English Faculty reconsiders exam plans for second year cohort

The Faculty is ‘gathering feedback’ from students on future exam formats


The Faculty of English has announced a consultation with students on whether to retain 24-hour open-book online exams for the current second year cohort from 2023. The Faculty had previously announced that this format would be retained for the remainder of the cohort’s time at Cambridge.

In an email sent to students on 17/5, Faculty Director of Undergraduate Studies Sam Dean sent a questionnaire to students so that they could “make their views known” on examining formats for 2023 and subsequent years. Students were also given the option of sharing their views at an open meeting on Zoom.

According to Ms Dean, “no decisions have yet been made” on this issue, and the deadline for filling in the survey was given as 31st May.

The questionnaire stated that the Faculty planned to change future exam formats because the University was withdrawing the option of 24-hour exams from all faculties and departments from 2023 for reasons “including student welfare concerns.”

A proposed alternative options to 24-hour open-book exams for the 2023 Part II exams given in the questionnaire included “3-hour online exams in a 5-hour window” which would be open-book and open-web. Students with disabilities would be able to claim extensions to this window.

In 2021, the English Faculty had announced that then-current first and second-year students would continue to be assessed with 24-hour open-book exams until their graduation, a format originally brought in as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The questionnaire shared with students on the 17th May

The newer announcement has been taken by some to be a reversal of the Faculty’s earlier position on exam formats for third-year students in 2023. One English student, who chose to remain anonymous, commented “I am very worried and betrayed by this proposal – last year the faculty promised as 24 hour exams for the duration of our degree.

“The fact that this is being changed in our final year, when exams matter the most, is far more damaging to alleged ‘student welfare’ than continuing 24 hour exams. It is far more important to examine based on students’ ability to produce quality research than it is for them to memorise lines of text.”

Harry, an English subject rep, claimed that pressure to change the exam formats came from the University, despite his attempting to “raise concerns” in faculty meetings. Harry also claimed that the Faculty did “want to make changes in our [students’] interest” and that “a large turnout” to the open meeting and “feedback via the form will give the Faculty ammunition to go back to the University and relevant Boards with.

“It’s ultimately the University which is pushing this choice and has the final say.”

Dr. Philip Knox, Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Faculty, commented “Over the Easter Vacation, the body responsible for governing the examination formats at Cambridge decided that the 24hr-window exam should be withdrawn.

“As a Faculty, we need to work within the parameters of what is deemed possible and fair by the larger University. We are consulting with students so that whatever decision we make in response to this is informed by students’ needs.

“We understand that the proposals we are currently consulting students about are different to the proposals for 2023 Part II exams made a year ago. This consultation period will allow us to take students’ concerns into account as we develop the final proposals.”

For Part IB exams in 2023 and Part II exams in 2024, the Faculty proposed a return to the 3-hour invigilated exam hall format that was used for all years prior to the Covid pandemic, partly on grounds of “equality of environment for all students.” This format will also be used this year for Part 1A students.

The Faculty claimed it was “exploring the possibility” of allowing students from 2023 to take a fixed quantity of prepared notes with them into the exam hall, and of allowing students to bring their own laptops into the exam hall through the use of a university-provided software platform. This is being trialled this year by some departments.

The Faculty’s consultation also included asking students for feedback on the online lecture recording policy for 2023 and subsequent years.

The University Press Office has been contacted for comment.

Featured Image Credits: Michael Behrend via Creative Commons