Assessment support package
The University has announced a set of measures to support students taking exams and submitting assessments during this academic year.
This approach is different to the safety net we introduced in Spring 2020. The method of calculating last year’s safety net score relied on students having the results from University assessments already taken. Because this information does not exist for the 2020/21 academic year, we are not able to replicate the same style of safety net.
Instead, we have created a package of measures designed to play the same role: to recognise that the disruption caused by the pandemic may affect performance and cause additional anxieties about assessments, and to help prevent students from falling below their potential as a result. This is therefore a safety net by other means.
Our proposed measures are in line with the thinking of the Russell Group of universities.
We have defined a set of key principles, and made changes to some of our policies, in order to provide both individual and cohort level assurances to give you confidence as you undertake your assessments, and to protect the quality and integrity of your degree.
We have removed the requirements for evidence where students are making applications under the exceptional circumstances affecting assessment (ECA) policy
We’ve listened to student feedback on the need to provide evidence to support an ECA application and we have now removed the need to provide evidence.
This means that for any student who is experiencing exceptional circumstances the University will waive the need to provide supporting evidence, and any need to explain why supporting evidence is not available. We still need you to describe the reason for your claim when making an application.
This will allow us to offer the right support where it is needed, and will help us monitor the most common causes of cases for exceptional circumstances. This will help inform our contingency planning.
We hope that the process is now more straightforward and will help to allay any anxiety about making a claim.
Students with Special Support Plans can still apply for exceptional circumstances.
Adapting our approach to delivering teaching, learning and assessments online
Departments reviewed all programmes and modules over the summer to make the necessary adjustments to move teaching and learning online.
Assessments have also been designed upfront to take into account the fact that students will be sitting these online, and in situations which may be more challenging. Teaching staff have evaluated modules with practical content to assess what content can be delivered online and what content might be moved and delivered at the point in-person teaching should be able to take place.
This means that assessments will reflect the redesigned teaching and learning that has taken place, and will be assessed in ways that are designed to work online. Examinations now take place over a 24-hour period to take into account the potential for differences in time zones, and the additional challenges that some students may face due to their personal circumstances.
All these academic measures are intended to enable students to achieve the best results they can.
This has not been easy for either students or staff, especially in the light of the constant and sudden changes in tiers and the re-introduction of local and national lockdowns.
And it is for this reason, and to introduce a period of stability, that we took the decision to commit to making all classroom-based teaching online only for the entirety of the Spring term.
All exams will be online for the rest of the 2020/21 academic year.
Reviewing the performance of student cohorts this year against previous years to ensure that the pandemic has not had a detrimental impact
When you submit your assessments there is a rigorous process to marking and having those marks independently checked and moderated. This includes a review by a ‘Board of Examiners’ (made up of academic and teaching staff on a programme, or in a department), who look at individual student’s marks across the entire year, to highlight and check any unusual marks that could be the result of errors in processing. They also look at marks for everyone who studied on a module, and across programmes, and compare these with previous years’ results in the same (or similar modules). All of this helps to ensure that the assessments are fair and properly calibrated (ie the assessment was not too easy or too hard in places). This whole process is overseen by an ‘External Examiner’.
This process was maintained last year, meaning the results following the start of the pandemic were in line with previous cohorts, and we will use this process again to help ensure that the pattern of marks for this year’s student cohorts is not negatively impacted due to Covid-19.
Temporary changes to our awards and progression rules
We know that our rules around progression and award classifications are quite complicated. We are introducing changes to these rules to account for the continuing disruption caused by Covid-19.
1st Year undergraduates
A significantly more generous resit possibility for first year students to support their progression into second year.
We want you to be prepared to start your second year in 2021/22, but we don’t want to impose any more barriers to you being ready than you’ve already faced this year.
You need to complete 120 credits in each stage of your degree, and normally, we’d limit the number of resits you could take to 90 credits, with no more than 50 credits of ‘bad fail’ (modules with marks less than 30). But for this year, we are simplifying the rules to allow first year students to resit up to 90 failed credits, regardless of what marks were obtained at first attempt. We don’t think that many students will need this many resits; the vast majority of first year students don’t need any resits at all. But if you do struggle because of Covid-19, or because of the additional difficulties involved in settling into University in a pandemic, we want to give you every possible chance to reach the learning outcomes in time to progress to your second year.
