The sudden onset of Covid-19 in early March required a rapid re-think of how normal assessment processes would work from home. Temporary measures were put in place to address the added pressure of the pandemic to the summer exam season, but UCC has made the decision to rescind such measures for this academic year. In a break from the traditional semester one exams taking place in December, they will now take place remotely over an eight-day period starting on Friday January 8th 2021.
The measures in place for the second semester exams of the 2019/20 academic year were intended to “ensure no student [was] academically disadvantaged due to the current disruption to usual activity,” an email from the former Deputy President and Registrar, now Interim President, John O’Halloran read. These measures allowed students whose personal circumstances had been adversely impacted by the pandemic to defer their examinations; students who were unhappy with their grade could re-sit the exam; students who failed were able to re-sit the exam without academic or financial penalty. No repeat fees would be incurred.
In an email on November 9th, Interim Registrar Professor Stephen Byrne told students that “for this Academic Year these measures are being rescinded and we will revert back to our normal examination and assessment processes.” The Interim Registrar underlined that “the direct personal impact of Covid-19 has now been incorporated into the mitigation process.” This semester, if a student is unable to sit an exam or if their performance is affected by “circumstances outside of their control (e.g. illness including Covid-19-related circumstance)” they can apply for mitigation or submit an appeal with supporting medical documentation. Each submission will then be assessed on a case-by-case basis by the Examinations Appeals Committee.
When asked about the decision Eimear Curtin, the UCC Students’ Union Education Officer, said: “Even though we may not be in the emergency situation we were in last semester, the Covid pandemic is far from over and the effects of this second lockdown in particular are affecting students immensely, often in intangible ways.”
“I would urge students to contact their lecturers about any tech issues they are facing, and, if they feel comfortable doing so, to let them know if they are feeling overwhelmed – having this paper trail will firstly help provide feedback to the lecturer and also be useful if you need mitigation.”
Last semester was the first for which UCC and third-level institutions across the country assessed students remotely and online. This was under the circumstances of what would now be known as ‘Level 5,’ without the exceptions currently in place since October 21st.
University Express asked a number of students how their experience last semester was affected by the temporary measures. One second-year student felt they “really soothed the anxiety I had when taking my exams.” Another shared these sentiments, explaining that “knowing I could re-sit an exam I may not have performed well in or postpone the exams until a later time really took the pressure off during an extremely difficult and stressful time.” A third year student of Computer Science told University Express how the measures benefitted them directly when appealing their exam result, “without a [grade] cap or free repeats, the prospect of a failed appeal would’ve driven me up the walls.”
A student reacting to the decision to rescind these temporary measures called it “disheartening,” telling University Express that they now “feel as though all support has been taken away from me. The pandemic hasn’t ended and neither has the need for these measures. The worry of knowing there is no room for error in my exams has caused my anxiety as a result of the pandemic to come crashing down even harder.”
Other students raised concerns about WiFi service-issues and laptop access, and whether or not they could afford to appeal an exam if affected by these issues. Although current first year students will have neither experienced in-person exams or the remote assessment of last semester, they also have not experienced on-campus life yet in their college career and concerns were raised by one student about the mental health impact of having their first set of exams online.
The country is currently under Level 5 restrictions under the Irish government’s plan for living with Covid-19, this 6-week period of ‘lockdown’ is set to lift from December 1st. No decision has yet been made in relation to what degree of health guidelines will come after this date but Taoiseach Micháel Martin has alluded to “a staged approach” to removing restrictions. The Taoiseach confirmed the exit plan is currently being worked on by the Government with consultation from the National Public Health Emergency Team. As it stands, it is uncertain what level of Covid-19 restrictions will be in place when Semester 1 exams begin on January 8th, or if the country will continue flattening the curve when Level 5 is exited.
Students have been advised to first contact their Programme Director, Course Coordinator or Module Coordinator if dealing with challenges related to exam preparation or any issues with their studies. Further information on the exam mitigation and appeals process is available at ucc.ie/en/exams/appeal-mitigation-recheck.