Annex C: Consideration of medical and other special circumstances in examination

Summary

The purpose of this annex is to set out the main lines of the University’s policy on consideration of medical and other special circumstances in examination and assessment. It draws attention to the relevant sections of the Examination Regulations and then deals with the policy aspects of procedures and timing. It also makes cross-reference to the related annex which deals with major adjustments for disabled students (Annex A: Major adjustments to examinations and assessment).

Background

Chapter B6 of the UK Quality Code for Higher Education: Assessment and the Recognition of Prior Learning states that institutions’ regulations, policies or processes should make explicit requirements relating to ‘the exercise of discretion in a consistent manner by individual boards/panels, for example in relation to extenuating/mitigating circumstances, and borderline cases’ and that ‘Examination boards/assessment panels are responsible for ensuring that assessment decisions are recorded accurately, supported by taking adequate minutes of any discussions which, in particular, demonstrate the factors taken into account when discretion is exercised or extenuating/mitigating circumstances considered’. In addition the University’s procedures relating to medical evidence have been a factor in a number of determinations from the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA). In this context, the University’s governing regulations are reviewed regularly and the guidance provided by the Proctors is updated each year in the light of issues which emerge from each examination period.

Some key principles

(a) Regulations

1.  There are two sets of applicable regulations in the current regulations for the conduct of University examinations1.

2.  Part 12 Candidates with Special Examination Needs relates to students with some form of disability, i.e. candidates ‘who have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’2. These regulations apply to all forms of disability which impair a candidate’s capacity to demonstrate their academic abilities in the same way as candidates without a disability. See section 8 and Annex A: Major adjustments to examinations and assessment for further guidance on disability.

3.   There are two dimensions to the general rules in Part 12. A candidate with special examination needs ‘may apply to the Proctors through the Senior Tutor of his or her college for special examination arrangements relating to his or her condition’; and may also apply to the Head of Examinations and Assessment through the Senior Tutor of his or her college for the condition to be taken into account by the examiners as a special factor that may affect his or her performance in examinations (Examination Regulations, Regulations for the Conduct of University Examinations, Part 12.2). The first provision relates to reasonable adjustments to the conditions under which the examination is taken, including extra time, rest breaks, sitting the exam in college, using a computer or amanuensis, etc. It does not apply to major adjustments to the mode of assessment which would require an application to Education Committee (see Annex A: Major adjustments to examinations and assessment)3. The second provision enables a candidate to provide medical evidence as to the likely impact of the disability on their examination performance, notwithstanding any reasonable adjustments already agreed. Where a candidate chooses to provide such supplementary evidence, it would be for the examiners to decide whether – in their view – the adjustment(s) in question should be regarded as providing a sufficient accommodation to the student’s disability or, alternatively, that additional consideration might need to be given. This will require a balanced assessment of the medical (or other) evidence and consultation with the external examiner(s).

4.  In relation to the procedures used for marking and classification, in addition to the procedures given in (c) below, reference should also be made to the following points drawn from Education Committee’s guidance on disability (Annex A: Major adjustments to examinations and assessment). (The original numbering has been retained for clarity.)

 

21. It is accepted that examiners cannot assess undemonstrated performance and that candidates should not receive double compensation. Nevertheless, when an application for consideration of factors affecting performance is received, examiners are asked to take a view as to whether the reasonable adjustments are likely to have fully compensated for a candidate’s condition and allowed him or her to demonstrate his or her ability.
22. Furthermore examiners are also asked to consider the possibility that an examination adjustment may itself have adverse effects on a candidate’s performance and that some compensation might be appropriate even where the adjustment (e.g. extra time or rest breaks) has ostensibly compensated for the effects of the disability. Examples might include the fatigue caused by taking examinations with extra time; the experience of lengthy extended supervision; and frequent interruptions due to the need to take rest breaks.
23. Parity with other candidates is maintained by the requirement that all candidates must fulfil the assessment criteria of the course. Reasonable adjustments to the mode of assessment or the conditions under which the assessment is taken are designed not to compromise these academic standards. The identification of a course’s competence standards is key to avoiding unlawful discrimination and enabling the University to meet its anticipatory duty to make reasonable adjustments (paragraph 4 above). Therefore, supervisory bodies are urged to clarify the competence standards of their courses in order to be better prepared for future applications for major adjustments to the mode of assessment. This will make it easier to determine the most appropriate assessment for a disabled candidate.
24. The board of examiners is asked to bear these factors in mind when attempting to determine the candidate’s proper class. Examiners may find the contextual evidence of especial use in cases where candidates have provided short weight answers or been placed close to a borderline.

