When you take exams, your college or university should be able to make special arrangements to help you.

In higher education, universities set their own exams and assessments.  Most other qualifications such as Functional Skills, GCSEs, A levels, BTEC Awards and NVQs/SVQs are awarded by external exam bodies.


Exam support for students with a cancer diagnosis can include many different things, for example:

  • Extra time to complete the exam
  • Supervised rest breaks if you have fatigue or other side effects of treatment
  • Someone to read the questions or write down your answers
  • Specialist equipment such as a laptop or voice recognition software
  • Taking the exam in hospital, at home or in a separate room at college
  • Assessment of coursework instead of a timed written exam

Your rights

Under the Equality Act, colleges, universities and exam bodies in England, Scotland and Wales must not discriminate against disabled people. You automatically meet the Equality Act definition of 'disabled' from the day you're diagnosed with cancer.

You also have the right to 'reasonable adjustments' in exams. This means that colleges, universities and exam bodies have a duty to make certain changes so you’re not disadvantaged. In Northern Ireland you have similar rights under the Special Educational Needs and Disability Order (SENDO).

Exam boards usually call these changes 'access arrangements'. Their rules say that any change in arrangements should enable you: "to access the assessment without changing the demands of the assessment" (Joint Council for Qualifications). You still have to meet their standard, but they can change the way they ask you show your skills and knowledge.

Getting Help

You should make your request for adjustments through the place where you’re studying.

If you're diagnosed close to your exams it's important to speak to the staff member responsible for disability as soon as possible. This will probably be the special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) at school or the learning support adviser or disability adviser at college or university.

If you've already told your education provider about your diagnosis, they should contact you in the run up to exams. However, it's best to make sure you’re proactive in telling them about any extra support you need.

If you're under 18, a parent or guardian can contact your school or college on your behalf to discuss exam support. In some circumstances, in order to comply with the Data Protection Act, the education provider may ask your permission to do this.

At a school or college, the SENCO or learning support adviser should speak to the exams officer on your behalf. The exams officer is responsible for liaising externally with the exam body and putting adjustments in place.

If you have an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan, it cannot be used in its own right to award access arrangements for GCSE and GCE exams. However the SENCO may be able to supplement the EHC plan with evidence confirming a suitable way of working and that the arrangements are fully supported by the teaching staff.

Special consideration

Exam bodies may also give you 'special consideration'. This is a grade adjustment after an exam to reflect an illness or 'indisposition'. This could be relevant for example if you were having treatment at the time of the exam. The exams officer should be fully aware of this and they can apply to the exam body for special consideration on your behalf.

You may need a letter from your consultant explaining the situation. If you have a CLIC Sargent care professional, they can help arrange this. The exam body will then decide if it’s possible to change your marks.

Updated January 2017, next review due December 2017.