The University’s governing body has voted for proposals to keep the 24-hour open-book format for online exams taking place this academic year.
The proposals, voted on in a University Senate meeting on Wednesday, mean that students will be able to complete their exam at any point in the 24-hour window.
Departments will have the option to hold asynchronous, timed assessments “where necessary, as an alternative to open 24-hour assessments”, subject to approval by Deputy Executive Deans. These will be an hour longer than the set time to allow for technological difficulties.
Earlier this month, the University announced that online exams would be the default format this year, arguing that the positive feedback from last year, particularly from disabled and disadvantaged students, was a major factor in keeping the process.
Departments are able to request to hold exams in-person, where learning outcomes would be “impossible or very difficult” to assess using online exams, or where physical exams are necessary for the purposes of accreditation.
The Maths department has been granted an exemption from the University-wide policy of online exams for this academic year after 46 students were caught cheating in online maths exams last year.
An email to all Maths undergraduate students from Chair of the Board of Examiners for the department, Jens Funke, confirmed that all Maths exams will be held in-person.
Last year, a Palatinate investigation revealed that science students were more likely to prefer in-person exams than humanities students, and maths students reported the highest increase in stress during online exams than any other subject.
A survey of 1,761 undergraduate students carried out by the University found that 77% of respondents said they would prefer exams to be online, compared with 7% who said in person and another 7% who would prefer a mixture. International and BAME students expressed a stronger preference for online exams.
Preference for online exams was weaker in some Science departments, particularly Maths and Physics, with over 50% of respondents in the Faculty of Science reporting having spent more than six hours on average per exam, with 15% spending more than 12 hours.
The survey also asked students how long they typically spend on exams. Level 3 students studying STEM subjects spent the longest on their exams according to the survey, averaging around 12 hours, or 15 hours in Maths.
Two thirds of the respondents to the survey reported spending less than six hours on their exams, and less than 2% reported spending more than 18 hours on exams, and less than 9% more than 12 hours.
The Physics department has voiced concerns about the length of time students spend on exams. The department stated they would “explore the possibility of a shorter window within the 24-hour time period”, to reduce the amount of time students will be expected to be under exam conditions. Exams have been held online for the previous two years. Last year, the 24-hour format was introduced as an alternative to the 48-hour period used in the policy’s first run in the 2019-20 academic year.
Image: Thomas Tomlinson