What is Exact

What is Exact

Exact is a suite of computerised tests designed for the assessment of literacy skills in the age range 11 to 24 years. The Exact suite comprises standardised tests of the following areas of attainment:

  • Word recognition
  • Reading comprehension and reading speed
  • Spelling
  • Typing to dictation
  • Handwriting to dictation

Test administration is carried out entirely by the computer. Each test begins with spoken instructions and practice items. The total suite takes between 30–40 minutes. Full details of the tests in Exact, including guidelines on test administration, are given in Section 2. Results, based on nationally standardised norms, are available immediately. Results are given in standard score and percentile score formats within the age range 11:0–24:11, and age equivalents for the age range 6 to 18 years are also provided. Guidance on understanding results and interpreting reports are given in Sections 3 and 4.

Exact has been specifically designed to meet the need for a group of tests that assess whether examination candidates should have access arrangements, such as extra time or use of a reader or scribe in written examinations. They are particularly aimed at GCSE and A-level examinations and the requirements of the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which represents awarding bodies based in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, some of which offer qualifications to overseas centres. Assessors should note, however, that Exact does not provide ALL the evidence required by JCQ when applying for exam access arrangements. Indeed, there is no single test currently on the market that can provide all the information necessary for the full completion of JCQ Form 8, which depends on a range of specialist assessment skills as well as thorough familiarity with current JCQ regulations, and calls for information from various sources. Exact provides a substantial amount of the assessment information required for Form 8. Section 5 gives guidance on this.

Exact has a wider range of uses other than assessment for exam access arrangements. The program is also appropriate for assessing students with specific learning difficulties in secondary, further or higher education, or for teachers wishing to obtain a standardised objective assessment of literacy of groups of students within the test’s age range, or of individual students within the test’s age range who have specific problems (such as slow handwriting, spelling or reading comprehension).

Although individual tests from Exact may be helpful in suggesting dyslexia, or may form part of a dyslexia assessment, this group of tests is not sufficient in itself to make a diagnosis of dyslexia and is not designed for that purpose. Administrators who require a test that will identify dyslexia should consider using LASS 11-15 (for the age range 11:0–15:11) or LADS Plus (for ages 16 and upwards). For further information see Section 3.3.

Exact has two forms of equivalent difficulty – Form A and Form B. This allows for repeated assessment if desired, although this should be carefully planned and with due consideration to the impact of possible practice effects. The two forms can be alternated over time in order to record progress, e.g. in response to intervention given to students with literacy difficulties. For further information on retesting see Section 2.9.

Rationale for the tests in Exact

There are three distinct, but interrelated, skills that are required by fluent readers: phonics, rapid word recognition and comprehension. Phonics comprises the sub-skills of grapheme-phoneme decoding (used when reading) and phoneme-grapheme encoding (used when writing). For most students, phonic skills have been mastered by the age of 11. However, to become efficient readers, as well as decoding skills students also need to acquire rapid word recognition.1 Both rapid word recognition and comprehension continue to develop beyond the age of 11. We have therefore concluded that rapid word recognition and comprehension are the key skills to be assessed in secondary school students and in individuals above this level. In Exact we have designed tests for these key reading skills; we have also included measures of spelling, handwriting and typing, which are central to the requirement for students to be able to record their work and display their knowledge and abilities in examinations.

1 Nation, K. & Snowling, M.J. (2004) Beyond phonological skills: broader language skills contribute to the development of reading. Journal of Research in Reading, 27(4), 342-356.

Perfetti, C.A. (1985) Reading ability. New York: Oxford University Press.

Why are the tests in Exact speeded?

All the tests in Exact are speeded – i.e. they are performed against time limits. There are good reasons for this. From age 11 onwards the underlying skills in reading and writing should be largely automatic so that the mental focus can mainly be on understanding what is read and on conveying clear meaning in writing. Unless individual words in text are read quickly and effortlessly, it is extremely difficult to retain morphological elements (words, phrases, sentences) in working memory so that the overall text can be understood.2 Similarly, unless the mechanical production of written words (letter formation, spelling, organisation, layout) can be carried out quickly and effortlessly when writing, it is extremely difficult for the writer to retain in mind a clear idea of what they intended to get down on paper. Hence, untimed tests are likely to give a misleading impression of the capabilities of students in secondary school and beyond. In particular, when students with specific learning difficulties are placed in the situation of a timed examination, their literacy skills are likely to be much worse than would be predicted from untimed measures of those skills.3

Arguably, writing to dictation (as in the Exact handwriting to dictation test) provides a purer and more reliable measure of writing speed than free writing because it is uncontaminated by the student’s ability to create ideas. Research has shown that free writing speed is influenced by the topic chosen, teacher and administrative factors, and the extent to which students want to (or have been encouraged to) produce a really good piece of writing.4

2 Lyon, G.R. (1998) Why reading is not a natural process. Educational Leadership, 55(6), 14-18.

Perfetti, C.A. (1985) Reading ability. New York: Oxford University Press.

3 Lesaux, N.K., Pearson, M.R. & Siegel, L.S. (2006) The effects of timed and untimed testing conditions on the reading comprehension performance of adults with reading disabilities. Reading and Writing, 19(1), 21-48.

Runyan, M.K. (1991) The effect of extra time on reading comprehension scores for University students with and without learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 24(2), 104-108.

4 Ferrier, J., Horne, J. & Singleton, C. (2013) Factors affecting the speed of free writing. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 13(1), 66-78.