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Extenuating circumstances

Normally, your time at the University of Bristol will be happy and productive. Unfortunately, though, it's possible that your studies will be affected by illness or unexpected events. This page should help you understand the University’s regulations and policies on things such as illness that affect your studies and are outside your control. If you’re new to the extenuating circumstances process, we suggest you read through all the sections. 

The University introduced an enhanced package of mitigations in January 2021 because of the global pandemic. You can read more about that here but one of the key points is that evidence is not currently required when submitting extenuating circumstances, if they relate to COVID-19.

If you would like further advice on any aspect of the extenuating circumstances or self-certification process please do get in touch with Just Ask.

What are extenuating circumstances?

Extenuating circumstances are events that affect your performance in assessment, and are usually either unforeseen or unpreventable and outside your immediate control. For example:

  • Sudden illness, such as an appendicitis or food poisoning 
  • A flare up of a chronic condition
  • A mental health difficulty that unexpectedly affects your studies 
  • Bereavement
  • Other unexpected responsibilities, such as caring for the well-being of someone close to you or jury service.

The University has made adjustments to many aspects of teaching and assessment to account for the impact of the pandemic but if your studies have been affected particularly badly it is worth putting in an EC form to explain this. 

Minor ailments such as colds and normal levels of exam stress or anxiety are not generally considered as extenuating circumstances. If you're not sure about your particular situation, contact Just Ask or your school office for advice.

It is a good idea to keep your school regularly informed of any personal matters affecting your studies. You are in charge of your personal information and what you do with it, so the University will only take into account what you choose to disclose. The only way that exam boards can be notified that a student has been affected by difficult circumstances is via the extenuating circumstances system. What this means is that you must fill in a form, even though you might have discussed problems with your tutor or another member of staff.

Just speaking to your personal tutor is not enough, you must submit a form!

How to submit extenuating circumstances

Extenuating circumstances forms will be available on eVision from Monday 8th March (because of the changeover in processes you will not be able to submit ECs on the weekend of 6th March). You will be able to find the link to the form here.

When filling in your form, you will need to give as much information as possible but be clear and concise. There is a limit of 1500 characters for the 'explain your situation' section. You need to explain how your ECs affected your studies and include all the units that were affected. The circumstances will be taken more seriously if you can show that they were serious, unexpected, unavoidable and happened around the time of the assessment. If you'd like help wording your explanation of your ECs, contact Just Ask and we can give feedback on your draft text.

Evidence

As part of the enhanced package of mitigation introduced by the University in January 2021, evidence is not currently required if the circumstances relate to Covid-19. However, if you do have evidence available, we would suggest submitting it anyway and if your extenuating circumstances relate to something else, we would strongly advise you to submit evidence if possible. If your extenuating circumstances are health related you can provide a letter from your doctor, counsellor, psychiatrist or other health-care professional. If you have been a victim of crime, include a crime reference number or police report. Please ask us if you are not sure about this.

When to submit your form

The deadline for submitting your EC form is usually immediately after each assessment period.This includes the August/September resit period. Your school office will send you email reminders. If you don't submit your form before the deadline the University may not be able to consider your extenuating circumstances.  The eVision form will only allow you to submit the form for particular dates. 

Submit an extenuating circumstances form with evidence if:

  • You are absent from an exam or timed assessment but have been unable to self-certify (see below)
  • You are absent from teaching for more than seven consecutive days
  • You are unable to submit a piece of coursework by the deadline
  • You submit coursework late
  • You are ill during an examination
  • You complete an assessment but wish to bring to the University’s attention an extenuating circumstance that affected your ability to perform in the assessment

Submit a self-certification form with evidence if:

  • You are absent from an exam because you are unwell or there is some other situation which means you cannot complete your assessment. This is currently possible for exams and timed assessments. You will be expected to take these exams and assessments in the resit period
  • You are absent from teaching for seven consecutive days or less

Please note that to self-certify your absence from an exam you will also need to contact your school office before the exam starts to let them know you won't be attending. The self-certification form then needs to be submitted as soon as possible.

What happens next?

A small committee called the Extenuating Circumstances Committee within your school will look at your form then classify the impact of your extenuating circumstances. They will decide on the duration of the impact (Acute or Chronic) and the severity of the impact (Mild, Moderate, Serious or Severe). So you will end up with two classifications:

 

Acute/Mild

Acute/Moderate

Acute/Serious

Acute/Severe

Chronic/Mild

Chronic/Moderate

Chronic/Serious

Chronic/Severe

 

Acute = a short term illness.

Chronic = an ongoing circumstance which is not a disability. If you have a disability your Disability Support Summary should cover this.

Mild = a circumstance that didn’t have much effect on assessment, such as a cold. Exam boards would not normally make any changes in this situation.

