Exceptional Circumstances

What is the exceptional circumstances process?

Sometimes health or personal circumstances can occur that can seriously impair your performance in an assessment or prevent you undertaking the assessment at the scheduled time. If these events are unforeseeable and exceptional (i.e. serious and unusual) you can submit a claim form requesting an extension or deferral (otherwise known as a ‘sit as if for the first time’) of an exam or assessment deadline to be put in place. Such ‘unexpected’ circumstances may now include the impact of Covid-19 and the disruptive effect it has had on studying or taking assessments.

Please note that the exceptional circumstances process is only applicable to taught students. If you are a Postgraduate Research student, you would need to either submit a request for leave of absence or an extension via the online PGR ‘Change of Plan’ request form. You can find more information about extensions, and about PGR leave of absence, on the University’s webpages.

Would my circumstances be considered as exceptional?

Examples of circumstances the University would consider include:

  • Exceptional and unforeseen physical or mental ill health issues, including experiencing symptoms of Covid-19.
  • Close bereavement.
  • Being a victim of a serious crime.
  • Lack of access to the internet or suitable resources e.g. a laptop required to complete assessments.
  • Unexpectedly challenging circumstances in your domestic situation that could not have reasonably been anticipated or prevented – for example, if members of your family are ill or self-isolating, and if you consequently have caring responsibilities.
  • Severe impact on student wellbeing due to Covid-19 (such as being physically unwell, emotional or mental wellbeing including anxiety or other resulting health consequences). Note that students can also make a claim if Covid-19 has impacted on or exacerbated pre-existing conditions and disabilities.

You can see more detailed guidance on the current Exceptional Circumstances criteria.

Who to speak to

If you are experiencing difficulties that are impacting on your health or wellbeing and your studies, you should speak to someone in your department (such as your academic supervisor or a departmental administrator) for guidance, to help you find out whether claiming for Exceptional Circumstances is right for your individual situation.

There is also a wide range of support options available at the University or locally, to provide support and guidance for you if you are experiencing difficult circumstances – including the Open Door Team, the Student Hub, College Wellbeing Teams and Unity Health. You can find information about support options on the University’s website.

If you’re not sure whether your circumstances are exceptional, or you need guidance, you can also contact the YUSU Advice and Support Service or the GSA Advice Service (for postgraduate students). Please see below for contact details.

Possible Outcomes

The potential outcome of your claim (if it is successful) depends on the type of assessment you are submitting an Exceptional Circumstances Claim for. The most common outcomes are:

  • For written coursework – you might be given an extension to the original deadline, or a deferral which means you can ‘sit as if for the first time’ at a later date.
  • For online exams – a deferral, which means you can ‘sit as if for the first time’ at the next available opportunity e.g. the late summer assessment period

Please keep in mind that it’s not possible for a mark to be changed as the result of an exceptional circumstances claim, though for open assessments it may be possible to remove late penalties.

Submitting a claim

In the 2021-22 academic year the University’s Exceptional Circumstances policy has been updated to allow students to ‘self-certify’ when experiencing short-term illness or circumstances, without providing supporting evidence, to request a deferral or short-term deadline extension.

Self-certification is not available on PGR programmes or York Online Programmes.

Each department may have its own Google form or other process for self-certification. Self-certification applications are not usually submitted via the standard Exceptional Circumstances claim form. If you’re unsure of how to apply for self-certification, you can contact your department or supervisor who will be able to advise you about the process or form that you will need to complete.

Self-certification for assessments must be made either before the start of the exam window (for exams) or before the submission deadline (for coursework/essays). Assessment types that are eligible for self-certification, and the possible outcomes that are applicable are as follows:


  • Closed examinations
  • Aural examinations (listening tests)
  • Online examinations
  • Open examinations (of up to 2 weeks in duration)

4 day extension:

  • Coursework/Essay
  • Postgraduate (Taught) Dissertations
  • Undergraduate Projects

In summary, the two options for requesting an extension or deferral due to exceptional circumstances are:

  1. Self-certification for illnesses or unforeseen circumstances that are short-term, prior to submission of an open assessment or commencement of an examination. No supporting evidence is required.
  2. Exceptional Circumstances Committee application (via the Exceptional Circumstances Application Form) for assessments where the submission deadline or start time (for exams) has passed, or where the severity and/or duration of the circumstances/impact on assessment requires a longer extension or alternative outcome.

When should I submit an ECA claim?

You should:

  • If possible, submit your claim in good time before your assessment. This will allow your department a chance to consider the claim and provide an outcome for you in good time.
  • If this is not possible, you can still submit a claim up to 7 days after the deadline for written coursework.

