By Conall Hirsch-
Exams across the UK have taken place online this year in marked contrast with past times when students would fill the university’s lecture and sport halls.
In previous years, exams halls were populated with anywhere from fifty to three hundred students simultaneously, sitting one or multiple exams. However, this year, social distancing drove exams off campus and unto student’s computers, to the pleasure of many students. Second year and final year students have in particular been licking their lips at the wider flexibility afforded to students due to the heavy disruption of the pandemic.
Not all students have found online exams more beneficial, especially those who found it more lonely in the absence of co-operative class mates on the same course to join heads together. Those falling under that category begrudge the loss of physical lessons and the scarcity of teachers, all caused by the pandemic.
Many other students found online exams fsar more convenient than historical practices with strict and more accountable settings of examination sittings. Students are ofcourse expected to be principle and honour the integrity of exams, but in practise, they could have a professor in that subject sit the exam with them at home without detection.
Students with family members with professional expertise in the subject of their exam module would have had a fields day. The grades for the final degree begins to count from the second year, and must have been perfect for all students. Fina year students could also do with all the final help they can get, but the challenge of exams will may not have even eased a great deal for students who are weak in their course since there is a limited time for submission. is doubtful how accurately exam results this year will reflect the true ability of every student. All academically strong students were at an advantage.
The new format adopted by Universities, including of Leeds and Leeds Beckett University, is an open book format online which gives students have a forty-eight hour window to complete.
The window of opportunity varies from school to school, but many students surveyed had two full days to utilise the resources at their disposal.
Under the new system set up due the pandemic, universities had no realistic avenue to prevent students from accessing their notes, lecture materials, and/or an internet search engine.
Testing has shifted its focus from memory retention to demanding students create deeper and more comprehensive responses to their exam questions.
The new system has been a boon to many pupils, especially those which were never strong test takers in the past and preferred other methods of assessment.
Colchester Psychology student, Matt Rydon said: “Obviously this year all assessment is online, and overall I think it’s better. There’s less of the pressure which comes with attending an exam hall, and it has definitely been less stressful.
I only had one exam, but it felt comfortable to do it in my own room,’ he said.
Many other students echoed their approval of testing at home due to the associated reduction in stress. Along with reducing stress that surrounds testing, many students were also able to adapt new revision methods which were simply not available to them before the pandemic.
‘You get time to run through everything really quickly on the day and remind yourself of everything you need to know’ Lorcan Knight, University of Leeds Spanish and Philosophy, 20, said.
While many students have found this beneficial to their learning, others have developed new methods of reducing their work through somewhat unscrupulous methods. Many students surveyed who do STEM (in particular mathematical based) degrees said they were been able to divide and conquer their exams by sharing questions between multiple pupils.
This is because the answers for these types of degrees are objective rather than subjective, making it virtually impossible for markers to distinguish if a student’s answer is their own, and not been plagiarised or obtained through collaboration. The sentiment of many students who study these courses generally similar. They like the possibility of collaboration for exams, which universities have no way of supervising.
Students have been consulting one another for exams this year, it has been a mixed experience, English literature student Stephan Caesay said. ‘We’ve had a very subpar learning experience this year. Learning from a Zoom or Microsoft teams call is simply never going to be the same as being physically in a lecture theatre or seminar room, but the leeway to discuss questions provides
The one set back was the fact that our lecturers and tutors who can be challenging to contact even in normal times – but because of the pandemic they’re almost impossible to reach and for us to receive the teaching help we need to complete our course.’
‘We haven’t had a reduction in tuition even though our experience has been significantly reduced.
Sociology student , Amie How is that fair to us? We’ve paid the same fees as the years prior to the pandemic and we’ve gotten a mediocre teaching effort. We aren’t breaking the rules because we’re lazy or incompetent –
we’re doing our best to survive and actually receive the education we were promised by attending university’.
If the playing field was this imbalanced for you, wouldn’t you do anything you could to get by?’ Anonymous Physics student, University of Leeds
Essay based courses, mostly research based humanities which seldom if ever have in person exams, have largely been unaffected. Students on these courses have submitted their assignments
online since before the pandemic.
The main challenge that has faced these students is the reduced library capacity, which have been outfitted to adhere to social distancing. Subsequently libraries have only been able to make half or less of their normal study spaces available.
‘Because I do a research based course, I spend a lot of time in the library because the volume of niche texts are not often available online.
One student said: ”I used to be able to pull as many books as I liked and then sort through which ones would be most beneficial to me, but now due to the pandemic we have to specifically request books which can take up to three days for the librarians to and collect sanitise.
This isn’t ideal, especially when many of the articles I use to supplement my work I cannot tell will be helpful until I’ve actually got my hands on them. It’s not the greatest system, but considering the circumstances [of the pandemic] it’s probably the best the university can manage.’ -Anonymous
As many students have now finished exams, many have flocked to cafes, pubs and outdoor spaces with their newfound freedom from the revision process.
Once the government decides to go ahead with lifting the final set of restrictions, hordes of students still in their respective accommodation, will flock to repopulate the nightclubs which have been closed for more than a year.
Leeds University’s has been credited with reducing the requirement of evidence of mitigating circumstances which are normally a pre-requisite for academic extensions of any kind.
Prior to the pandemic students would be required to submit official documentation from their doctor and/or other professionals (I.E. therapists, counsellors, police) depending on the nature of their mitigating circumstances.
These requirements were made more flexible to take into account both the changes in learning, as well as the unpredictable consequences Covid-19 has had on student’s lives.
Many students see it as the best alternative the system could produce to compensate students who have had no reduction in their school fees, despite loosing tonnes of hours of academic lessons which university fees ought to cater for.