using your memory aids regularly, so you can recall information quickly and accurately during the exam.
Staying focused during exams is essential for disabled students. Distractions, such as noise, discomfort, or anxiety, can affect your ability to concentrate and think clearly. That is why it is important to create a quiet, comfortable exam environment that allows you to focus.
Use noise-cancelling headphones, earplugs, or other tools to block out distractions. Take breaks when you need to, and use relaxation techniques to help you stay calm and focused. And don’t forget to stay hydrated and take care of your physical needs, such as using the toilets, before the exam.
During the Exam
Read and Understand Exam Instructions
Another important exam tip for any student is to read and understand the exam instructions carefully. Exam instructions can be complex and confusing, and misunderstanding them can lead to mistakes and lower grades. That is why it is important to read the instructions carefully and ask questions if you are unsure.
Make sure you understand what is expected of you in the exam, including the format, time limits, and question types. If you need clarification or extra help, don’t hesitate to ask your instructor or the exam invigilator.
Rebecca from Whizzkids:
“Make sure you know what access arrangements you will have in the exam. Maybe you get extra time, rest breaks, a laptop, modified papers etc. knowing in advance how that will all work can help calm your nerves. You probably won’t be allowed any bags or other items on your wheelchair so prepare your chair in advance so it’s not a rush before the exam. Remember to bring any medications you may need in a clear named bag to give the examiner (check with your school/college as to their process for this).”
To Sum up: Everything is a learning experience!
Taking exams can be stressful for anyone, but for disabled students, it can be especially challenging. However, with the right preparation and tools, you can overcome these challenges and succeed in your exams.
Remember to take advantage of the accommodations available to you, such as extra time, assistive technology, and memory aids. Practice using these tools before the exam, so you are comfortable and confident during the test.
Read and understand the exam instructions carefully, and organise your thoughts to ensure that your answers are clear and well-structured. Use relaxation techniques to manage your stress, and stay focused and hydrated during the exam.
By following these exam tips for disabled students, you can improve your exam performance and achieve your academic goals.
But remember that exams and grades do not define you
If you do fail, life moves on and you have learned and grown along the way:
Rebecca from Whizzkids: “Being a wheelchair user and/or a disabled young person, it can feel like there is extra pressure to do well to ‘prove people wrong’ or ‘make up for your disability’. But I want to remind you that you are enough just the way you are. It doesn’t matter what you get in the exam, what you are predicted, what people expect or want you to get, you are enough whatever. Being a young disabled person you already face so many barriers. Don’t let yourself and pressure on yourself be yet another. Remember that there is always another way, another path and that things will work out in the end, even if it wasn’t what was originally planned.”
Georgia: Personal pressure – Please, please, PLEASE remember you do not need to compare yourself to anyone else! Be proud of the grades your accomplishing, be proud of the work you are putting in to revision, be proud of the coursework you are producing but most importantly remember the numbers or grades you see on that flimsy little piece of paper at the end of exam season does NOT define you. You are unique, special and you have so much more to offer then just a piece of paper with a few numbers printed on it! I am prime example of my own advice – I “failed” my maths GCSE (never got past a D grade in the old system) and got a mixture of C’s and D’s at GCSE. Since then I have completed two degrees and I am awaiting acceptance onto a journalism course. I am starting to follow my passions and dreams so take your time as the world is your oyster.
As the UK’s leading charity for young wheelchair users, we empower young people by providing the wheelchairs, equipment, support and confidence-building experiences they need, and campaigning for a more inclusive society. Our vision is a society in which every young wheelchair user is mobile, enabled and included
About young wheelchair users in the UK
An estimated 75,000 young people in the UK need a wheelchair to be mobile.
Most young people aren’t getting a wheelchair that fully meets their needs through local services
For a young person, having the wrong wheelchair can lead to dependence on others, social isolation, poor mental health, pain and injury.
Without the ability to be independent young wheelchair users are restricted in their ability to socialise and participate in society.
Exam Tips for Disabled Students: FAQs
Q: Can I request accommodations for exams if I don’t have a diagnosed disability?
A: No, you must have a documented disability to request accommodations for exams. You can talk to your disability services office or school admin to learn more about the documentation requirements.
Q: Can I request accommodations for exams if I have a temporary disability?
A: Yes, you can request accommodations for exams if you have a temporary disability, such as a broken arm or a concussion. Talk to your disability services office to learn more about the accommodations available to you.
Q: What if I am not comfortable using assistive technology during exams?
A: If you are not comfortable using assistive technology during exams, talk to your disability services office or instructor to explore alternative options. They may be able to provide you with extra time or alternative formats, for example.
Q: What if I need to take breaks during the exam?
A: If you need to take breaks during the exam, make sure you request this accommodation in advance. You may be allowed to take extra time or take breaks as needed during the exam.
Q: How can I manage my stress during exams?
A: You can manage your stress during exams by using relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or visualisation. Take breaks when you need to, and try to stay calm and focused. If you feel overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to ask for help from your instructor or a counsellor. Make sure you are aware of everything that is happening on the day and the location and accessibility issues of the building the exam takes place.
Q: What if I don’t understand the exam instructions?
A: If you don’t understand the exam instructions, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. You can talk to your instructor or the exam proctor to ask questions and make sure you understand what is expected of you.