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 online exam?

An online 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 standard time window for the exam, which applies to most exams, is 24 hours. Some exams have a shorter time window. Students with extra time in exams held on campus will also get extra time on these exams. You’ll be able to complete your exams wherever you are in the world.

All exams will be online for the rest of the 2020/21 academic year.

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 don’t need to wait for the submission deadline to upload your completed exams.

Am I meant to take the full 24 hours?

These assessments are not meant to take you 24 hours. 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 typical ‘exam-type’ conditions. This will normally be a standard exam duration (e.g. 1.5 hours, 2 hours, 3 hours).

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’, to be free to react to caring responsibilities, or simply to pace yourself if you’re not feeling well. Where the window for submission is smaller than 24 hours, extra time has still been allotted for some disruption to your work, and for the download and upload of the papers. If you have an exam of less than 24 hours, and it’s scheduled for ‘unsociable hours’ in your time zone (so, starting before 7am, or ending after 11 pm) you can choose to sit an alternative paper scheduled for a more appropriate time. Contact your department for details.

You should be aiming to spend no 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 Microsoft Word, or Apple 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 using your phone’s camera or the one on another device. 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, the extra time will be based on an 8 hour working day, regardless of the ‘nominal’ period of the examination. So, if your SSP allows for 25% extra time, you’ll get an additional 2 hours (i.e. have 26 hours scheduled for the 24 hour exam). This will give you extra time in the overall submission window, within normal working hours, in which you can decide for yourself how to organise your work.

You are not expected to use all of this time. Your department will indicate the amount of time that they expect the exam to take, and as a guideline, you may want to consider adding your normal ‘extra time’ to that period. We recognise that some students with this kind of arrangement may struggle with time-management or reading comprehension speed, so you will be given the flexibility to plan your time and work at your own pace.

What if my SSP allows for more than a time adjustment?

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 a recommendation for an exam support worker in a Student Support Plan. If this applies to you, please 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. Where evidence of academic misconduct is evident this will be addressed in line with the Academic Misconduct Policy and if proven be penalised in line with the appropriate penalty table. Given the nature of these assessments, any collusion identified will normally be treated as cheating/breach of assessment regulations and penalised using the appropriate penalty table (see AM3.3 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 an exam 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.

Your department should inform you about how to raise any urgent queries about the paper. However, out of fairness, no corrections or clarifications will be announced later than one hour after the start of the exam window. 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?

Please leave enough time to submit your work before the end of your allocated slot, or you may receive zero on the exam. If a paper is submitted within 30 minutes after the end of the submission window, it will be penalised by 5% of the total available. Work received after this time (even 1 second after this time) will not be marked, and unfortunately you will receive a zero on the exam. If you have trouble submitting your assessment, you can apply for Exceptional Circumstances. 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 any more than 30 minutes after the exam deadline will not be marked (even if an Exceptional Circumstances claim is accepted).

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. If it isn’t possible to provide evidence of your circumstances, you should submit a claim anyway; but please explain what your circumstances are, and why you weren’t able to get evidence. We 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 that you will 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 has been affected by exceptional circumstances, as defined under the updated ECA policy, you may submit an ECA claim.

  • 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.