Are coursework extensions a cop-out?

Student gets extra time for a snotty nose – is it really this easy to get extra time on assessments?


My car was broken into the other day. Some slack-jawed tits-for-brains Black and Decker’d it, failed to hotwire it, and then found nothing to steal so he angrily scattered the contents of my glovebox all over the car like a tramp searching for a fag-end in a bin.

Usually, I can brush off stuff like this and assure myself that ‘what goes around comes around’. But I happened to discover this on the day before my deadline, where I still had half a dissertation to write. Instead, I could do nothing more than place my head against the steering wheel and yell vowel sounds at the floor.

I was told by a friend that this would be grounds to submit an Extenuating Circumstances Form as I was a victim of crime, and yelling at the floor is considered ‘abnormal behaviour’. Realistically though, the red haze had faded by this point and I felt that to submit an ECF on the grounds that the crime had affected my ‘ability to undertake formal assessment’ would merely be a convenient lie to replace ‘I spent too much time eating pudding and watching Elf over Christmas’, which my moral compass would not allow.

However, many other students don’t see a problem with making mountains out of molehills; playing the system to compensate for their lack of organisation and competency. But really, who can blame them when it is evident that the system can be so easily played?

One student, who we’ve kept anonymous for obvious reasons, successfully used his sniffly nose as an excuse to be granted an extra week to hand in a piece of coursework. After being convinced of failing the module due to ‘having no idea what was going on’, he decided to have a crack at applying for an extension.

When asked how easy it was to get the extension, he said: ‘It’s a piece of piss if you’re willing to put the effort in. Cripps Health Centre are as gullible as anything, I just said I felt ill and they wrote me a doctor’s note.’

‘After that it was easy. I just went to see my year tutor, he filled out a form, and that was that. The next day, I was sent an email confirming I had been given an extra week to hand in the essay, which was way more than enough time. I actually handed the work in the following day and ended up with a 2:1… result!’

I’m no doctor, but the only situation I can think of where a clogged nostril would hinder your ability to type an essay would be if blowing your nose caused your head to explode. Unless your illness disables you in some way, there is no reason for it to be considered as an excuse.

Another student who spoke to us revealed that simply being friendly with your personal tutor can also big up your chances for extension, even if you have no evidence:

‘After a long struggle with my dissertation, I decided to see my personal tutor as it seemed unlikely that it would be ready in time.’

‘I didn’t actually expect to be awarded any extra time, as it was basically my fault. But my tutor – who I had developed a close relationship with – told me to relax and just casually offered to give me an extra week on account of my “emotional circumstances.” I felt a little guilty taking it, as I know I definitely didn’t deserve it, but as if I was going to turn down an extra week!

Evidently, there is too much room for corrupt behaviour in the current system. We all get stressed, it’s a by-product of university, but dealing with this is stress is in itself a skill that students must learn if they are to land a graduate job.

Deep down, we all know that any last minute scrambles to bodge together a 5000 word monster could have been easily prevented by just thinking about it a little earlier rather than gawping at Facebook for 18 hours a day.

However, English student Jess disagrees, describing her department as ‘very understanding’ when assessing her claim for an extension due to ‘extreme personal distress’ affecting her ability to work. Like the aforementioned student, Jess had no hard evidence to support her claim, but argues that it was impossible to produce any evidence in her situation.

‘I sent my personal tutor an email explaining in detail my circumstances and he said he would be happy to support my application and provide me with an extension.’

‘I had no evidence in my particular circumstances, other than the fact that my personal tutor knew about it beforehand and was willing to support my application, it all depends on how close you are with your personal tutor in these cases of ’emotional distress’ and the extent of distress.’

‘I can honestly say that I have never been more grateful towards the English department and cannot believe they cared so much about their students!’

Clearly then, lenience is necessary in some situations where hard evidence cannot be obtained. And that’s fair enough. But this should be kept for these rare situations, and not just handed out on a whim.

We all have crap moments where everything feels like it’s tumbling on top of us, but those of you who think about applying for extra time need to have a proper think about themselves. Are you actually unable to use your brain? Are you really in emotional distress? Or is it possible to just have a cup of tea, clear your mind for a few minutes, and carry on?

Dealing with stress at university is as integral a skill to achieving a good degree as any academic skill. If this is a problem for you, any ability you might have may not be reflected in your final mark, and I would say deservedly so.

What’s your opinion? Is the system too soft? Have you been given an extension for a bizarre reason? Be sure to leave us a comment and get your voice heard! If you’re interested in writing for us, drop us an email at [email protected]

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