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What are digital papers?

They are digital (PDF) versions of the ordinary SQA exam papers or assessments.

They are for learners who:

  • have difficulty with reading ordinary exam papers,
  • or with writing or recording responses.

Schools make a request to SQA for digital papers for students who have difficulty with the traditional paper examination.

Candidates can then use a range of different technologies to both read the paper and type answers and responses on a computer, iPad or other device.

What do they look like?

There are 2 types of digital paper:

  • 'Question and answer' digital papers
  • 'Question only' digital papers
  • 'Question and answer' papers
    A PDF file with answer boxes in the paper itself for candidates to type their answers on screen.
  • 'Question only' papers
    A PDF file without answer boxes - candidates type their answers with a word processor or with a 'Digital Answer Booklet' (in PDF or Word format).

What difference do digital papers make to pupils?

By using digital papers in examinations, and by using accessible digital learning materials more generally in schools, we can help young people fulfil their potential.

Education Scotland produced a video of pupils talking about the impact that digital exams had on their performance in SQA exams.

 Dawn Roberts and her son Innes provide a great insight into digital technology for assessments in their video workshop for the 2020 Dyslexia Scotland education conference.

Consider this...

Can you be a...

  • Successful learner
    if you can't read learning materials and examination papers?
  • Confident individual
    if you depend on others to read or write for you in exams?
  • Responsible citizen
    if you don't have access to information?
  • An effective contributor
    if you can't speak, write or communicate independently?

Digital papers can help pupils become...

  • more successful learners
    if you can read learning materials when they want, where they want;
  • more confident individuals
    if you don't have to rely on a reader or scribe;
  • more responsible citizens
    if you are learning to be independent and self-reliant;
  • more effective contributers
    if you have learned the ways and means to contribute yourself.

Reduce reliance on readers and scribes

In 2019 in Scotland, there were:

  • 9,884 requests for the use of a reader;
  • 5,818 requests for a scribe for SQA exams.

That's 9,884 instances where pupils were:

  • sitting in separate rooms in schools in Scotland,
  • with a member of staff reading and/or scribing,
  • with a personal invigilator.

Such widespread use of scribes and readers may raise questions about independence and objectivity of assessment. In addition, schools are increasingly having difficulty finding sufficient accommodation and staff, and there are significant costs involved in paying for staff and invigilators.

Our research has shown that digital papers and technology, with text-to-speech software, can provide many students with a more independent and less expensive alternative to readers and scribes.

The good news is that technology is gradually replacing the use of reader/scribes in examinations and support using technology is now more popular than either reader or scribe. However, despite this, we calculate that in 2018, 90% of Scottish state schools requested readers; 89% requested scribes; and only 59% requested digital papers (94% requested a word processor without digital paper); so there is still some way to go.

line graph showing that the percentage of requests that include a reader has fallen from 38% in 2008 to 16% in 2018. Percentage of requests that include a scribe has falled from 34% in 2008 to 10% in 2018. Percentage of requests that include technology has risen from 11% in 2011 to 28% in 2018.

Digital papers and assessments in 2021

Examinations in 2021 were cancelled due to Covid-19 and awards based on teacher and lecturer judgement supported by quality assurance. Teachers could use papers provided by SQA and/or create their own assessments to gather evidence of attainment

We wrote a series of blog posts on the use of technology for assessments in 2020-21 and many of the blogs are still relevant for 2021-22.

Technology-based Assessment Arrangements for SQA 2020-21 Assessments. 14/12/20
All National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher assessments are now going to be assessed by schools and centres internally. What does this involve for learners with disabilities or additional support needs who use technology to access learning?

Technology-based Assessment Arrangements - Internet Security. 14/12/20. How can we manage and administer digital assessments for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher in 2021? Can we use cloud-based tools such as OneDrive or Google Classroom?

Technology-based Assessment Arrangements - Which Digital Formats? 15/12/20.
Which digital formats should we use for our internal National 5, Higher and Advanced higher assessments?

Technology-based Assessment Arrangements - Speech to Text Alternatives to Scribes. 16/12/20.
Modern digital devices all offer free, built-in speech-to-text or computer dictation tools. Can learners with disabilities or additional support needs use these tools for National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher assessments?

Technology-based Assessment Arrangements - Digital Assessments Must be Accessible. 7/1/21.
Digital Assessments must be accessible to all learners including students with disabilities or additional support needs. In this blog we explore what this means and how to create accessible assessments.‚Äč

Technology-based Assessment Arrangements - SQA Digital Exams on iPad. 13/1/21.
With the latest version of Books on the iPad you can type into answer boxes on SQA Digital Question Papers. Find out how in this blog.

How to read maths with Immersive Reader. 26/1/21. Last Friday a teacher asked if we knew how to read mathematical expressions with Immersive Reader. Here's how it can be done.

Accessible Word Templates for 2021 National Qualifications 11 March 2021

2021 examinations have been cancelled and teachers and lecturers are devising their own assessments to gather evidence of attainment. We have updated pages on the Digital Assessments web site with information and advice and some downloadable templates to help practitioners create accessible assessments.

SQA 2021 Assessments and beyond - an Insight into Using Technology 29 April 2021

Dyslexia Scotland have published an excellent video workshop by Dawn Roberts and Innes Roberts on the use of assistive technology in assessments, and more broadly. The video is well worth a view if you are a teacher, parent or student using digital technology in assessments this term.

How to Divide and Edit SQA Question Papers 3 May 2021

Last week a teacher called us to ask how to split up SQA question papers because they need to separate out sections to use in classroom assessments. This blog has some hints and tips.


Digital papers, a bit of history

In 2002, CALL carried out an investigation for SQA into the use of ICT for candidates with disabilities and a key recommendation was that papers should be made available in a digital format, so that candidates could easily open the document and use a range of different technologies to both read the paper and write answers. We researched the features that were required with digital question papers and found that staff wanted papers that:

  • had the same appearance and layout as the paper, so that students could use both digital and hardcopy during an exam;
  • could be magnified and adjusted (for example by changing foreground and background colours on screen);
  • would allow students to type directly into the paper on screen;
  • were compatible with assistive technologies such as screen or text reader programs, specialised keyboards or access systems, or speech recognition software.

You can downloads reports about the research and pilot projects here