 

5.  Part 13 Factors affecting performance in an examination relates to unforeseen factors which may have an impact on a candidate’s performance4. When such factors come to the attention of the college, the Senior Tutor guides the candidate in making a submission (submitted by the college through the secure SharePoint site provided by the Examinations and Assessments team) that the factors are likely to have (or to have had) an effect on a candidate’s performance. It is the candidate’s responsibility to ensure that an application is made. The Examinations and Assessments team will forward this information to the chair of examiners. The medical or other certificate may be submitted before, during or after the examinations but will not be passed on automatically to the examiners if it is received after noon of the day before the final meeting of examiners.

6.  These provisions cover:

a) the effects of non-medical ‘urgent causes’ such as bereavement or the impact of a crime;

b) sudden illness or accidental injury; and

c) more long-standing conditions which may or may not have resulted in an alternative examination arrangement under Part 12.

7.  Applications received after noon of the day before the final meeting of the examiners will be considered by the Proctors and only passed on to examiners if received within three months of the publication of results and if one of the following criteria is met:

a) The candidate’s condition is such as to prevent them from making an earlier submission;

b) The candidate’s condition is not known or diagnosed until after the final meeting of the examiners;

c) There has been a procedural error (beyond the candidate’s control) that has prevented the candidate’s information from being submitted.

8.  If the Proctors decide not to pass on information of this kind, the regulations require them to give their reasons for their decision. A candidate or his or her college may appeal against a decision of this kind under the regulations governing appeals (ibid., Part 18.1).

9.  Where a candidate takes examinations at a particular disadvantage, it is always preferable to alleviate the disadvantage by appropriate alternative arrangements, such as extra time, than to expect examiners to compensate in their adjudication on the merits of performance. If a candidate has been working below his or her best ability or approaches the examination in this condition, he or she will have to choose whether to go ahead with the possibility of impaired performance or to withdraw until his or her situation improves. However, candidates who elect to take their examinations at a disadvantage do not thereby give up their right to be considered under the provisions relating to disability or ‘factors affecting performance’ (ibid., Part 13) as described in (b) Procedures.

(b) Procedures

10.  Boards of examiners should adopt the following procedure for the consideration of medical and other special circumstances transmitted to them via the Examinations and Assessments team:

a) A subset of the board should meet to discuss the individual applications  (if necessary, in smaller departments, this may need to be undertaken by the entire exam board) and band the seriousness of each application on a scale of 1-3 with 1 indicating minor impact, 2 indicating moderate impact, and 3 indicating very serious impact. When reaching this decision, examiners will need to take into consideration the severity and relevance of the circumstances, and the strength of the evidence. Examiners should bear in mind that a minor but acute illness, such as a stomach bug, can have a severe, time-limited impact. Examiners should also note whether all or a subset of papers were affected being aware that it is possible for circumstances to have different levels of impact on different papers. Where candidates have had alternative arrangements for their examinations, but have also submitted an application for factors affecting performance to be considered in relation to the alternative arrangements, the banding should take into account the strength of the evidence that these have not fully mitigated the impact of the disability or illness. Boards should not consider candidates who have had alternative arrangements in these procedures unless candidates have separately made an application for factors affecting performance to be considered. It is at the discretion of the chair of the board whether all attendees at the pre-board meeting should see all the evidence supplied with a factors affecting performance application. The meeting should not discuss examination scripts or marks, but should only consider the factors affecting performance applications;

b) For courses where marks are released at multiple points throughout the academic year, and for multi-part examinations, it is permissible to hold more than one of these banding meetings. All applications relating to the same papers should be discussed at the same meeting;

c) The banding information should be used at the final board of examiners meeting to adjudicate on the merits of candidates. It is likely that in most cases no further action will be required for applications in band 1;

d) If the candidate has missed any papers, the chair should ensure either that authorisation to consider the candidate for an estimated classification (see section 11.8 of the Policy and Guidance for Examiners and others involved in University Examinations) has been received from the Proctors, or that notification has been received that no such authorisation will be given;

e) A brief, formal record should be kept confirming (a) the fact that information about special circumstances has been considered by the examiners, (b) how that information has been considered, and (c) the outcome of the consideration with the reasons for the decisions reached. This should be available as part of the minutes of the examiners’ proceedings. A pro forma to help boards record this information is available at the end of this annex.

11.  This procedure should be part of the information published for candidates in the published examination conventions, and should be clearly communicated to them. It should allow appropriate involvement by the external examiner(s) who should be in a position to certify the fairness of the procedure followed.

12.  The importance of the final requirement in 10 (e) regarding keeping a record of the decision is already stressed in section 11.7 of the Policy and Guidance for Examiners and others involved in University Examinations and Education Committee underlines its importance in the context of an increasing number of appeals to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator where the use made of such material is critical.

