JCQ issues

Is Exact on the JCQ recommended list of tests?

The JCQ produces the guidance regarding the types of information that should be obtained in order to support an application for exam access arrangements. The JCQ does not specify specific tests to be used, as that is left to the professional judgement of the qualified assessor carrying out the assessment. Hence there is no ‘JCQ recommended list’. 

Communicate-ed (an organisation that provides training for education professionals involved in the area of Special Needs, and the UK’s largest Examination Access Arrangements training provider) produces a list of tests and assessments available in the UK. The list is regularly updated, with advice about any changes to the AARA, and with new tests as they become available. It includes information about the publishers and cost of each tests, the age it covers and how it can (or can’t) be used in assessment for Access Arrangements. The list includes the Exact.

(All proceeds are donated to charity: https://www.communicate-ed.org.uk/resources/)

In the Professional Association of Teachers of Students with Specific Learning Difficulties (Patoss) book published in association with the JCQ, ‘Assessing the need for Access Arrangements during Examinations. A Practical Guide’ (7th edition, Patoss, 2023) there are also lists of appropriate tests (both within the book and its online resources), which include Exact.

As assessment evidence is no longer required for a student to have a reader in examinations, how can the Exact reading assessments be used?

Low scores for Exact Word Recognition, Reading Comprehension or Reading Comprehension Speed can help to identify students who have reading difficulties that may require support in examinations. When assessing larger groups of students, a time-saving strategy would be to administer Exact to all students. As difficulties with reading are sometimes not as apparent in the classroom as difficulties with writing or speed of working, this has the benefit of highlighting students whose reading difficulties have not been identified previously.

Our school currently employs someone to carry out assessments for access arrangements and that costs quite a lot of money. If we use Exact will we be able to save money by dispensing with this assessor’s services?

JCQ AARA specifies that the assessments in Part 2 of Form 8, the Profile of Learning Difficulties, must be carried out by a suitably qualified Access Arrangements Assessor (see below: What qualifications do I need to assess for access arrangements?).

Part 2 is the assessment evidence which, together with centre evidence showing the normal way of working, is the key to making an application for a candidate with learning difficulties to have an access arrangement. The person carrying out the assessment then takes responsibility for selecting and administering appropriate tests, interpreting the results and recording the standard scores in Part 2 of Form 8. The assessor must sign to confirm that ‘the above information is accurate and that I carried out all the assessments in Part 2.’ The form goes on to state: ‘It is not acceptable for an assessor to sign if they have not carried out all the tests recorded in Part 2 of this form.’

These requirements apply whether it is Exact or any other test that is used.

You may be able to save some of the assessor’s time by having a member of centre staff administer the Exact with students. Where students score within the average range, it may be appropriate to remove them from the list of those who need further assessment by the qualified assessor, although it should be remembered that Exact does not include processing measures that can evidence the need for extra time. 

What qualifications do I need to assess for access arrangements?

The JCQ do not produce a list of recognised qualifications. However, the AARA gives guidance about the type of qualifications which enable an assessor to conduct assessments to be recorded within Part 2 of Form 8. [AARA 2022-23, Section 7.3.3]:

  • an access arrangements assessor who has successfully completed a post-graduate course at or equivalent to Level 7, including at least 100 hours relating to individual specialist assessment
  • a specialist teacher assessor with a current SpLD Assessment Practising Certificate, as awarded by Patoss, Dyslexia Action or BDA and listed on the SASC website
  • an appropriately qualified psychologist registered with the Health & Care Professions Council

Assessors are also required to meet the following criteria [AARA 2022-23, Section 7.3.4]:

  • have a thorough understanding of the current edition of the JCQ AARA and the principles, procedures and accountabilities involved
  • be familiar with the Equality Act 2010
  • hold an appropriate qualification to teach and make recommendations for secondary aged or adult learners who have learning difficulties, or be a HCPC registered psychologist

Why are the tests in Exact speeded (i.e. timed rather than untimed)?

In exams students are under the pressure of strict time limits which may pose particular problems for those with difficulties in handwriting, reading or spelling. Indeed, it is for this very reason that students with these difficulties are often allowed extra time by the awarding bodies. Literacy tests that are not speeded do not properly measure the levels of literacy competence in individuals of secondary school age or older, particularly in situations such as examinations. Consequently, all the tests in Exact include an element of time pressure in order to recreate that feature of exam conditions. Thus, in the spelling test there is ample time for students to type each word and correct a simple mistake, but not enough time for them to try out a variety of different spellings. In the comprehension test, because dyslexic pupils may have to read and re-read questions a number of times in order to fully understand them, we have not only set a time limit on the whole test, but we have also included a measure of reading comprehension speed, relating to the time taken for the questions to be understood.

