December 3, 2022

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A Leaving Cert student who suffered an epileptic seizure during her history paper was not offered a chance to resit a deferred exam which takes place this month.

Rachel Langan (18) from Athenry, Co Galway, only partially completed the exam as a result of the seizure and is worried she will miss out on the points required to study her first-choice college course.

While State Examinations Commission (SEC) rules stipulate that candidates who experience a serious medical condition are entitled to sit deferred exams, this does not apply to those who have commenced an exam.

However, an exception was made last month for a Leaving Cert student who was rushed to hospital with appendicitis during his history exam following an intervention by government Ministers.

Ms Langan was diagnosed with epilepsy in October 2021 after experiencing seizures. She was permitted to sit her exams in a room on her own at Presentation College Athenry under the SEC’s “reasonable accommodation” rules.

The exams passed without incident until her second-last exam on June 15th, when she had a seizure in the middle of the paper. It developed into a “tonic-clonic” seizure, where a sudden burst of electricity in the brain causes the body to jerk and shake. By the time she came out of the seizure, she was feeling jittery and exhausted.

“My hands were especially bad — they were shaking quite a lot,” she said. “You’re not just mentally tired, you’re also physically tired. After a tonic-clonic seizure, every single muscle is shaking … My thinking slowed down. Everything took so much effort, like sentences; just forming one took quite a lot of effort.”

The school was advised by the SEC that she could not leave the room if she wished to finish the exam, but would be entitled to a scribe and 20 minutes beyond the official finish time to make up for lost time.

In the the end, Ms Langan said she did not manage to finish the exam and completed just one of the two required essays.

Her frustration grew after learning that another student with appendicitis was permitted to sit a deferred paper.

“I’m very glad for him. I think that’s really fair. But I think that if they can bend the rules for one student, why can’t they bend it for others?

“Why wasn’t I contacted and offered the chance to do the exam again? Surely, if anyone has a medical emergency or an issue that prevents them completing an exam they should be permitted to resit it, just to make it fair.”

The SEC said it was unable to comment on individual cases, but it plans to review rules around access to deferred exams.

It said the principles in providing access to deferred exams are “safeguarding integrity and maintaining confidence in the Leaving Certificate to ensure equity and fairness for all candidates”.

It added that it approached all applications for access to deferred exams in a “humane and consistent way and with due regard to issues of equity and fairness”.

However, Epilepsy Ireland criticised the restricted nature of the SEC’s rules, published just days before the Leaving Cert got under way.

“Any student that has a seizure during an exam should have access to a deferred exam. Equity and fairness are all that we are seeking. This is what the SEC is preaching,” said Paddy McGeoghegan, advocacy and communications manager with Epilepsy Ireland.

Ms Langan said she was worried she may miss out on her first choice college course of arts at NUI Galway.

“I need whatever points I can get because I can’t remember anything I studied between October and February due to a previous seizure. I had to relearn everything,” she said.

“It’s still hanging over me. I’m worried I won’t get the course I want, or that it will impact on my future or prevent me from achieving what I really want to do.”

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