Second and Final Year undergraduates
Reweighting second or final year’s marks for students in second year and above, so that the most successful year can be weighted higher in the calculation of overall degree performance.
We do know that things are more challenging than in a normal academic year and if your marks in 20/21 are badly affected by Covid-19 in ways that can’t be covered by Exceptional Circumstances (ECA) we want you to be confident that your results will reflect your accomplishments. To do this, we are implementing a system to consider your results in multiple ways.
We’re going to calculate two weightings for each student, and we will use the better one. So we’ll still apply the ‘normal’ degree weighting (eg 2:3 for a Bachelor’s degree), but we’ll also look at an alternative weighting that reduces the impact of this year (2020/21).
Each student’s degree classification will be based on the better of these two. The same principle is applied to the weightings for Integrated Masters degrees.
This means that a student who does better in their second year than their third will have a bigger part of their award mark based on their second year grades. A student who does better in their third year will have a bigger part of their award marks based on their third year grades.
In addition, the grades of the entire cohort will be compared to those of cohorts in previous years to check if further adjustments need to be explored.
This means that, depending on your current year of study, the alternative weighting would be:
Table: Alternative weightings applied for degree classifications.
Description of the table above
For a BA/BSc student in their 2nd year in 2020/21, the additional alternative weighting would be 1:3.
For a BA/BSc student in their 3rd year in 2020/21, the additional alternative weighting would be 4:3.
The same principle is applied to the weightings for Integrated Masters degrees:
For an Integrated Masters student in their 2nd year in 2020/21, the additional alternative weighting would be 1:3:3.
For an Integrated Masters student in their 3rd year in 2020/21, the additional alternative weighting would be 4:3:6.
For an Integrated Masters student in their 4th year in 2020/21, the additional alternative weighting would be 4:6:3.
The alternative weighting protects those students whose work this year isn’t as strong as other years because of the impacts of covid, but the standard weighting will still be used for students who have been less affected, or who have managed to maintain (or increase) their grades notwithstanding the impacts of covid.
Second year students on integrated masters programmes
Second year students on an integrated masters programme (such as MChem, MPhys and MSci) usually need to get a ‘stage average’ of 55 in order to be permitted to continue on the four-year programme. We have agreed to lower this requirement to a credit weighted mean of 50 for the academic year 2020/21. This will allow slightly more flexibility for students, without increasing the pressure on the following years (in which students must obtain an overall average of 50 across 2nd and 3rd years).
Postgraduate taught students
Applying the more flexible award rules which were used to give assurance to postgraduate taught students in 2020.
We will be extending the approach to grade adjustments that were made for taught postgraduates in 2019/20. This means that merits and distinctions will be calculated based on the better of your independent study module (for example: project, dissertation, performance etc) grade or the credit weighted average of your taught modules. You will also be permitted more resits, and to be granted a distinction with a small amount of compensatable failed modules.
Additional information for Postgraduate taught students
Merit Rules for 2020/21
To be recommended to Senate for the award of a Master’s degree with merit a student must achieve the following at first attempt:
Either i. a rounded credit weighted mean of at least 60 over all modules other than the ISM(s),
Or ii. a rounded credit weighted mean of at least 60 in the ISM(s).
In either case the student must also have no more than 40 credits of failed modules, with no more than 20 credits of outright fails.
Distinction rules for 2020/21
To be recommended to Senate for the award of a Master’s degree with distinction a student must achieve the following at first attempt:
Either i. a rounded credit weighted mean of at least 70 over all modules other than the ISM(s),
Or ii. a rounded credit weighted mean of at least 70 in the ISM(s).
In either case the student must also have no more than 20 credits of failed modules, with no outright fails.
What does this mean for me if I’m a part-time student?
Any student who has completed any teaching or assessment in the 2020/21 academic year will have the less restrictive award rules applied.
Why we can’t offer a 'safety net' score
Last year the pandemic hit us unexpectedly and we were forced into a position of moving to online-only provision for teaching and learning with no notice and no real time to prepare. To reflect the impact this huge change in circumstance had on our students, and given that we had a reasonable amount of known and recent performance scores, we were able to develop an algorithm that could be used to provide each second and final year student with a safety net score.
