Top tips for helping dyslexic students revise for exams

David Imrie

David Imrie is a biology teacher and SENCO at Ashcraig School in Glasgow and has been helping children with learning difficulties since 1996, and uses Read&Write Gold literacy support software to support his students with revision and in the exam room.

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It’s evident that being a sufferer of dyslexia can mean taking on a huge amount of hard work, particularly when it comes to revising for exams. That’s why it’s important for teachers of dyslexic students to be well prepared to help with learning needs. With this in mind, Glasgow teacher David Imrie gives his best advice on the matter.

With GCSEs starting in May, it’s important that dyslexic students are provided with support and assistance from teachers to help them achieve their best grades.

Early planning – The Exam Timetable

Many students find exams and exam preparation difficult and stressful – a task that is even more taxing for dyslexic students. It’s important for teachers to encourage students to plan and organise their revision time early to help relieve the pressure. Creating and sticking to a revision timetable is always a useful coping strategy, allocating time for each exam topic and helping students to stay focussed.

Organise revision notes

Teachers should also encourage their students to organise their revision materials. One way to make them more manageable is to colour code any paper notes. I use a program which allows students to gather information using coloured highlighters, from multiple sources e.g. Internet Explorer and Microsoft Word. This text can then be collated into a single Microsoft Word revision document, with a bibliography automatically created.

Memorising revision notes

Many dyslexic students enjoy using mind-mapping tools when revising, to help with remembering key words and ideas. These tools are perfect when brainstorming and mapping out ideas for revision. They allow students to build their own visual mind map, adding elements, sticky notes and imagery (which is great for visual learners).

Reduce the revision workload

Reading is a fundamental part of revision, but for dyslexic students revision requires a lot of reading and re-reading of text to decode it. This increases the typical workload for a dyslexic student when preparing for their exams and can significantly increase their levels of stress. Many dyslexic students are multi-sensory learners and benefit from listening to their revision notes rather than reading them. Text-to-speech features in assistive software can be used to read any text aloud on a PC/Mac, for example, in MS Word, on the internet or in PDF documents and allows the student to listen to their revision notes rather than having to keep re-reading them

Concentration and visual stress

If a student has trouble with reading, it may be because of visual discomfort and distortion of print on the page or screen. A white page may glare, causing eye-strain or headaches; words may appear to move, to jumble or to blur. All these things interfere with reading and affect attention and concentration. Coloured overlays can be used with any hand-written revision notes and students can experiment to see which colour works best for them. The screen masking feature in literacy support software allows the student to tint the entire screen on a PC / Mac. This reduces glare and visual discomfort and enables those with Irlen Syndrome, for example (a form of visual stress which leads to difficulties with fine vision tasks such as reading) to be able to concentrate on their revision notes for longer.

Exam Conditions/Readers

Many dyslexic students will be allowed a human reader in their exam to assist them. However, recent changes to JCQ Exam Access Arrangements now allow for a computer reader to be used in place of a human reader, to read any text in the exam papers aloud. This enables students to be independent and reduces their stress levels, as they no longer have to feel embarrassed or afraid to ask for help.

Encouragement and coping strategies

Encouragement and support from tutors, friends and family is invaluable, enabling students to blossom academically and to achieve their goals. It’s also important for teachers to help dyslexic students recognise and build on their coping strategies in order for them to progress and do well in their exams and beyond.

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