Guidance for online exams

The experience of working from home is a new one for most of us. Departments have worked hard to find ways to assess what you’ve learned this year using different ways to those that you might be used to, and we know that you might be nervous about what that is actually going to look like.

What is an Open Exam?

An open exam is an assessment where you’ll be given the questions, and you’ll submit answers to them to your department within a fixed time. The time set for most students, for most exams, is 24 hours. Students with extra time in exams held on campus will also get extra time on these exams. You’ll be able to complete this wherever you are in the world.

How will I get the exam paper?

Your department will put the question paper on your module VLE site at (or just before) the release time for your paper. They will also email it to your University email account around the same time.

Your exam timetable will show a release time for your assessment and a submission time. You can download your paper and upload your answers at any point during the period between those two times. You do not need to wait for the submission time to upload your completed exams.

Am I meant to take the full 24 hours?

These assessments are not meant to take you 24 hours. Most of the exams are the same ones that were set when you were going to be sitting them in a closed room on campus for a much shorter period of time. Departments will indicate on the cover sheet for each exam how long they would normally expect the exam to take if you were able to focus on it in ‘exam-type’ conditions. This will normally be a standard exam duration (1.5 hours, 2 hours, 3 hours).

You may be in a position to essentially recreate exam conditions for yourself. If you are living in a space where you are able to close a door, sit at a desk in relative quiet, and focus intently on your paper, you should be able to finish the questions in that time.

We recognise that for many students, this may not be possible. We are allowing 24 hours so that students in multiple time zones, or who have a wide variety of disruptions in their living circumstances, can choose to plan their work accordingly. You may wish to break your work on the exam into smaller ‘chunks’, or be free to react to caring responsibilities, or just to pace yourself if you’re not feeling well.

You should be aiming not to spend any more time on these exams overall than you would have done in the exam hall. Please remember to look after yourself and, especially, make sure you eat, rest and sleep.

What will I need to be able to take my exam?

You will need an internet connection to be able to get access to your paper, and to upload it when you’re done. Most students will also need word-processing software. You can use MS Word, or Pages, or Google Docs, or anything else that will allow you to type text and create a PDF.

If you are taking an exam where you’ll need to write equations, or draw diagrams you may be asked to hand-write your answers and take pictures of your answer pages to upload. Your department will give you guidance on how to do this, but central guidance on using Adobe Scan to do this can be found here.

What if I have a Student Support Plan (SSP)?

If you have an SSP that allows you extra time in exams, then that will be applied to the full 24 hours. So, if you normally have 25% extra time in Exams, your exams will be 30 hours (and 50% extra time will be 36 hours, and so on).

YOU ARE NOT EXPECTED TO USE THIS FULL TIME. But, respecting that students with this kind of arrangement may struggle with time-management or reading comprehension speed, you will be given the flexibility to plan your time and work at your own pace.

What if my SSP allows for more than that?

If you usually have use of a PC or specialist equipment, you’ll need to provide that for yourself. If you usually have human support such as a reader, an amanuensis, or a prompter, please contact Disability Services as soon as you are able to make arrangements for this support during your assessments.

Am I allowed to refer to my course books, notes, or any other materials?

We are treating this online examination as a time-limited open assessment, and you are therefore permitted to refer to written and online materials to aid you in your answers.

However, you must ensure that the work you submit is entirely your own, and for the whole time the assessment is live you must not:

  • communicate with departmental staff on the topic of the assessment
  • communicate with other students on the topic of this assessment.
  • seek assistance with the assignment from the academic and/or disability support services, such as the Writing and Language Skills Centre, Maths Skills Centre and/or Disability Services. (The only exception to this will be for those students who have been recommended an exam support worker in a Student Support Plan. If this applies to you, you are advised to contact Disability Services as soon as possible to discuss the necessary arrangements.)
  • seek advice or contribution from any third party, including proofreaders, friends, or family members.

