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Fair access information for candidates with dyslexia, dyspraxia or other learning difficulties

Entering for the exam

  • Once you are sure of what’s needed for the exam, select the correct Specific Needs code when you make your exam entry. In order for the correct provisions to be made, it is important that the correct code is used each time a candidate is entered for an exam. Where additional arrangements are needed, these must be discussed and agreed with ABRSM before entry.
  • Any candidate who has been diagnosed as having a specific learning difficulty must send an official document to support this diagnosis. This is used to confirm the candidate’s needs and the support they are likely to require, eg extra time, enlarged sight-reading tests or use of a scale book for reference purposes.
  • On occasion, none of the Specific Needs codes will be relevant, in which case you should include a covering letter with your entry form or send an email to [email protected] once you have submitted your online entry. Alternatively, you may wish to select one of the codes below and send a covering letter or email to give us more detailed information. The more information you can provide the better.
  • We provide all examiners who are scheduled to examine candidates with dyslexia, dyspraxia or any other Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD) with general guidelines about what to expect when examining a candidate with these Specific Needs. If there is any particular information you feel it would be useful for the examiner to be aware of, please let us know at the time of entry, in order for us to inform the examiner in advance of the exam.

The supporting document

In accordance with the British Dyslexia Association’s advice, we require supporting documentation whenever we make a reasonable adjustment to an exam. This document can be:

  • an assessment from an educational psychologist or specialist teacher. The summary pages usually provide enough information for the purposes of our exams, but please ensure it includes information about recommended support or arrangements for exams.
  • a letter from the Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) or head teacher at the school, on headed paper.
  • a letter from the Local Education Authority (LEA), on headed paper.

Once we have a document on file, we will make a note of the reasonable adjustments allowed for the candidate. As long as the code D is selected at time of every entry no further documentation will be requested for any future exam, if the adjustment requested remains the same. If any alteration to the original adjustments is requested for subsequent exams, you will need to provide an updated document or the original document for reassessment.

Adult candidates

We recognise that adult candidates may find it difficult to provide a supporting document when they are no longer in the education system. In this case, please send the most recent document you have, with a covering note to explain the situation, and we will contact you. An alternative option for adults without an up-to-date supporting document is to complete a dyslexia screening test (visit the BDA website for further information).

Practical exams


Extra time: An additional five minutes will be allowed for each exam, including up to three minutes to study the sight-reading/quick study test rather than the usual 30 seconds.

Large notation sight-reading tests are available on request – please see the entry form for the relevant codes.

Modified stave notation sight-reading tests are available on request. This means that rather than a straightforward enlargement, the test can be specifically modified, for example with larger note-heads and beaming, or a larger font for performance directions. To discuss your requirements please contact the Access Coordinator.

Tinted overlays/coloured paper: candidates who have difficulty reading from white paper are welcome to bring tinted overlays with them. These can be used during any part of the exam. If the sight-reading is required on coloured paper, three sheets of paper in the correct colour, of the required size (A3/A4) must be provided on entry.

Examiners will be aware that having lost their place in the music, candidates may have particular difficulty in re-finding it.


Replays: candidates can forget what scale they were playing – a replay will be allowed. Examiners will also be aware that some processing time may be needed for candidates to recall the key signature and finger patterns required. No penalty will be made for a lack of ‘prompt’ responses.

Scale book: candidates who have particular problems with short-term memory and therefore memorising of the scales, may take the scale manual into the exam room for reference only . This means that candidates may have the scale book open on a music stand close to them and glance over if they have particular problems recalling the patterns. If candidates are deemed to be reading from the music, they will not be disqualified but neither will they be able to achieve full marks for this section. Advance written permission must be obtained from ABRSM for this provision.

Right and left: examiners have been asked not to refer to ‘right’ or ‘left’ hand scales but to ‘this hand’ or ‘the other hand’, demonstrating if necessary.

Aural tests

Additional attempts: examiners are asked to give an additional attempt at the aural tests if necessary. Any further attempts may be allowed at the examiner’s discretion.

Large notation aural tests will be automatically provided if large notation sight-reading has been requested – please see the entry form for the relevant code.

