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Exam timetables: the wrong kind of challenge?

It appears to me that with time, the decisions that the University makes on behalf of students are increasingly difficult to comprehend. The latest example that I’ve come across is the publication of the exam dates, released on November 21st. As I first looked at it, I honestly thought it was a joke.

There is no consideration of the fact that the assessments occur after a break which is for many religious and traditional. Or of the fact that some third year students, for example, have 2 long essays to hand in on the same day. Joint degree students are asked to take exams on completely different subjects, which require contrasting types of preparation and different skills, one day after the other, with no real time to go back to the work that needs to be done between on exam and the other.

Exams are set with no real time for the brain to refuel, and I am sure that some psychology students out there would agree that this is essential for a good and focused amount of concentration. The miscoordination of the University and its inability to appropriately consider the dates that are being published for exams is particularly striking, especially because one would imagine a university to be able to consider factors such as mental well-being and the need to take a break as a part of a successful study path.

It is appalling to see the lack of attention to these details that emerges when students look at their exam timetables. Instead, the University carelessly appoints exams expecting students to be able to deliver their 100% in such short periods of time, and this is something which it must work on if it really wishes to be the more comprehensive university towards students as it likes to present itself as. The University should really think about restructuring the exam timetables, the length of term time and non-term time periods and of giving all students an equal opportunity to give their best in their assessments.

How should I feel when I know that a fellow student has an exam 12 days after the 1st January whereas I have one 4 days after? Clearly, that is truly unfair, because that first student will surely have less pressure during and after the vacation period and may be more able to not only study more, but also study with less pressure and stress. Whereas this may appear as a useless or overly exaggerated point to emphasize for some, I believe that all students should think twice about how fairly they feel their timetables were decided and to what extent they think that a different structure of assessment periods could benefit them.

It is for our own good, for our education and it is the reason that we will walk out of university with thousands of pounds of debt, so we may as well get together and think about fighting for a fairer system of assessments.

Laura Giovinazzi

University response:

The University’s primary aim in setting the examination timetable is to ensure that no student has more than one examination per day. We achieve this using a sophisticated software package (Eventmap) to get the best result for each student within the physical, time and curriculum constraints that apply. We timetable examination start times between 9.30am and 5.00pm to avoid very early starts and late examinations. We also timetable on Saturdays to achieve the best balance possible for individual students.

This January 19,315 examinations will be sat by students, involving 7,623 individuals. The Sussex curriculum maximises personalised learning through Sussex Choice in the form of electives, elective pathways, option modules and joint degrees. We have adopted a flexible curriculum in response to feedback from our students and this involves substantive complexity when timetabling examinations.

We have introduced mid-year assessment to better manage the assessment loading over the academic year and to support curriculum design and delivery. We have benchmarked ourselves against practice in other institutions and find that we adopt similar tactics to other comparable universities in examination timetabling. This includes ensuring that we meet our statutory duties in accordance with equality and disability legislation.

We also work closely with schools to adjust for particular local constraints and other factors where reasonable. Of course, we know that the examination period is stressful for students and we continue to look for ways to improve our services in this area. Therefore the Pro-Vice-Chancellor  Professor Clare Mackie, has established a Task and Finish Group to review a range of current institutional and school-level practices to identify opportunities for improvement.

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