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Technology-based Assessment Arrangements - Speech to Text Alternatives to Scribes

by Paul Nisbet

on Wed Dec 16, 2020

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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? 

Over the past few weeks several teachers have contacted us asking about computer dictation, often because of difficulties in finding staff to scribe for students in assessments.

There are two questions that need to be considered here: the first is how the computer dictation tools work, and the second is whether they are appropriate for use in assessment.


Most schools now have Windows 10 computers and devices, and so dictation options are:

  • Windows Speech Recognition. This is built in to Windows and can be used to dictate into almost any application.  It doesn't require an internet connection. It's relatively old technology and accuracy is not nearly as good as modern speech-to-text. It requires quite a lot of training and I don't recommend it.
  • Windows Dictation. Dictation is a new tool for Windows 10 and it requires an internet connection. To start dictating, place the cursor where you want to type and press the Windows key  + H to open the dictation toolbar. We think that Dictation is more accurate than the older Windows Speech Recognition. You cannot use Dictation to dictate into an answer box in a PDF Digital Question Paper.
  • Dictate in Microsoft Office 365. This will be familiar to teachers or learners who use Office, both online and in app forms. It requires internet, like Windows Dictation - I assume they are basically the same tool. Learners can use it to dictate into Word, Outlook, OneNote and PowerPoint, but not Forms. If you open a PDF Digital Paper in Microsoft Edge you can use Dictate to dictate into answer boxes.
  • Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Dragon is one of the very first speech recognition systems and it is accurate, gives hands-free control, has many useful features and is a paid-for product. It is software that has to be installed on the PC and it does not require internet. SQA provide guidance on the use of Dragon in examinations.
  • Google Voice Typing lets you dictate into Google Docs online.


iPads have Siri Dictation built-in: go to Settings > General > Keyboard, scroll down and turn on Enable Dictation. Now place the text cursor where you want to type and tap the Microphone button on the keyboard.

Find out more from:

Older iPads and iPhones required an internet connection for Siri dictation to work, but newer iPads (including the devices rolled out in Glasgow, I'm told) have or can download Voice Control, which lets you dictate without an internet connection. Voice Control also lets you control the iPad using your voice. Voice Control is in Settings > Accessibility.

This Apple video shows Voice Control in action: 

Introducing Voice Control on Mac and iOS (with Audio Descriptions) — Apple

You can use Siri Dictation to dictate into almost anything including Office 365 apps, Google Docs, Microsoft Forms, and SQA Digital Question Papers if you have an app that lets you type into answer boxes such as PDF Expert or ClaroPDF.

Practitioners report that Siri is easy to use and fairly accurate.


Chromebooks offer Voice Typing which is available in Google Docs, and Dictation which can be used to dictate into almost any application or web page. Both require an internet connection. We are hearing positive reports about Voice typing and Google Dictation.

Computer Dictation in assessments

The modern dictation tools like Microsoft Dictate, Siri and Google Voice Typing do not require any training and are free. They work by sending a recording of your speech to a server, in real time, which converts it into text and sends it back to be typed into your device. When they first appeared you could get amusing results (or not so amusing, if you were interested in productivity and low blood pressure) with Scottish accents, but feedback from colleagues is that the systems are improving and now offer a viable method or typing for some learners.

While the dictation tools are simple, they are not magic, and so learners still have to learn good dictation and articulation skills to get acceptable results. Apart from Dragon and iOS Voice Control, the free systems are really mainly for dictation. You have some commands for formatting text, but generally learners need to be able to access the device by touch, typing or pointing device as well.

We believe that the accuracy of the online systems improves with use, provided the user signs in with the same Apple / Microsoft / Google account.

Siri and Dragon do not require an internet connection, and both can be used to dictate into any word processor or application. The other systems do require an internet connection but in my view, this should not prevent their use provided wider access to the internet is restricted.

Is computer dictation regarded as an Assessment Arrangement for internal assessments?

Yes, I believe so. Most learners will be accessing the assessment using pen or paper or by typing (their 'normal way of working') , and computer dictation is a different method of writing and recording. I'm not aware of any guidance from SQA that explicitly states that computer dictation is an Assessment Arrangement, but it is certainly implied and assumed:

For many disabled candidates, using ICT to type, to dictate with speech recognition software or to read, provides a more effective and independent means of communication than using human support such as a reader and/or scribe

Assessment Arrangements Explained: Information for centres, p. 14

Should Assessment Arrangements be provided for internal assessments?


The Assessment Arrangements Request (AAR) system is closed due to the cancellation of the 2021 National Qualification examinations. Centres do not need to submit assessment arrangement requests to SQA for National Qualifications in 2020-21.

You should continue to use the same assessment arrangements processes already in place in your centre to support candidates requiring an assessment arrangement for an internal assessment.

SQA Assessment Arrangements for 2020-21

What evidence is needed to support the use of computer dictation?

Previously, centres sometimes used prelims to test and confirm the impact of Assessment Arrangements. But this year, prelims may be used as evidence and if so, any support should be identified in advance. SQA policy for internal assessments this year is that:

If any of your candidates are disabled or have additional support needs and have been identified as needing assessment arrangements, please ensure that these are in place for each assessment and/or assignment. Where possible, you should follow your normal internal verification process for requesting assessment arrangements.

Assessment Arrangements for 2020-21

The process for deciding whether computer dictation is an appropriate support is therefore the same as any other Assessment Arrangement and follows the same four principles:

  • Principle 1: Assessment arrangements are intended to enable candidates to demonstrate their attainment, not to compensate for lack of attainment.
  • Principle 2: Assessment arrangement must not compromise the integrity of the qualification.
  • Principle 3: Assessment arrangements must be tailored to meet a candidate’s individual needs.
  • Principle 4: Assessment arrangements should reflect, as far as possible, the candidate’s normal way of learning and producing work.

Assessment Arrangements Explained: Information for centres

The process is described in the SQA document on:

Quality Assurance of Assessment Arrangements in Internal and External Assessments: Information for Schools.




Tags: assessment, sqa, speech-to-text, dictation

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