Moderate = a circumstance that would have had more of an effect on assessment, for example a more sustained illness.

Serious = a circumstance that would have had a significant effect on assessment, such as a major illness or incident.

Severe = a circumstance that would have had a major effect on assessment such as the death of a close family member, or emerging serious mental health concerns. 

The University has published guidelines on how extenuating circumstances are to be classified.

The committee considers each situation on its own merits. You should provide evidence if at all possible, as this will give your ECs more weight. If you’re unable to provide evidence, you should explain why on the form. If your ECs do not significantly affect the outcome of the assessment, for example the loss of only one revision day, then it's unlikely that any changes will be made.

The classification, along with details of the unit(s) affected is then passed to the school exam board. The exam board won’t see the full details on the form you submitted, just the committee’s classification. You can find out how your ECs were classified by asking at your school office.

The school exam board then considers your unit marks and your EC classification and decide what action (if any) is appropriate. The regulations specify what type of action is available to the exam board. Exam boards never change marks and only rarely allow further attempts at passed units.

If you've passed, the exam board does have the power to disregard that particular unit mark or marks from your final degree classification.

If you have failed a unit, the exam board can allow further attempts without penalty. If you have failed a unit with no ECs, or if your ECs were only classified as mild, you will have used up one of your attempts at that unit so your next attempt will be capped at the minimum pass mark.

What if I miss the deadline for submitting my EC form?

It’s possible for the University to consider late extenuating circumstances as part of an academic appeal. But you will need to show that you have a very good reason for not submitting your EC form at the correct time, as well as evidence of your ECs.

What if the exam board doesn't make any changes?

If your extenuating circumstances have not been taken into account when you receive the final decision from the Faculty Board of Examiners, you may be able to appeal their decision.

What if I think my extenuating circumstances haven't been classified correctly?

You could raise this as part of an academic appeal, but you would have to have a good reason why you think that the University has made a mistake. If you have more evidence to provide, you should provide it.

Sensitive or distressing circumstances

Some circumstances can be particularly sensitive or distressing. 

You may be reluctant to disclose the details using the Extenuating Circumstances process. 

The University promises to treat such circumstances seriously, respectfully and in confidence. All evidence is considered in confidence by the Extenuating Circumstances Committee (ECC) - nobody else sees the evidence.

If you want the details to be even more private, contact your School or Faculty Office. Arrangements will be made for you to speak to the Faculty Education Director, or other faculty representative. If you request it, that can be someone who is of the same gender. That person can argue the extenuating circumstance on your behalf, confidentially and without divulging the details. They'll also be able to advise on the nature of any evidence that may be required or submitted.

Case Studies

Here are some fictional examples of students affected by different circumstances to illustrate the sort of action that the University can take.

Case Study 1: Bereavement in family

Maryam was brought up by her grandparents. Unfortunately, her grandfather dies during term time, and Maryam takes a short while out of her study to return home to attend the funeral and to grieve. Maryam tells her school that she will be away so that arrangements can be made to minimise the impact on her study, for example by giving coursework extensions.

This would normally be sufficient to account for the disruption. However Maryam also submits an extenuating circumstances form so that the Board of Examiners can take her circumstances into account when making decisions about her progression.

Case Study 2: Caring responsibilities

Louis has an elderly mother who is cared for. During the exam period the care changes and Louis has to take on care duties and, in doing so, loses a day of revision. The loss of a revision day will of course be difficult to accommodate at short notice, but the University will consider that Louis should have started his revision sufficiently early that the loss of one day would have only a minimal impact on his preparation.

If the care duties extended to a number of days during the revision period the impact will likely be considered to be significant, and the circumstance will be taken into account by the Board when considering Louis's progression or degree classification.

Case Study 3: Depression

Yanli is vulnerable to depression, but has been receiving support through both Student Counselling and the Students’ Health Service, so it does not usually have an effect on her study. Unfortunately, in the run up to her exams, she breaks up with her long-term partner and she finds that the coping strategies that she had developed are insufficient, and her mental health deteriorates.

The break-up of a relationship, even with a long-standing partner, is not usually considered an extenuating circumstance in itself. However in Yanli's case it exacerbates a long-standing disability that has already been declared, where support already available is not adequate. Therefore the school and faculty exam boards will take this into account as long as Yanli submits an extenuating circumstances form.

Case Study 4: Revision disrupted

Olu lives in a University residence which is undergoing substantial building work during the exam period causing lots of noise throughout the day. He does not submit an extenuating circumstances form or alert his Personal Tutor or anyone from his School. He subsequently fails the exam and appeals against the decision of the board of examiners on the basis that his revision has been affected by the disruption.

Olu's appeal is not successful because, even though his performance may have been affected, he didn't have a good reason for not submitting an extenuating circumstances form at the correct time.