13.  When deciding what action to take as a result of being provided with information under Part 12 or Part 13, examiners may wish to consider the following:

a) Disregarding a paper where there is clear evidence that it has been affected, and finalising results on the basis of the remaining material. This is most likely to be appropriate in cases of acute illness, where it is clear that performance in a particular paper affected by that illness is weaker than other papers. It is likely that it will normally be appropriate to allow only one paper to be disregarded while still allowing results to be finalised on the basis of the remaining material, although exceptionally it may be appropriate to disregard more than one paper. Where a paper is disregarded, its mark should be reported as ‘no result expected’ rather than as zero;

b) Finalising a mark for a paper on the basis of the number of questions actually completed rather than the number of questions required where there is evidence that a particular paper was affected. It is likely that this will be appropriate for papers where at least half of the questions have been completed. Chairs of examiners should note that they can request the invigilator’s log for the examination in question from the Examinations and Assessments team as supporting evidence (e.g. the log will note if a candidate left the examination room due to illness);

c) Giving particular consideration to candidates who are just below boundaries for classification or progression. This may include extending the threshold usually used for consideration of boundary cases, or reducing the requirements for progression or for classification in the higher band. However, if the marks for a paper have been disregarded, finalised on the basis of the number of questions actually completed, or otherwise adjusted in compensation for the circumstances, the candidate concerned should not also have the boundary threshold extended or requirements for progression or classification reduced, as this would mean that they would receive double compensation;

d) With regards to individual marks, examiners may decide to make no change to the mark, adjust the mark in compensation for the circumstances, or report ‘no result expected’ depending on individual circumstances and provided there is consistency in approach for all applications considered by the board and double compensation is not applied for any student. Raising a mark may be appropriate where a student must reach a certain threshold in order to progress e.g. 40 at Prelims. Alternatively, the option to report ‘no result expected’ may be appropriate if the mark is not to be adjusted but threshold requirements have been extended or reduced, and it is not considered appropriate for the mark to appear on the student’s transcript;

e) For early parts of multi-part exams, and exams which release final marks throughout the course, the information provided under Part 12 or Part 13 must be passed to final exam board which will make the final classification decision, so that the board can consider whether the final classification should be affected. This should not preclude examiners for the early parts from also considering applications in order to moderate candidates’ marks if wished at each stage, or to determine eligibility for progression.

14.  Particularly in cases received after results have been released, examiners will need to consider specifically whether, but for the illness or other urgent cause, the candidate would have achieved a higher classification. Examiners are not required to take the actions suggested at paragrpah 13 above, but are always expected to consider very carefully the factors that affected the candidate’s performance on the relevant examination dates, and to determine whether those factors are likely to have affected the overall classification to the extent that it should be amended in all the circumstances.

15.  Colleges should remind candidates that their supporting evidence (e.g. a medical certificate) needs to provide explicit detail about the way(s) in which their condition is likely to affect their examination performance, e.g. fatigue, poor concentration, panic attacks, etc. Colleges should provide a copy of the notification of any approved adjustments, i.e. extra time, rest breaks, not taking exams in the morning, an amanuensis, etc. and the candidate should explain why the adjustments that have been made do not fully compensate for the effects of the illness or disability.

16.  A University medical certificate template is available for use in all University procedures requiring medical evidence, including as supporting evidence for factors affecting performance. The template is available via the Medical Certificates page, and college doctors will be provided with an electronic version of the certificate which is compatible with their information management systems, and which can be pre-populated with both doctors’ and student patients’ details. A completed copy of the medical certificate template should accompany applications for factors affecting performance. The template asks for specific information from medical practitioners and should aid University and college staff by providing the information required in a standard format. ‘Guidance for medical practitioners on the use of medical certificates’ has been produced, and is also available at http://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/edc/resources/medicalcerts/. While aimed at medical practitioners, this may also be helpful to University and college staff dealing with medical certificates, and to examiners.

17.  From 2015-16, the University (including the Proctors’ Office and Student Administration) will accept medical certificates supplied electronically (which may include a scanned version of a signed, hard copy), where the receiving officer is satisfied that the e-mail address from which the certificate is sent is a genuine UK NHS medical practitioner’s or practice / hospital account (e.g. doctor.name@trust.nhs.uk or equivalent).

18.  The process for considering factors affecting performance should not be used to make complaints about the conduct of examinations, and any such complaints should be referred to the Proctors for consideration (see section 14 of the Policy and Guidance for Examiners and others involved in University Examinations).

(c)    Timing

Applications under Part 12 Candidates with Special Examination Needs

19.  The applicable regulations operate according to different timescales. As indicated in paragraph 3 above, it will be for a candidate - through his or her college and in the light of the reasonable adjustments already approved - to ask the Examinations and Assessments team to pass on supplementary medical or other evidence to the examiners (using the Factors affecting performance application form available to colleges via the secure SharePoint site). The candidate should make any such request to the Examinations and Assessments team at the earliest possible opportunity. 

