Equity or advantage? The effect of receiving access arrangements in university exams on students with specific learning difficulties (SpLD)

Helen Duncan, Senior Neurodiversity Adviser: University of Cambridge

Presentation slides


Research was conducted at the University of Cambridge to identify whether the granting of exam arrangements to students with SpLD creates equity with their non-SpLD peers or confers an advantage. Length of exam scripts and marks of students with SpLD who were 25% granted extra time (or 25% extra time and the use of a word processor) were compared with those of their non-SpLD peers who sat the same exams under standard conditions. The dissertation marks of the two groups were also compared. No significant differences between the SpLD group and their non-SpLD peers were identified in the total numbers of word on the scripts, but significant between-group differences were identified in marks and exam classifications, with the SpLD group as a whole achieving lower marks and lower exam classifications. No differences between the dissertation marks of SpLD group and their non-SpLD peers were identified, but the difference between the exam marks and dissertation marks for the SpLD group was significantly greater than was the case for their non-SpLD peers.

Overall, the research suggests that, rather than advantaging the SpLD group, the exam arrangements may fail to fully level the playing field and also indicates that the SpLD group may be underperforming in the exams (as measured by exam mark) in comparison to their potential (as measured by dissertation mark).

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