Order of the exam

Examiners will be aware that the order of the exam may affect the performance of those with learning difficulties. Therefore, the elements comprising the exam will be accepted in any order, provided that it is logistically feasible – for example, it’s better that elements which require an accompanist are adjacent, to cause minimum disruption to both candidate and examiner. If an alternative order is required, the Applicant must give advance written notice of this order either to ABRSM or to the steward on the day of the exam.

On the day

Examiners will be aware that candidates with learning difficulties may feel more nervous in an exam situation, and that some learning difficulties, such as dyspraxia, may mean that candidates have difficulty with coordination and concentration. The extra time allowed will help examiners to take their time and ensure that candidates don’t feel rushed.

Examiners have been asked to:

  • speak clearly and not too fast, allowing time for candidates to process the information
  • repeat an instruction if asked or if candidates are slow in responding
  • understand that candidates can become muddled with their own words when asked to name what has been played
  • be aware that memory lapses may occur in any section of the exam.

Singing exams

Copies of the words: candidates with particular short-term memory difficulties may bring a copy of the words of their songs for reference only . Candidates asking for this provision should be aware that reference to the words which is deemed to inhibit communication would mean that the highest marks could not be achieved for their songs. Advance written permission must be obtained from ABRSM for this provision.

Written comments

Marks must always reflect the standard of the candidate’s performance. However, examiners will aim to avoid comments which directly relate to the above-mentioned points and would seem to emphasise them.

Written exams


Candidates won’t lose marks for incorrect spelling, as long as the meaning is clear.

Lower grades: markers are aware that copying out poses particular difficulties for candidates with learning difficulties, but at the lower grades where the skill itself is assessed, all candidates are required to do the best they can.

Upper grades: where the skill being assessed is primarily that of continuing a melody based on an opening fragment, the instruction to copy out the fragment may be ignored without penalty.

Coloured papers

Candidates who may benefit from working theory papers printed on non-white paper may request a paper printed on blue, green, pink or yellow paper, and should do so when submitting an entry.


Candidates who are unable to access printed material, or who are unable to write down their answers may use an amanuensis to act as a reader, a scribe or both. From 1 January 2006, ABRSM will endeavour to provide a fully trained amanuensis. This may not be possible on all occasions, and candidates must be prepared to make their own arrangements if necessary, in accordance with our Regulations.

Candidates who require an amanuensis must contact their Local Representative prior to entry. A covering letter must be included with the entry form.

Extra time

Additional time will be allowed for the completion of each exam as follows:

Grades 1–3        30 minutes extra

Grades 4–5        40 minutes extra

Grades 6–8        60 minutes extra

Diploma exams

Written submissions

Spelling and grammar: we are aware that candidates with learning difficulties may have particular problems with regard to spelling and ‘getting things the wrong way round’ when writing prose and music. It is also understood that some candidates do not always use conventional sentence structure. However, at diploma level we would expect candidates to have checked their submissions thoroughly and they will be marked under the same guidelines as all other candidates. No major penalty will be incurred provided the candidate’s intentions are clear to the examiner(s).

Quick study

Extra time: candidates with learning difficulties will be allowed 12 minutes rather than the usual five to prepare the quick study section. Examiners will be aware that memory lapses may occur and that candidates may have particular problems finding their place in the music should they lose it, but examiners are required to mark this section in line with the published criteria.

Tinted overlays/coloured paper: candidates are welcome to bring tinted overlays into the exam for use in the quick study section if needed. Also, large notation and/or coloured paper quick study tests can be supplied for candidates who have visual sequencing difficulties. ABRSM must be informed in advance if coloured paper is required – please see ‘Sight-reading’ for further details.

Viva Voce

Promptness of responses: examiners will be aware that candidates with sequencing difficulties may require a few moments ‘processing time’ before answering some questions. Candidates with learning difficulties will not incur a penalty purely on the basis of not being prompt with answers. Examiners will endeavour to speak slowly and clearly, and will be prepared to repeat or re-phrase questions, again without penalty, if necessary.


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