Since then we have been able to make adaptations and adjustments to module content and teaching formats to deliver your studies online. Assessments have been designed upfront to take into account the fact that students will be sitting these online, and in situations which may be more challenging.
We need to be able to assure you, and future employers and higher education providers, that your degree is a meaningful reflection of your abilities. The safety net reflected only a small part of your achievement, and it's important that your degree classification be a reflection of your achievement at the highest level of attainment, rather than just at earlier stages.
But this package of support does give students who have been negatively impacted by the pandemic the opportunity to have their achievements before the first lockdown make the biggest contribution to their degree classification. So, for a student who had a ‘safety net score’ based on 60 credits in 2019/20 which was higher than their stage averages in year 2 and 3, that safety net score will comprise almost 60% of their degree classification. Whereas under normal conditions, the same assessments would only have comprised 20%.
Discounting all of your marks from March 2020 onwards would not be an accurate reflection on your achievements.
Additional information for second year undergraduates and above
Who qualifies for this alternative weighting?
All students beginning stage 2, 3 or 4 in the 2020/21 academic year will qualify to have the lower relative weighting applied to that stage, at the point when the degree classification is calculated. (A ‘stage’ is “year’s worth” of marks, even if it’s taken over more than a year.)
Do the borderline criteria still apply?
Yes - the borderline criteria will be applied as normal. The “normal” (ie as published) award-mark and degree-class calculations will be applied to all students, using the usual weightings and following the normal borderline rules. Nothing has changed in that regard. Your degree class will then be calculated a second way with the reduced weighting for the 2020/21 academic year as in the table above. You will get the better of the two degree classes.
What if I’m returning from Leave of Absence this year?
How this year’s marks will be treated will depend on when you took a Leave of Absence, and whether you’ve already qualified for a ‘safety net score’ for your current ‘stage’. A ‘stage’ is “year’s worth” of marks, even if it’s taken over more than a year. If you started your stage in 2019/20, and completed any assessments after 13 March 2020, you will have a safety net score applied to this ‘stage’ instead of the alternative (reduced) weightings.
If you started this ‘stage’ before 13 March 2020, but didn’t have any assessments after 13 March in the 2019/20 year (either because you were last registered in 2018/19, or because you left before the pandemic impacted the UK), you will qualify to have the alternative (reduced) weightings applied for this stage, including marks achieved before the pandemic.
What if I decide to go on Leave of Absence during this year?
Most students who apply for Leave of Absence at any point during 2020/21 will qualify to have these alternative weightings applied to their stage, including to the parts of the stage completed upon their return.
A small number of students in very particular circumstances may have ‘repeat study’ approved by the Special Cases Committee. If none of the study or assessments taken in the 2020/21 year end up being counted towards the degree (because you take them again when you return to study), then the alternate weightings won’t be applied.
What if I’m taking examinations out of residence this year?
If you’ve completed teaching on a stage, and are just completing assessments (either first attempts, resits, or sits as if for the first time) before you return to study in 2021/22, the principles are the same as they are for students on Leave of Absence for 2020/21. If you have had a safety net applied to this stage (which will have happened if you started the stage during 2019/20), then the alternate weightings will not be applied. If, however, you started the stage before 2019/20, and didn’t complete any assessments between 13 March 2020 and the start of the 2020/21 academic year, then the alternate weightings will be applied. In essence, the alternative reduced weightings will only be applied to stages where a safety net score has not already been applied.
What if I’m on a year abroad or year in industry in 2020/21?
If you are on an ‘additional year’ abroad, your marks from this year won’t contribute to your degree classification, so these weightings won’t apply - your year will be marked as pass/fail for the purpose of your degree classification. For the small number of students on ‘replacement year’ programmes, the marks that you receive will be converted into University of York grades in the usual way, and the alternate weightings will apply.
We have worked hard to ensure you can still meet the learning outcomes expected in your chosen study. If, however, you feel that you wish to raise your concerns with us more formally, we have a complaints process which starts with talking to your department, so they have an opportunity to try to address your concerns .