The JCQ AARA specifies that a measure of writing speed can be used as evidence for a scribe. Does the handwriting test in Exact meet this JCQ requirement?

Yes, if a student has a slow (i.e. below standard score 85) writing to dictation score on Exact, this indicates that they have writing difficulties and the score can be used as core assessment evidence for a scribe alongside centre evidence of the normal way of working.

It is worth noting that if their writing to dictation on Exact is within the average range, the student might still experience problems in producing free writing where they are using their own ideas. If so, they may be entitled to access arrangements on this basis. For this reason, a free handwriting test (i.e. where the student has to choose which words to use as well as to write them down) may need to be administered in addition to the test results obtained from Exact.


For further information consult the book ‘Assessing the need for Access Arrangements during Examinations. A Practical Guide’ (6th edition, Patoss, 2021).

What does it mean when the report says the student did the reading comprehension test too quickly?

The program checks whether the student has devoted a reasonable amount of time to the

reading comprehension passages. If a student has completed the reading comprehension test in less than eight minutes the results should be regarded as ‘doubtful’, i.e. it is unlikely that proper consideration has been given to the answers, and hence the scores will be unreliable and should not (on their own) be used as meaningful evidence for exam access arrangements.


If a student completes the reading comprehension test in less than five minutes, the results should be regarded as ‘impossible’, i.e. the student has answered the comprehension passages so quickly that it is impossible for them to have given proper consideration to the answers, and hence the scores are not safe to be used as evidence for any purpose (see Section 3.1.2 of the Exact Manual for guidance on this).

What are the test ceilings for Exact tests?

JCQ Form 8 requires that, for each test used in the assessment, the ‘Test ceiling’ is entered on the form. Teachers are sometimes puzzled about this, because they are unsure whether this refers to a score or an age limit. The JCQ AARA states that:

The candidate’s chronological age must be less than the ‘ceiling’ of the test, unless there is no test published for the candidate’s age. [JCQ AARA, 2022-23, section 7.5.8]

‘Test ceiling’ should refer to the maximum age for which the test has been standardised. In the case of all the tests in Exact, this is 24 years 11 months. This is what should be entered on Form 8.

Occasionally, students older than 24 years 11 months need to be assessed for exam access arrangements. In this event, please see the answer to the FAQ ‘Can Exact be used to assess students over the age of 24 years 11 months?’

By way of further explanation, the term ‘test ceiling’ as used in psychometrics typically refers to the highest score that is obtainable on a given test rather than the upper age limit is the test. The term is derived from the concept of a ‘ceiling effect’, and has been defined as:

“In statistics and measurement theory, an artificial upper limit on the value that a variable can attain, causing the distribution of scores to be skewed. For example, the distribution of scores on an ability test will be skewed by a ceiling effect if the test is much too easy for many of the respondents and many of them obtain perfect scores.” [Colman, A. M. (2008) A Dictionary of Psychology. Oxford University Press, 2008]

What this means is that when students score the maximum on a test (generally called ‘ceiling level’ or ‘at ceiling’) the test result may not accurately reflect their ability because there is no way of knowing whether they could have scored higher if there were more difficult items on the test. However, for the score test ceiling to be meaningful, one would have to also know what the student’s raw score actually was, in order to determine that it was below the ceiling. JCQ Form 8 does not ask for the raw score.

Exact doesn’t include any tests of cognitive processing. How can these be assessed when applying for access arrangements?

Another of our products, Recall, assesses working memory and processing speed in the age range 7 years 0 months to 16 years 11 months. Results from these tests are acceptable measures of cognitive processing when applying for exam access arrangements, provided the student is not older than the test ceiling which is 16 years 11 months.

The current (2022-23) JCQ AARA (Section 5.2.2) states that 25% extra time in examinations may be granted to students who show substantial impairment in literacy or processing speed, i.e. “...at least two below average standardised scores of 84 or less; or one below average standardised score of 84 or less and one low average score (85-89) which relates two different areas of speed of working, as below:

  • speed of reading and speed of writing; or
  • speed of reading and cognitive processing; or
  • speed of writing and cognitive processing; or
  • two different areas of cognitive processing which have a substantial and long-term adverse effect on speed of working
  • Different areas of cognitive processing would include, short-term/working verbal memory; short term/working visual memory; phonological awareness; phonological memory; phonological processing speed/rapid naming; visual processing speed; visual-motor processing; mathematical processing; or other measures as determined appropriate for the candidate by an assessor [JCQ AARA, Section 7.5.12].”

In exceptional circumstances, at least two low average standardised scores (85-89) relating to different areas of speed of working are acceptable. In these circumstances, a referral must be made to the awarding bodies and the centre must provide for inspection purposes more extensive supplementary evidence.