University confirms it is considering alternative arrangements for 2021 exams

Image description: students sit exams in person in sports hall

The University has confirmed that it plans to assess some students remotely in some of their Trinity term exams. This comes following Wednesday’s email to English students stating that on the advice of the University Registry, it would not be possible to ‘plan in-person exams on a large scale during the 2020-21 academic year’. It has also been confirmed that most exams taking place in Michaelmas term, having been postponed from Trinity term, will take place remotely.

In its new coronavirus advice pages published yesterday, the University stated that: 

‘Most exams in Michaelmas term will be online, but a number of exams will be held in-person with social distancing measures in place. We are currently exploring the format of exams and assessments for the remainder of the year, and it is likely that there will be a mixture of online and in-person exams.’

However, plans for Trinity term assessments in English and other subjects are yet to be finalized. A University spokesperson has told The Oxford Student that:

‘The University has now confirmed that most exams in Michaelmas term ​(these being exams postponed from TT20) will be online – building on our students’ positive experience of open-book exams in Trinity term. A number of exams will be held in-person with social distancing measures in place (for example, professionally accredited exams such as Medicine, translations and mathematical papers).

“We are currently exploring the format of exams and assessments relating to the remainder of the 20-21 academic year. It remains likely that we will have reduced physical capacity, ​such that we ​will likely move to a mixture of online and in-person exams. English is the first subject to come up with a proposal for an alternative form of assessment, and is consulting on it with students. No concrete decision has been made, and more information will follow in due course.”

Oxford Students’ Union is working to represent the interests of students in the University’s decision-making process regarding remote exams. Tucker Drew, SU Vice President for Access and Academic Affairs, stated that:

‘Our understanding is that the University still has not decided what exams will look like for students in 2021. We believe that what the English department has sent to their students as a proposal will not reflect how exams will operate for many students in other departments. We understand that the University intends to have in-person exams in TT21 but is working to prioritise exams that can only be set as written exam papers, as there may be limited capacity in examination schools. Oxford SU is eager to hear from students their concerns about TT21 exams. As of now, no final decisions have been made by the university as to how exams in TT21 will be operating.’

Only the English faculty has made students aware of how it might assess them in the summer – it has been proposed that exams will have an ‘open book, open web’ format, with a limit of 1500 words on submissions, to be completed within a 24 hour timeframe. This came as a surprise to many and has been met with a mixed reaction: one FHS candidate told The Oxford Student that the decision felt ‘very pre-emptive’, and that ‘all the students I’ve spoken to about it so far feel like it might be creating a lot of stress unnecessarily’. Others were more relieved, with another student glad that they had ‘been told almost a year in advance so [they] have time to prepare’. 

In a Trinity term survey on alternative exam arrangements, students expressed a strong preference for submitting a portfolio of tutorial-style essays or problem sheets produced within several days over completing 3-5 hour long ‘open book’ exams. Many students cited concerns about their home conditions and the detrimental impact of typing over writing as reason for their preferences.

However, with students expected to return to residence for the 2020/21 academic year, the attitudes of the student body many have changed: though one English student has said that being able to use libraries and other college facilities makes the prospect of online exams much less daunting, another told The Oxford Student that they will be ‘asking for a safety net’ similar to the system in operation this year. The University has not yet stated if such allowances will be made.

More to follow.

Image credit: “Exams 9” by charbeck10