We expect, and trust, that all our students will seek to maintain the integrity of the assessment, and of their award, through ensuring that these instructions are strictly followed. Failure to adhere to these requirements will be considered a breach of the Academic Misconduct regulations, where the offences of plagiarism, breach/cheating, collusion and commissioning are relevant - see AM.1.2.1(Note this supersedes section 7.3 of the Guide to Assessment).

What does it mean if my exam has word limits?

If your department indicates that there is a word limit on a question, or on the exam as a whole, you are required to stick to this. Normally, students’ exam answers are mostly limited by the length of time they have in the room and how quickly they are able to hand-write the answers. Without that limit, there’s a risk that you might ‘over-answer’ a question (writing a lot more than is necessary to get full marks on the question). These word limits are meant to give you a sense of how ‘big’ the marker expects the longest good answer to the question to be. Your answer shouldn’t be longer than the limit.

What should I do if I have a question about the paper?

We can’t expect the paper setters to be available for the full 24 hours that the assessment is available, and everyone will be working on it at different times. Your tutors and department are aware of this, and will be particularly careful about checking for errors and omissions to ensure that you are able to write the paper without needing clarification.

But in the event that you find yourself not able to understand a question, or believing that something is missing, be sure to include a note of any assumptions you had to make to answer the question in order to be able to answer it. This could be something like “I’m assuming this is 3x, and not 2x” or “I’m pretty sure this question was meant to refer to the 1860s, and not the 2860s, given that the module is 19th Century Philosophy”.

We will make every effort to make sure this isn’t necessary.

How do I submit my answers?

There will be a submission point on the VLE site for your module. You should submit your answers to that point in the same way that you would normally submit an essay or other assignment. You should use this, ensuring you begin the upload with plenty of time in hand before the deadline. Guidance on how to submit an assignment on the VLE can be found here. You will also be given an email address to use if you have any problems submitting your paper. You should only use this if the VLE is causing you problems.

What happens if I hand my work in late?

Your work will not be accepted, and will not be marked, if it is handed in past your deadline. Please leave enough time to submit your work before the end of your allocated slot, or you’ll receive zero on the exam. If you have trouble submitting your assessment, you can apply for Exceptional Circumstances, but must not submit the paper late. ECA claims can be submitted at any time up to 7 days after the online exam window.

It’s important that you know this. Though the VLE site for your submissions may be open after the 24 hour period has passed (to allow students with extra time to submit), work submitted beyond the student’s deadline will not be marked.

What do I do if I’m unable to do an exam during the allowed time, or my performance is impacted by exceptional circumstances?

Much like any other exam, if you’re unable to do it at the time that’s set, you’ll need to apply for Exceptional Circumstances. You will need to give a reason, but you won’t need to provide any evidence. We’d strongly recommend that you attempt your exams if you’re able, but if you are too unwell, or if it really isn’t possible for you to concentrate on your assessments, then you can use Exceptional Circumstances to delay them until the Late Summer Assessment Period (Resit week). There are risks associated with this, however, as if you aren’t successful in August, it isn’t likely for you to be able to progress to the next academic year on time.

Please see the Exceptional Circumstances affecting Assessment (ECA) policy - this includes important updates relating to Covid-19 (Coronavirus).

The procedure for exceptional circumstances for online examinations is as follows (please take careful note of deadlines):

  • If you believe your online examination assessment is being impacted by exceptional circumstances, as defined under the above policy and updates, you may submit an ECA claim. This claim does not need to be evidenced, given the current circumstances.
  • If you submit the online exam, you will also be allowed to submit an ECA claim if you believe that exceptional circumstances have affected your performance in the exam.
  • If you are unable to submit the exam, due to the circumstances, you can submit an ECA claim.
  • ECA claims can be submitted at any time up to 7 days after the online exam window.

If experiencing difficulties accessing the online ECA form, found on the Exceptional Circumstances webpage, please send an email to your department, before the deadline, explaining the circumstances.