How important is extra time for students during exams?
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How important is extra time for students during exams?

How important is extra time for students during exams?

Students receive extra time for a number of reasons. From learning disabilities to mental health conditions, no two cases are the same – and they should not be treated as such.

With increasing numbers of students receiving extra time in the United Kingdom, the question has arisen: should we be cutting back on extra time?

We spoke to four students and recent graduates who all agreed on a unanimous ‘no’.

Emily Willmore, a University of Sussex graduate, received extra time for dyslexia in her final two years of university. Willmore told Study International she always uses her extra time.

It makes such a difference

“If you look at my grades across the three years, you can see a huge improvement after being diagnosed with dyslexia and hence gaining extra time for coursework and exams,” said Willmore.

“I felt I needed it [extra time] so much before as I could never finish an exam and felt I lost marks because I couldn’t finish a conclusion, for example,” agreed Katie Fong, a Master’s student at the University of Sheffield.

“Now I have time to finish an exam and if I’m lucky I have enough time to read over what I’ve written.”

Fong receives extra time because she has a slow processing speed linked to her dyslexia.

Alice James, a Philosophy and Hispanic Studies at Sheffield, receives extra time for mental health issues. For exams, it is particularly helpful for her panic attacks, anxiety and dissociation.

“The extra time is good for both reducing the likelihood of panic attacks and allowing space for them if they do occur,” she told Study International. “The extra time coupled with being able to take breaks – to leave the exam hall and take a breather – is helpful.”

James also finds being able to sit her exams in a much smaller venue, with other people with similar issues, immensely beneficial.

“It helps to be in a small room with people who aren’t going to judge you for taking a break or panicking. I also found the exams team to be really supportive if I’ve needed to take a break for a panic attack or anxiety attack,” said James.

How do students use their extra time?

Fong uses it to “write more”, while Jack Bartlett, a University of Portsmouth graduate, used it to go over his answers to see if there was anything which needed editing or if there was anything to add.

“I am hard of hearing, which makes it difficult for information to sink in immediately,” Bartlett explained.

Extra time is so crucial for students like Bartlett as “it allows students who have special difficulties to have the same opportunities as everyone else”.

“Extra time in exams allows me to thoroughly read the questions to ensure I have accurately interpreted them,” said Willmore.

“Furthermore, it helps with stress during the exam. You are given the time, which balances out against slow processing speeds that before would leave me in a panic as I was nowhere near completion.”

James said how she uses her extra time varies. “If I’m feeling mentally well on that day I use it to plan for longer on essay questions by just dividing the time up for each question to have longer to write,” James told Study International.

“If I’m not doing well, I usually take the first five minutes out to breathe and take my time choosing a question. The time helps to calm my panic and anxiety. If I’m stressing out writing one question, I often take five minutes with the booklet closed to breathe and meditate a little bit to calm down.”

Taking it away would stop many hard-working students from succeeding

Willmore claimed taking away extra time would be “monumentally unfair”.

“Certain children require the extra time to even the playing field so they can perform to the best of their capabilities, which other children are able to do without extra time as they do not suffer with a learning difficulty,” she explained.

What many of these students have in common is that their conditions were not recognised – or they were not given extra time for them – before university.

“My dyslexic tendencies are mild and went undiagnosed throughout school and only came to a head at university, where the workload and expectation were so great that it was clearly impeding on my study,” said Willmore.

“Looking back now, I should have had this extra support through my A-levels and as such they would then be a reflection of my capabilities and not a reflection of my undiagnosed dyslexia.”

However, Willmore added that “extra time should not be being given away without full inspection of a child’s needs”. She feels to “punish” those who really need it by taking it away would be an “unfair consequence which would leave behind bright pupils”.

“If someone with learning difficulties has the ability to do better with more time, they should be allowed that time,” James said. “Otherwise it’s purely discrimination and inhibiting talents of children, keeping their confidence and grades low when they are capable of achieving more.”

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