Opinion | University has been cancelled. So why haven't my exams?


By Maggie Sawant, SU Correspondent

Coronavirus has stolen a huge chunk of our lives and education. But it didn’t have to. Between strikes and a pandemic, my second year at university hasn’t really happened. On top of that, it hasn’t really been worth £9,000. And the way the university has decided to examine us reflects that.

When you place the word ‘open-book’ before ‘exams’, they are no longer exams. The ability of exams to level the playing field for everyone is completely lost.

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Posted by University of Bristol on Friday, 20 March 2020

Not everyone can take the exams at the same time: students taking exams in Singapore simply cannot take exams at the same time as students taking exams in Bristol. And not everyone can be sure they will be able to take the exams in a quiet space: with siblings off school and parents working from home, how will they be able to ensure they can take exams in appropriate conditions at home? Not everyone even has access to a reliable internet connection or technology that will enable them to access online resources. It will be those who are the most economically disadvantaged who will suffer the most.

And, a significant proportion of us are likely to be infected by the virus itself – and it’s almost guaranteed that someone close to us is going to suffer from the virus. How can we be expected to study in these uncertain conditions?

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In these unprecedented times, it is impossible to hold exams which will accurately test our knowledge.

Although the argument that we cannot let the coronavirus completely bring the world to a standstill carries great force, it is undeniable that this is what it has done, and will continue to do, for an indeterminate period of time.

So instead of going on as normal, handing GCSE and A-Level students their predicted grades, and altering examinations so as to devalue our degrees and make those who are worse-off suffer the most, we should embrace the fact that the virus has changed life as we know it.

Life has been postponed. So, our exams should be too. We should take these months of quarantine as an unexpected sabbatical. Examinations can still take place as normal, but after a few months’ delay, for example, in August.

At home examination | Unsplash / Green Chameleon

This means that GCSE and A-Level students can also sit their exams a bit later and make the move to sixth form or university just a few months later than planned.

I understand that some students are relying on their exam results to start graduate jobs and go on years abroad. But we can’t even be sure that such graduate jobs or years abroad will even go ahead as planned. And in these cases, where students need a final grade to secure these positions, a smaller number of students could sit these online exams, to reflect the teaching they have received, or even, like the GCSE and A-Level students, be awarded predicted grades.

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After a year of seriously compromised teaching, I do not feel prepared to enter my third year. I have simply not been taught subjects I was passionate about learning. And I am sure many final year students did not want to say goodbye to their time at university as they have been forced to do.

The coronavirus has caused chaos. But we can do as much as we can to make sure life goes on as normal and ensure that we don’t miss a huge chunk of not only our education, but our lives: the idea of third years graduating via Zoom makes me feel utterly depressed. If exams were simply postponed, third year students would not miss out on their final months at university, and their recent rushed goodbyes to Bristol would not have been their final one.

A petition to change assessments at the University | Epigram / Elisha Mans

However, an alternative to postponing examinations, would be to give students the opportunity to suspend their studies, perhaps even offering financial support to those who wish to do this.

We should at least be given a say in how we are examined: after all, we are the ones due to sit these assessments. And if our voices aren’t heard, this only lends weight to the petition demanding that the University must change their stance their stance on examinations.

Featured Image: Unsplash / Green Chameleon

How do you think we should be examined?