Taking exams can be an extra worry if you have diabetes. But you have the right to make reasonable requests for what you need during the exam that will help you do your best.
This information applies to exams you take after you’ve left school. If you’re the parent of a child with diabetes, we also have information on school and exams.
Requests for anything special you need during an exam are often known as exam adjustment arrangements. There are also things you can do for yourself to help you prepare for exams if you have diabetes.
You may not see diabetes as a disability but you're covered under equality laws. They’re there to protect you if you have an impairment that affects how you carry out day to day activities.
If you have diabetes your uni or education provider must agree to reasonable adjustments you need if you're sitting an exam. Your paper will still be marked the same. This also applies to assessments.
It's up to you to apply to your uni or educational provider for Exam Adjustment Arrangements. You’ll need to apply by the date they request. This could be, for example, six weeks or more before your exam.
If your uni or education provider isn’t setting the exam, you still apply to them. It is up to them to pass on details of the adjustments you’ve asked for to the exam board.
Universities have different ways of dealing with requests for exam adjustments. And different deadlines. So check your uni’s or education provider’s webpages. Look for information under disability services or student services.
As a general rule, you’ll need to speak to your tutor, the uni's disability service or the examinations office. Or all three.
What information you’ll need about your diabetes
You will be asked for:
- A signed and dated letter from your diabetes nurse or doctor. This should include details of your diagnosis and how it affects your daily life.
- Details of the reasonable adjustments you’re going to need during your exams.
These are common and entirely reasonable things to ask for:
- To take your diabetes equipment into the exam. This might include your blood gluose monitor, insulin, flash glucose monitor and reader, continuous glucose monitor and hypo treatments.
- To take food and drink into the exam to help you treat hypos.
- Extra time if you find you have a high or low reading or you need to treat or use the bathroom. These are call rest breaks.
Rest breaks are when the clock stops for you to treat your high or low, and then restarted once you feel better. You can take as long as you like for a rest break. But if you’ve got an exam later in the day, you’ll need to take that into account.
Where to test
Your education provider should offer an appropriate place where you can inject insulin or test your blood sugar. If you prefer to do this in the exam hall, you can include this in your request for reasonable adjustments.
The stress of exams can upset your blood sugar levels and affect your concentration.
Stress often makes your blood sugar levels rise anyway. But if you're studying and snacking all day, your blood glucose is likely to get even higher.
But stress affects everyone differently. So if worrying about exams puts you off eating, your levels are likely to drop and you could have more hypos.
Watch your blood sugar readings
It's worth trying to watch your blood sugar levels closely while you're studying if you can. Diabetes is probably the last thing on your mind, but a few extra blood tests will really come in handy.
It can be hard, but it’s worth trying to keep your blood glucose levels as normal as possible during exam time. It will help you concentrate and do the best you can.
If you need to, you can adjust your insulin or the food you’re eating depending on your results. Talk to your nurse or doctor for more advice about this.
Exam day when you have diabetes
It's tempting to run your blood glucose levels high during exams to avoid a hypo. But remember you're likely to feel thirsty and need the loo a lot, which will be difficult during an exam. So it's all about balance.
- Try to eat your meals as normal to give your brain plenty of energy to work on.
- Check your blood glucose levels before and if it's on the low side, have an extra snack.
- If you can't test for any reason, and you're not sure if you're hypo or just nervous, have a snack anyway. You can then sort out any high blood glucose levels later.
- Get together some food to take into the exam with you in case you have a hypo. Make sure it's something you can eat quickly and quietly – a sugary drink might be a good idea.
- Remind the staff that you have diabetes and you might need to test your blood and eat during the exam.
If you’re ill
If you don't feel well before or during your exam, alert your tutor and the Examinations office as soon as you can. For example, if you have a hypo during the night, this might affect your concentration.
If you believe you’ve lost out on marks due to being ill as a result of your diabetes, you may want to ask to retake. Or consider applying for special consideration.
Special consideration is when your mark or grade is adjusted at a later date because of illness during the exam. Your education provider may also call it special circumstances or extenuating circumstances.
If you want to challenge your exam result, speak to your education provider about how to do this. You'll need your blood sugar levels during the exam as evidence to prove there was a problem. We are here to support you if needed.
For more detailed information on what you can expect from your education provider, download and read our Your rights in further and higher education and diabetes guide (PDF,142KB). It includes the steps to take if your education provider isn't treating your fairly.
We can give you advice about your rights too – call our Helpline – and we can also help you get the support you're entitled to.
If you have diabetes, there's no reason why you shouldn't have a great time at uni if you have the right support. Go to our university and diabetes guide.