The Best Student Life. Bristol SU

Exam problems

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 It’s the morning of your exam, and you’re not feeling well. What should you do? Would you take your driving test today? If the answer is no, then it’s probably not a good idea to sit your exam as you won’t perform to the best of your ability. You can self-certify your absence from the exam. You can only do this if you do not actually attend the exam. Self-certification is intended to cover sudden short-term acute illnesses such as food poisoning, flu, etc. where you wouldn’t necessarily need to see a doctor.

If you self-certify, in most cases you will be able to take the exam at the next opportunity - usually during the August/September resit period. But there are some things to consider:

  • If you have self-certified before or if you have already taken a supplementary year the situation can be different.
  • For some professional courses, self-certifying for one assessment can lead to having to suspend studies and repeating the entire year.
  • If you self-certify, it's likely that you would need to study and revise during the summer holidays.
  • If you were to fail an exam in August/September you would then be likely to have to take a supplementary year to have your second attempt.
  • Be aware that if you are in your final year of study, self-certifying is likely to delay your graduation.

If you are in doubt about self-certification, get advice from your school office and/or Just Ask.

+ How to self-certify

Click here for advice on how you can self-certify your absence from an exam.

  • Contact your school office before the exam starts to let them know that you’re not going to attend.
  • Then fill in a self-certification form and submit it to your school office within 2 working days.

You must notify your school office before any exam that you miss, and fill in a self-certification form for each day that you are absent. There’s no need to submit any medical evidence unless you need medical attention. But if you self-certify several times, or over a long period of time, you will need to provide medical evidence. 

+ If you are ill during an exam...

Click here for advice on what to do if you become ill during an exam.

  • If you are ill during an exam and you cannot complete the paper you must tell the invigilator. Then you must fill in an extenuating circumstances form and submit it to your school office.
  • If you need medical attention you should go and see a doctor. But if you don’t need medical attention, the invigilator’s note will be enough evidence.

+ If you sit your exam even though you are ill

Click here for advice on what to do if you've sat your exam but your performance was affected by illness.

  • If you sit your exam but you were affected by illness or other factors, you can submit an extenuating circumstances form.
  • If you have a long-term condition that the University knows about that worsened during the exam, you should discuss it with your Senior Tutor. It might be appropriate to submit an extenuating circumstances form to cover it.
  • If you experienced an unexpected short-term condition, you can submit an extenuating circumstances form. If you need medical attention, go and see a doctor. If you do go to see a doctor, you should submit medical evidence along with your EC form. It can be hard for the University to make adjustments in this sort of situation. That means it is not usually a good idea to sit your exam if you are suffering from a sudden short-term acute illness.
  • The extenuating circumstances form should be submitted to your school office. The deadline for submitting your form is usually a couple of days after the end of each assessment period. If you have medical evidence, attach it, but if not just submit the form. Just Ask can check your extenuating circumstances form before you submit it.

+ I’m really worried I’ve failed...

Click here for advice on what to do if you're concerned that you failed your exam.

  • Don’t panic! It’s really difficult to judge how you got on until you have your results. Try not to dwell on how you think you did.
  • If you think that your performance has been affected by extenuating circumstances, fill in an extenuating circumstances form straight away.
  • When you get your results, take on board any feedback and think about how you can improve going forward.
  • If you have failed, you should be told if you have the option of re-sitting any failed units. If you’re concerned about the information you’re given by the University - or don’t understand what it means, you can speak to a Just Ask adviser.

+ I’m not happy with my results

Click here to see what to do if you aren't happy with your exam results.

Speak to your tutor to get some feedback and help you to understand why you got the grade you did.

  • In some circumstances you can appeal against decisions made by the board of examiners regarding your exam. Just Ask have a booklet on academic appeals and can answer any questions you might have.
  • The University will only consider appeals which are brought under the reasons for appeal specified in their Examination Regulations: you can’t just appeal because you think you should have got a better grade!
  • If you want to appeal, we strongly recommend that you contact Just Ask as soon as possible.

+ Further help

Click here for information on how to get further help.

If you’d like further advice about exams, self-certification or extenuating circumstances, get in touch with us by filling in our contact form. If you have already started drafting a self-certification or extenuating circumstances form, and would like some feedback before you submit it, please email it to us on

+ What the University says:

Click here for links to relevant University regulations and guidance.