Examinations: What is special consideration?


There can be any number of reasons that exam candidates may be eligible for ‘special consideration’. Jugjit Chima looks at the criteria


The list of what can go wrong during exams is endless, from malpractice and fire alarms, to late arrivals and mobile phones. Candidates may also experience temporary illness, injury or other indisposition during the exams period, or be affected by a death in the family. There could be a disturbance in the exams room which has an impact on the use of recorded material, candidates could be given the wrong examination paper, or a student could mistakenly not be given a previously approved access arrangement.

All of the above are mentioned in section 2.1 of the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) document A Guide to the Special Consideration Process as potentially being eligible for “special consideration”.

Although candidates’ marks may experience an “uplift” of up to five per cent, it is imperative that the senior leadership team does not suggest to candidates or parents that special consideration will be automatically applied. This is given at the discretion of the awarding body and only after a very thorough investigation.

What is special consideration?

JCQ describes special consideration as “a post-examination adjustment to a candidate’s mark or grade to reflect temporary illness, temporary injury or other indisposition at the time of the assessment, which has had, or is reasonably likely to have had, a material effect on a candidate’s ability to take an assessment or demonstrate his or her normal level of attainment in an assessment”.

Special consideration does not replace an examination, it goes some way to assist a candidate whose performance in examinations may have been adversely influenced. Schools should consider in such circumstances whether a candidate should not be entered for an examination as marks can only be adjusted by a maximum of five per cent. Anything more than this would jeopardise the standard of the examination.

Which candidates are eligible?

Candidates affected by the adverse circumstances listed above may be eligible for special consideration. However, candidates must have covered the whole course and have been fully prepared for the examination. In the event of a wrong text being chosen, there is no guarantee that special consideration will apply. As it is the responsibility of the school concerned to ensure that this type of error is avoided, the relevant awarding body will investigate and decide whether special consideration is given or not.

Present but disadvantaged

If a candidate is affected by the adverse circumstances mentioned earlier, but still decides to take his/her examination, then special consideration may be awarded by applying an allowance of marks to each component affected within a specification. The size of the allowance will depend on the timing, nature and extent of the illness or misfortune. The maximum allowance given will be five per cent of the total raw marks available in the component concerned, including controlled assessment/coursework.

Awarding bodies are usually questioned over how they reach such decisions, but their processes are very robust. Although factors may vary from one subject to another, awarding body criteria is based around: 

  • The severity of the circumstances.

  • The date of the examination in relation to the circumstances.

  • The nature of the assessment – e.g. whether written papers are affected as opposed to controlled assessment/coursework, or whether an oral or practical is involved. 

Awarding bodies will not enter into discussion with candidates or their parents as to how much special consideration should be applied. Private candidates should liaise with the school which made entries on their behalf in respect of an application for special consideration.

The special consideration tariffs are:

  • Five per cent: this is the maximum allowance and will be reserved for the most exceptional cases, such as terminal illness of the candidate/parent/carer.

  • Four per cent: this is for very serious problems such as a life-threatening illness of candidate or member of immediate family, major surgery at or near the time of the examination or a very recent death of a member of extended family.

  • Three per cent: this is a more common category, including recent traumatic experience such as death of a close friend or distant relative or recent illness of a more serious nature. 

  • Two per cent: the most common category. The majority of cases fall within this category for instances such as illness at the time of the assessment, hayfever on the day of an examination or extreme distress on the day of an examination (not simply exam-related stress).

  • One per cent: reserved for more minor problems such as noise during examination which is more than momentary or the illness of another candidate which leads to disruption in the examination room.

The senior leadership team should note these tariffs and consider whether they would make a significant difference to candidates’ final marks/grades. If an examination can be taken in another series then this may be a preferable alternative.

Absent for acceptable reasons

Chapter 4 of JCQ’s guide contains information on how special consideration is applied for different qualifications.

An awarding body may award a grade if a candidate has missed a timetabled component/unit for acceptable reasons and the school is prepared to support an application for special consideration. However, the component/unit must have been missed in the terminal series of a qualification.

There are minimum requirements which must be met for various qualifications before awarding bodies will consider awarding a grade due to an absence for acceptable reasons:


  • At least 50 per cent of the total assessment must be completed.

  • AS three unit award: two units out of three must have been completed.

  • AS two unit award: one unit worth at least 50 per cent or one externally assessed unit worth 40 per cent must have been completed.

  • Enhancement given at AS level will be carried forward to A level.

  • A level six unit award: 50 per cent of the total assessment must have been completed with at least one A2 unit completed.

  • A level four unit award: 50 per cent of the total assessment must have been completed with at least one A2 unit completed.

  • An A level award will not be issued on the basis of AS units alone.


  • At least 50 per cent of the total assessment must be completed. However, an exception will be made for those GCSE specifications originally designed to operate as modular assessments. This is in recognition of the fact that the current terminal requirements were not in place when these qualifications were first developed. 

  • In cases where there is a single examined unit worth 60 per cent of the overall qualification, or two examined components totalling 60 per cent, the minimum requirement for enhanced grading is reduced to 40 per cent.

Others qualifications

  • Principal Learning: Units which represent at least 50 per cent of the total Guided Learning Hours must be completed.

  • Project (including Extended Project): Where the Project is not completed, a grade cannot be issued.


Special consideration is not a process which the school can influence, but it is something over which there should be clarity. Schools can sometimes be unclear over special consideration and how it is applied. This can lead to misinformation and in some cases false hope for students and parents/carers. 

So, ensure that you are clear over what special consideration is and how and when it is applied. As with any JCQ exam-related documentation, it is a requirement for the senior leadership team to ensure that they are fully conversant with all rules and regulations.

  • Jugjit Chima is one of the founders of The Exams Office, an online support tool for exams officers and data managers. Visit www.theexamsoffice.org

Further information
A Guide to the Special Consideration Process, JCQ: http://bit.ly/1O500HW


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