After finishing the mock exam week, students from Years 11-13 felt mixed emotions as they received their results. During exam week itself there are things that never change, one being the presence of extra time students who, while you skip away to freedom having finished a gruelling two-hour history exam, are still at their desks furiously scribbling away with a half-hour to go. Thus, within the idle chit-chat between revision and taking exams, the subject of whether students need extra time is often raised.
There are many misconceptions regarding extra time students, and I initially shared the rather ignorant view that extra time was unfair, using arguments such as “they don’t need extra time” and “you won’t get extra time in later life”; these are both void points.
Currently, students are able to claim up to 25 per cent extra time if they have dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD or other learning difficulties – disabilities and injuries that impair their ability to read and write properly. These are all serious learning difficulties and, for people with these difficulties, tasks such as composing an essay or drawing information from a long passage is made even harder than it already is; these complications are not be scoffed at.
The most common reasons for claiming extra time at Berkhamsted, I believe, is in the instance of dyslexia and/or dyspraxia. Dyslexia means you struggle to read, write and organise their answers with in the given time. Dyspraxia means you struggle to write legibly and manage your time.
When you take an exam, you are being examined on how much you know about the subject at hand – therefore, students with learning difficulties will struggle for time to write out comprehensibly most of what they know onto the page, especially when compared to students without learning difficulties who find constructing an essay, for example, less of a struggle.
If exams were, however, intended to examine you on how much knowledge you can dump onto the page, then surely they would give you unlimited time so you could get everything out? Or is the purpose of the exam to see how much knowledge you can regurgitate in a given period of time, thus giving students extra time to compensate for their learning difficulty is a fair way? Nevertheless, some extra time students say they still struggle to finish most of their exams and, hence, don’t have time to check their paper, finish answers, etc.
In a perfect world everyone would be examined in a way that represented their talents the best; however, this isn’t a perfect world. In some cases, extra time may be required, since the exam board is promoting fair exams. Surely they need to change the length of extra time for each student in relation to the severity of their disability?
That brings me on to my next point, revolving around the theme of fairness. Is it fair in some cases that students receive extra time when it is clear they don’t need it in every single subject? Last year 96% of requests for extra time were approved. This is an astonishingly high number, and begs the question: do all those students need extra time? During GCSEs, I became extremely irritated by a student who would sit a few seats over from me in most exams who had extra time; even before the normal length time of the exam had finished, he would often be setting their pen down, arms folded, checking through his work. I, along with most people in the exam hall, would be writing to the final minute and would have no time for checking my work, while this student would have over half an hour of checking time and would then leave extra time early since he was clearly finished. This again begs the question of fairness and whether students with learning difficulties need extra time for every subject – and whether some students need it at all.
You may ask the question: why does someone without extra time, who doesn’t wish to apply for extra time, care about whom gets it? Well, in this current educational climate, where competition for university places and jobs is increasing every year; if students are allowed extra time who should not qualify for it and do not need it for every exam, then they can increase their grade unfairly, thus pushing the grade boundary up and in some cases meaning other students without extra time drop from that all-important A to a not-good-enough B.
I feel that for an exam board, which is promoting fairness, it is a fundamental flaw that there is so much room for iniquitousness in the current examination process. I believe that extra time is necessary with this current exam system; therefore, there either must be a change in the exam system – more time for exams but more thought-provoking questions, not merely an emphasis upon how fast can everyone write down the same information. Or, since that would be more difficult to implement, a more vigorous testing of students with learning difficulties, thus giving them a more appropriate amount of extra time matching their difficulty.