Applications under Part 13 Factors Affecting Performance in an examination

20.  In relation to Part 13, the unforeseen nature of the factors involved makes it more likely that the window of opportunity available for (i) a student to liaise with his or her college and obtain a medical certificate, (ii) the college to submit the material to the Head of Examinations and Assessments via the secure SharePoint site provided for this purpose, and (iii) the Head of Examinations and Assessments to pass this on to the examiners will be restricted. Applications can be made before, during or after the examination, and applications received by noon of the day before the final exam board meeting will be automatically passed to the examiners. If received after this, the Proctors will consider such applications to decide whether they should be passed to the examiners under the criteria below.

21.  The Proctors will accept submissions made after noon of the day before the final meeting of the board of examiners if received within three months of the release of results and only if one of the following criteria is met:

a. The candidate’s condition is such as to prevent them from making an earlier submission;

b. The candidate’s condition is not known or diagnosed until after the final meeting of the examiners;

c. There has been a procedural error that has prevented the candidate’s information from being submitted.

Every effort should be made to ensure that medical certificates or other documentation are passed on as soon as possible.

22.  The point at which examiners consider the possible impact of a medical or other factor on the performance of a candidate has been complicated by the introduction of multi-part examinations. Practice differs somewhat between subject areas. A number of boards of examiners prefer to consider medical or other factors at the conclusion of the final part of a multi-part examination when their impact on the final degree classification can be gauged more accurately. Others make use of medical evidence at each stage in order to moderate candidates’ marks. Education Committee does not wish to lay down policy on this point except to stipulate that all interim marks should be final rather than raw marks, scaled if necessary, and released to candidates in order to provide feedback on performance. In some circumstances it may be necessary to consider medical evidence at an intermediate point, e.g. when determining eligibility for progression. If a candidate’s circumstances are considered more than once (e.g. at an interim meeting and at the final meeting), this should be recorded, with the decisions made at the different stages made clear. The Committee would also reiterate its general policy, i.e. that the examiners’ preferred approach should be set out in the published examination conventions which should be clearly communicated to candidates, and should have the endorsement of the external examiners. A confidential record of previously submitted medical evidence will need to be kept, including any action taken, e.g. on a password-protected spreadsheet, for use in the final classification meeting for multi-part examinations.5

 

1  Examination Regulations: Regulations for the Conduct of University Examinations, Parts 12 and 13, www.admin.ox.ac.uk/examregs/2016-17/rftcoue-p12cwsexamneed and www.admin.ox.ac.uk/examregs/2016-17/rftcoue-p13fapianexam

2  Regulations for the Conduct of University Examinations; Part 12 Candidates with Special Examination Needs (Part 12.1 (1)).

3  Education Committee has the power to implement major adjustments to the mode of assessment as a dispensation from the special regulations for each course. Advice on ‘Applications concerning individual students (Dispensations etc.)’ is available to download from the Education Committee website at www.admin.ox.ac.uk/edc/casemanagement/ and the Committee’s terms of reference may be viewed on the University’s Statutes and Regulations website (Council Regulations 15 of 2002).

4  Regulations for the Conduct of University Examinations,  Part 13  Factors Affecting Performance in an Examination

5  Under the terms of the Data Protection Act, sensitive personal information must be kept securely and accessed only on a ‘need-to-know’ basis. Adequate security measures must be observed, e.g. the information must not be copied to laptops or memory sticks and taken off the premises (c.f. the University’s Policy on Data Protection at www.admin.ox.ac.uk/councilsec/dp/policy.shtml).

Competence standards and reasonable adjustments

23. When considering the impact of a disability upon a candidate’s assessment, it is appropriate to bear in mind the relevant equality law. Paragraphs 3 to 6 of Annex A: Major adjustments to examinations and assessment provide guidance on these key concepts. Universities are obliged under the Equality Act 2010 (and its predecessor the Disability Discrimination Act (1995, amended 2001, 2005)) to provide reasonable adjustments for disabled students. The only exception to this is in the application of a competence standard. However, there are limitations on what may fairly be judged to be a competence standard and in nearly all cases reasonable adjustments must be made to the way in which the standard is assessed (also see Annex B: Competence standards for further details).

Report on an application for consideration of factors affecting performance

This report may be used to record actions taken for each candidate for whom the board of examiners has received an application for consideration of factors affecting performance under Part 12 or 13 of the Regulations for the Conduct of University Examinations (www.admin.ox.ac.uk/examregs/2016-17/rftcofunivexam). A separate report should be completed for each candidate. Guidance for examiners on how to deal with such applications is available in Annex C: Consideration of medical and other special circumstances in examination and assessment of the Policy and Guidance for examiners and others involved in University Examinations.

 Report on an application for consideration of factors affecting performance (21kb)