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. You can find more information about extensions here, and about leave of absence here.

Would my circumstances be considered as exceptional?

Due to the multiple and potentially varied ways in which Covid-19 may have an impact on students’ ability to study, the process has been altered to accommodate this. The University will now take into account a far wider and more flexible range of circumstances in addition to those that would normally be considered. Examples of circumstances the University will 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 find more detailed guidance on the current Exceptional Circumstances criteria here.

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 for guidance, such as your academic supervisor or a departmental administrator, 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 Team, the Student Hub, College Wellbeing Teams and Unity Health. You can find information about support options on the University’s website, here.

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 GSA for postgraduate students). Please note that advisors at the student unions’ advice services can provide confidential and independent advice and guidance to students. At present, these advice services are offering advice and guidance to students via email, phone or virtual appointments. 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.

  • 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.
  • 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 

When should I submit? 

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. To complete an Exceptional Circumstances form, see here.

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 Plans (SSPs), 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. Students are strongly encouraged to access support from health or support services, such as their GP or the University’s Open Door Team,  if they are experiencing health or wellbeing issues and after accessing support should be able to request a brief supporting letter thereafter to submit with their Exceptional Circumstances claim.

Ideally, the evidence you submit in support of an exceptional circumstances claim 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. If the evidence doesn’t directly confirm the difficulties you’ve been experiencing, it will need to be possible for the Exceptional Circumstances Committee to infer the impact of the circumstance on your ability to engage with your study and/or assessments, and the dates at which you were affected.

You can find a list of possible sources for evidence for exceptional circumstances claims on page 153 of the University’s Exceptional Circumstances policy, available on the University website here.

The University recognises that there may currently be circumstances under which students might face difficulties in providing supporting evidence or even accessing support. It is therefore possible to submit an Exceptional Circumstances claim even if you have not been able to provide evidence, or where evidence may be limited – in such circumstances it would be necessary to explain/provide ‘good reason’ for why you have not been able to provide evidence. Unlike the lockdown during Summer term, self-certification will only be accepted where a student has ‘good reason’ for not being able to evidence their circumstances.

The University has now produced current and detailed guidance on evidentiary requirements and what to do if you are unable to provide evidence. You can read this guidance here.

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 here.

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 but, 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, particularly since Covid-19 and the changes to teaching and assessment that this situation necessitated. 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. You can find full details of available services here: www.york.ac.uk/students/health/help/

Student 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)

email: asc@yusu.org

GSA advice service(for postgraduates) 

email: advice@yorkgsa.org

Key documents and info:

Exceptional Circumstances Affecting Assessment webpage

Leave of Absence webpage

University Covid-19 webpage

University ‘Help and Support’ webpages