Processing speed

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.

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 that have not been identified previously.

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).

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. “ 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.