Extra Time Helped Me Ace My Exams (even though I never used it!)

I’ve heard many accounts of how providing extra time, or even no time limit, on tests can be crucial for students with learning differences. It turns out there are unexpected benefits of extended time testing, which I recently discovered through a personal account by Allison Shwartz: How extra time helped me ace my exams even though I never used it.

“Once I had been granted extra time I changed the way I approached my exams. Gone was the need to quickly read the question and frantically start writing. I’d carefully read the question. I’d highlight and underline words. I’d scribble notes around the question.”

Logically, it makes sense that extended test time would help students by allowing them to carefully read directions, plan their responses, fully answer questions, and check their work. Many SMARTS strategies help students, with or without learning differences, to access working memory efficiently and self-monitor their progress while taking a test. However, extra time may have an unexpected benefit. Shwartz explains:

“The bizarre thing about this approach, with all these extra steps, is that it took less time. All that highlighting and mind mapping more than paid for itself. I was calmer in exams and I was more productive. I separated out the different tasks of devising the exam answering approach, collating the stuff that would display the required knowledge, and writing down the answer.”

At first glance, it may be surprising that having an extra time accommodation actually helped Allison finish her tests more efficiently. However, this is actually the point of accommodations in general and executive function strategies specifically. Though strategies can feel like more work up front, they allow students to approach their work just as the word suggests—strategically. Students break down the steps and develop a more comprehensive view of what the test is asking; therefore, their work is more efficient and thorough.

When offered extra time, many students will say, “I don’t need it. I can finish the test in time.” However, the point of extra time is not to give a student five more minutes to rush to the end of a test. Extra time allows students the ability to use strategies to get their best work done.

What do you think about providing extended time accommodations to students with learning differences? Let us know in the comments!

  • Elizabeth Ross, M.A., SMARTS Media Manager




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