Solving Problems With Exam Papers – Learning Futures

This Blog was originally produced for the Learning Futures Project and has been reposted from their website.

We’ve had a pretty successful few weeks at Runshaw on our Learning Futures project. On Monday we had an E3 IT student complete an IT controlled assessment using reading software to support himself, and we had an AS student complete several Mock Exams using reading software as part of their access arrangements. It’s not all been smooth sailing though, so in keeping with the spirit of blogging (sharing  both the good and the bad) I want to talk a little bit about a problem we ran into last Friday, and more usefully, what we did to resolve it.

I’ll discuss the problems a little later; first of all I want to talk a bit about a project success.

Like I said in an earlier blog, adapting resources for use with text to speech software is a very time-consuming task. I honestly don’t recommend you do this unless you absolutely have to, you’re much better off getting resources from services like Load 2 Learn, or directly from an exam board for an exam. However, sometimes these resources aren’t available.

One of our E3 IT students had been using text to speech software successfully in his lessons under the supervision of his classroom tutor it would have been a significant step backwards for him to have to go back to relying on a support worker to read for him in his controlled assessment. Because of this, we thought it was right to put the time in to adapt resources he could use in his controlled assessment, we got the resources approved by our exams department and he used them successfully. He passed the exam working independently, we can’t really ask for much more!

On to the problems

Most of the time when we use Text To Speech software in a mock setting we’re using past papers from an exam board website. This has been the case for an AS student who has been participating in the project. Her tutors were able to source electronic copies of the exam papers she was completing with relative ease, and they worked well with the software she’s been using.  Things were going very well… until they weren’t.  Some of you might have seen this post I made on twitter.

Twitter @Sporygog

Like I said, everything was going smoothly. I think I might have even said it was all becoming routine in conversation with other staff that day but we ran into a problem that I hadn’t anticipated, and that we had never come across with other past papers.

It’s a pretty simple issue, but it put a total stop to what we were doing with that student. It was all to do with the PDF document properties.

What Went Wrong?

Put simply one setting in the document properties had been disabled, and that prevented text from the document being copied to the clipboard so the software she was using was unable to access and read the text. I’ve added a screenshot below and highlighted the option that was causing the problem.  You can see it’s set to “Allowed” originally it had been sent to  “Not Allowed”.

Document Properties Adobe Acrobat X Pro

I had been able to identify the problem very quickly but because of the password protection that the exam board had put on the document when it was produced there was no way for me to resolve this issue. The security method on the resources was set to “password security” without the password I couldn’t change these settings. So I gave the exam board a call.

I’ve never had any direct contact with the support staff at AQA before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but they were really helpful. I spoke to their customer services team who put me in touch with their subject support team for the exam paper in question. After a few quick phone calls and a little back and forth on email I had a new version of the paper in my inbox a few hours later.

Problem Solved

With a new copy of the exam paper, the mock was able to go ahead. The student completed her work without any more problems arising. In a round-about way, I’m pleased we did have this problem as I’m now confident if we do have any problems with the resources we’re using that at least one of the exam boards we liaise with will do their upmost to help us out. In future, we’ll know to check that this setting is enabled in the past papers we use for mocks. And if any of you want to try the same, you’ll know what to look for as well.

Thanks to AQA for the help getting this issue sorted out so quickly.

Twitter @Sporygog




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