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While this year’s Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLEs) have passed, there’s a chance that next year’s parents are already thinking ahead to what they’ll need to do. For parents with neuro-divergent kids, such as those with ADHD, this might be a source of stress, especially knowing that their children learn in different ways and may require different things to get through a standard exam. 

This is where Access Arrangements (AA) from the Singapore Examination and Assessment Board (SEAB) comes in. Granted for students with specific learning or physical needs, Access Arrangements allow these students to sit for the same exams with the right support for their disability.

I first found out about AAs when I had gotten my daughter assessed for ADHD during Primary 6 – in fact, by the time we got her formal diagnosis, we were almost half way through the school year already. I was told applications for AA needed to be done much earlier, so I originally didn’t try. I did inform my daughter’s teachers about the diagnosis, and one of the learning support staff got in touch about a month before the PSLE prelims to ask if we wanted to try anyway. After some back and forth, we did get approval for AAs but it only came in time for the actual PSLEs and not her prelims. 

There are two groups recognised by SEAB as needing extra support in terms of AA during exams are those with physical disabilities such as hearing or visual impairments, colour vision deficiency, articulation or speech impairments or those with injuries that might cause pain (a broken hand, for example). The other group are those with learning disabilities like dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or autism. Here’s how these students can use AA to get a better PSLE experience (note: these are general arrangements and can be more tailored to specific needs).

  1. Extra time to prepare or finish their exams. This can range from 15-30 minutes extra, depending on the exam. Just note that extra time usually doesn’t apply to listening comprehension and oral examinations but students may get extra time during the preparation time. 
  1. Being in a separate room. Students who need extra time take their exams in a separate room – this serves to reduce the distractions especially when the other students finish earlier. 
  1. Specially printed papers for visually impaired students. This ranges from the pages being printed in larger font and simplified visually, to special papers printed with Braille.
  2. Use of computer aids. This could mean using word processing programs on the computer to fill in the exam, or any other computer aids necessary. 
  1. Use of a Reader or Scribe. For students who need help with reading or writing during the exam. For some ADHD students, the teacher in the room is also able to keep them on track by tapping their tables if it looks like they aren’t paying attention. 

How do you apply for AA?

There are several documents and reports that you’ll need to get ready in order to do the submission to SEAB through your child’s primary school for AA. The most important one is a comprehensive diagnosis report from a medical professional who is registered with the Singapore Medical Council. 

This report has a clear statement of diagnosis, and shows the testing and techniques that were used to arrive at the diagnosis, and also provides recommendations on what support your child needs. This report needs to have been done within three years of when your child is taking their PSLE, and also needs to include all relevant medical, developmental and educational history leading up to the diagnosis. Part of the diagnosis usually includes observations from the parent and teachers, but you will be guided through how to get these done by your medical professional. 

Once the documents are compiled, the school will submit the application on your behalf, and the result will also be given to you through the school. 

Keep in mind that SEAB needs your applications to be in at least three to four months before the PSLE exams, as each application needs to be reviewed by their panel, and that can take 2-3 months, while the school itself needs about two weeks to process and submit the application on your behalf. The best time to get all this done is at the beginning of the school year, so you’ve got enough of a buffer for the panel’s review before the preliminary exams begin.

You should also know that if your application for AA is successful and your child uses them during the exam, an annotation will be marked on the results slips and certificate, depending on the AA that was given. 

Despite the last minute panic to get the approval for my daughter’s AA, I’m glad that her school made the effort to get it done as quickly as possible. She found the extra time very helpful with some of her exam papers as she usually had problems trying to finish them within the set time. At the end of the day, she had done her best (with some additional help) and was happy with her results, so it didn’t really matter what annotations were on the result slips.