Online exams – important information

You can submit a claim when you take an online exam if:

  • you do not sit the online exam at all,
  • you start your online exam but experience exceptional circumstances that affect your performance and are not able to complete and submit the exam
  • you start your online exam and experience exceptional circumstances that affect your performance, but still submit the exam (including if you submit the exam late as a result of these circumstances)

In any case an ECA claim would need to be submitted within 7 days of the end of the exam submission window.

How to submit

The application form is an online process. You can find the Exceptional Circumstances Application Form on the Exceptional Circumstances page.

Click the ‘Exceptional Circumstances Application Form’ link at the bottom of the University webpage. You will then be asked to enter your student username and password to proceed to the online form.

In the form you will need to include:

  • A brief description of your individual circumstances.
  • How these circumstances have impacted your ability to study or complete your assessments. Examples might include being physically unable to because of health symptoms, or due to having to prioritise family, caring responsibilities or employment.
  • The dates at which this circumstance has been affecting you.
  • The length of the extension you require or, otherwise, if you are requesting a deferral/’sit as if for the first time’.
  • We would recommend that you also include examples of the practical impact which your circumstances have had on your ability to study. For example, if you are finding it hard to think clearly, concentrate, sleep, or manage your time, it is helpful if you can describe this.

Students with a Student Support Plan (SSP), which has been in place for a disability or ongoing health condition, may have the option to request an extension or a ‘sit as if for the first time’ as part of the academic adjustments specified in their plan. Your plan will state if this is an option available to you. If this is available to you, you can request such an extension or ‘sit as if for the first time’ usually without providing evidence, by completing the exceptional circumstances claim form and indicating within the form that they are requesting an adjustment via their SSP.

What evidence do I need to provide?

Exceptional circumstances claims would usually need to be supported by independent supporting evidence, for example a supporting letter/confirmation of illness from a health or support practitioner. Ideally, the evidence should directly confirm the nature of the difficulties affecting you, the dates at which you were affected, and the impact of these difficulties on your studies.

Evidence should ideally be submitted with your claim, however, the University understands that it can sometimes take a little while to request and obtain supporting evidence/letters from third parties. Therefore, evidence can  be provided after you have submitted your claim, as long as this is done within 3 weeks after the assessment deadline (and before results are ratified by your department’s Board of Examiners).

Things to consider when submitting an ECA claim

Is the Exceptional Circumstances process the best or most appropriate option for you? If you are experiencing circumstances that are likely to continue to affect you and your ability to study for an extended period of time, taking a break from study or ‘Leave of Absence’ may be a more appropriate and better option for you, to allow you to return to your studies at a later date.

You can find more information on the University’s Leave of Absence process on their webpage.

If you are given a deferral until August and sit your exams/assessments as if for the first time, and then fail this assessment, you will not be able to take a second attempt before the new academic year. You would then normally need to take a period of Leave of Absence in order to complete your resit at a later date in the following academic year.

It is advisable for any student who feels that their ability to undertake or submit assessments is likely to be significantly affected to submit an Exceptional Circumstances claim. The option to claim for Exceptional Circumstances is in place to mitigate the impact of these circumstances on your assessments, and so that you have the opportunity to submit work at a time when your academic performance is not compromised so that it is reflective of your academic ability. Many students instead try to submit work when they are not in the best position to do so and their marks suffer as a result. It is also more complicated, time-consuming and difficult to retrospectively challenge your assessment results via the academic appeals process if you did not submit a claim at the time of the assessment/s.

It is worth noting though that if you submit a claim that is upheld and are offered an extension or deferral, you are not obliged to accept this outcome and can sit/submit your assessment/s as originally intended if it transpires that you are able to do so.

When will I know the outcome of my claim?

Departments may often be required to process a high volume of Exceptional Circumstances claims. Therefore it may take a little while to hear back about your outcome but departments are doing their best to process claims as soon as they can. If you have not heard back within a week or so, please contact your department for an update.

If your claim is unsuccessful

If your claim is rejected, you should be provided with an explanation of why it has not been upheld and you may be given the opportunity to provide further information in support of your claim. It may also be possible to submit a further claim if your circumstances change or progress. If not, students do have the right to appeal the decision. Further information can be found about the appeals process on the University website and on the YUSU and GSA advice webpages. Please also note that students are able to contact YUSU or the GSA advice service (for postgraduates) to get independent and confidential guidance about the appeals process.

Further Advice and Support

University services for advice and support are still available online, such as the Student Hub and Open Door.

Students’ Union advice services are still offering independent advice and guidance to students about the exceptional circumstances process, via email, phone or virtual appointments.

YUSU Advice and Support Centre (ASC)

YUSU Advice and Support website
email: asc@yusu.org

GSA advice service(for postgraduates)

GSA website
email: advice@yorkgsa.org

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