SQA Assessment Arrangements and Assistive Technologies in 2022

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


This document reports the results of research to:
• Support the development of a new SQA policy on internet access in SQA examinations and assessments, through consultation with assessment users, and;
• Gather specific information/feedback from centres around which devices are intended to be used for assessment purposes.
The research comprised discussions with teachers and colleagues involved in using Assessment Arrangements (AA) in schools and local authorities; desk research into published policies and guidance; two online surveys; and online conversations via webinars. The research spanned the academic session 2021-2022 with the majority of the work taking place prior to the commencement of the 2022 examination diet in April 2022.
The work builds on previous reports to SQA in January 2021 and August 2021.
The main findings are summarised in this section.
Internet Access in examinations and assessments
Colleagues in schools report that access to the internet is necessary especially for practical use of Chromebooks and iPads.
The current SQA policy regarding the use of technology as assessment arrangements is that:
“Computers, laptops and tablets … can only be used under the following strict conditions:
• no internet or network connections (other than a restricted exam network)
• no spell-check (unless approved by SQA for a candidate)
• no thesaurus
• no other candidate’s performance may be disturbed
• no extra invigilation costs may be incurred”
Several local authorities in Scotland are engaged in providing ‘1:1’ devices – where every student is provided with a personal digital device for learning. At the present time these devices are typically Chromebooks or iPads. The Scottish Government has pledged that “Just as in my day, the teacher handed out a jotter to all, so in this internet age, we will hand each child the device they need to learn and prosper” .
All learners in secondary school are therefore expected to have use of a personal digital device in school although implementation of this is still ongoing. Digital technology has and will become a more commonly used method of accessing learning and demonstrating knowledge and skills (assuming the technology is used as intended). In line with greater use of digital learning, the use of the internet in teaching and learning has developed considerably in recent years and accelerated as a result of the covid pandemic. Educational cloud services such as Glow, Microsoft O365 and Google Classroom use the internet.
Access to the internet is less important where Windows-based devices are used in examinations because many schools still have internal networks but this is changing as cloud-based storage (i.e. Glow, Microsoft OneDrive and Teams; Google Classroom) become the primary mechanisms supporting digital teaching and learning, and as candidates learn to use support tools that increasingly require an internet connection.
The research has found that teachers and colleagues with technical remits in schools do not as yet have tools and practices to implement the use of Chromebooks and iPads in external assessments and exams. In part this may be because there has been limited incentive to investigate solutions, given that access to the internet is not currently allowed.
We suggest that a new policy permitting restricted access to the internet is investigated through discussions with practitioners in schools and centres to ensure that learners can use their digital devices in external exams and assessments.
Which devices are intended to be used for assessment purposes in 2022?
The research has found that practitioners expected most candidates to use Windows-based devices for assessment arrangements (AA) in the 2022 examination diet.
Disabled candidates and/or learners with additional support needs have been using Windows-based desktop and laptop computers as assessment arrangements for many years, and SQA’s Digital Question Papers (DQPs) and Digital Answer Booklets (DABs) continue to provide an accessible solution for many learners.
However, the digital learning environment has changed and some practitioners felt that the use of Windows devices in examinations had significant shortcomings for learners and staff, where Chromebooks and/or iPads are the predominant technology:
• Where learners use Chromebooks or iPads, and given that “Assessment arrangements should reflect, as far as possible, the candidate’s normal way of learning and producing work” , colleagues indicate that candidates are disadvantaged by having to learn new skills and working practices with Windows devices for an examination. The functionality and user interfaces when using DQPs and DABs are different across platforms; accessibility tools are different; skills that have been developed over months and years with one device have to be developed and practiced rapidly which adds additional time and pressure for staff and learners.
• In some schools where Chromebook and iPads have been purchased, Windows-based devices have not been upgraded and so fewer devices are available for use as AA in examinations.
The research suggests that there are several reasons why Chromebooks and iPads were not used as assessment arrangements:
• Practical use of Chromebooks and iPads in examinations requires access to the internet.
• Methods and processes for configuring iPads and Chromebooks to ensure security, functionality and accessibility are not sufficiently developed.
• iPads that have been provided in some local authorities do not have the necessary apps for accessing DQPs in question-and-answer format (see iPads).
• Current apps/extensions for Chromebooks for accessing DQPs in question-and-answer format do not provide the required functionality (see Chromebooks).
• Investigation into the possibility of permitting restricted access to the internet, to allow practitioners to manage devices and candidates to access assessment and question papers, to print, and to use necessary and permitted accessibility support tools.
• A survey of colleagues in centres to investigate the type and nature of technologies that were actually used for Assessment Arrangements in 2022.
• Action research with teachers and practitioners in centres, and possibly technology suppliers, to develop tools and processes for administering assessment arrangements using Chromebooks, iPads and Windows with existing DQPs and DABs.
• Digital Answer Booklets in .docx format should be re-designed to be accessible for students using Chromebooks and word processor tools such as Immersive Reader in Microsoft Word, Word 365 online, or alternative accessible DABs in .docx format should be provided.
• Development and publication of guidance around administration, access and online support tools, particularly speech-to-text dictation, covering Chromebooks, iPads and Windows OS devices.
• Research into alternative digital formats of Digital Question Papers and Answer Booklets should be undertaken as a matter of urgency. The current DQPs and DABs in PDF have significant limitations. Candidates and stakeholders require digital assessments that are accessible, practical, cross-platform and consistent.

In Scotland, a third of learners are identified as having an additional support need and the number of requests for assessment arrangements continues to increase. Digital technology can provide a means for disabled learners and/or those with additional support needs to demonstrate their attainment independently and avoid the need for support from staff to read and/or scribe for them.
Thousands of learners in Scotland have been and are being provided with digital devices for learning in class but this research suggests that they were not able to use these devices when they sat examinations in 2022.
Original languageEnglish
Commissioning bodyScottish Qualifications Authority
Number of pages62
Publication statusUnpublished - 12 Jan 2023


  • accessibility
  • examinations
  • disability
  • assessment
  • assistive technology


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