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We've improved our advice on extenuating circumstances to better support you during the COVID-19 pandemic. Click here to see the updated advice.

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 guide 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.

This guide was jointly developed by Bristol SU and the University of Bristol.

What are extenuating circumstances?

Because circumstances affect students in different ways, it’s hard to define this exactly. If you are unsure then it is a good idea to consult the Just Ask team or one of your tutors as soon as possible for advice.

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 and unforeseeable illness, such as an appendicitis or food poisoning 
  • Exacerbation of a chronic condition, such as a significant mental health problem 
  • Bereavement, such as the death of a parent or sibling, or other close family member 
  • Other unexpected responsibilities, such as caring for the well-being of someone close to you or jury service.

If it is felt that the circumstances would not have significantly affected the outcome of the assessment, for example the loss of only one revision day, then no change will be made.

What wouldn't be considered "extenuating"?

It’s difficult to have a comprehensive list as each case is considered on its own merit, but generally if the circumstances could have been foreseen or avoided, it is unlikely that the University will deem them to be extenuating. Some examples are:

  • Transport problems: you are expected to plan your journeys so as to arrive at exams well ahead of the start time. Missing the bus or getting stuck in traffic will not normally be considered as unpreventable. 
  • Computer or IT problems: you are expected to plan your work schedule and remember deadlines. A computer problem on the day of hand-in would not normally be seen as an extenuating circumstance, as this could be prevented by better time management. 
  • Paid employment: that impacts upon your studies and/or prevents you from attending teaching or assessment.
  • Minor ailments: such as colds that are considered to be part of everyday life, which may have only mildly affected your performance in assessment, if at all. 
  • Normal levels of exam stress or anxiety that any student might experience.

 

How to submit extenuating circumstances

Complete either the University’s extenuating circumstances form or the self-certification for absence form. Both are available from the University’s Student Forms page.

Give as much information as possible but be clear and concise. You need to explain and give evidence about when and how the circumstances impacted on your academic performance.

Alerting your school

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 boards of examiners will only take into account what you choose to disclose. The only way that exam boards can be notified about student's 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!

It is possible to either email forms and evidence to your school office or hand in paper copies. Some schools also have online submission systems. If you're confused about what to do, ask at your school office.

When to fill in an extenuating circumstances form and submit it with evidence

  • You are absent from an exam due to illness and wish to present evidence.
  • You are absent from an exam due to a cause other than illness.
  • You are absent from teaching for more than seven consecutive days.
  • You are unable to submit a piece of coursework by the deadline.
  • 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

When to fill in a self-certification form

  • You are absent from an exam due to illness and self-certifying the absence (i.e. not providing evidence)
  • 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 on the day of the exam before the exam starts to let them know you won't be there.

What happens next?

It's important to submit your form before the deadline or the University will not be able to consider your extenuating circumstances. The deadline is usually a few days after the end of each assessment period. This includes the August/September resit period. Your school office will send you email reminders.

Classifications

A small committee called the Extenuating Circumstances Committee within your school will 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.

The classification, along with details of the unit(s) affected is then passed to the exam board. They 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 and faculty exam boards then consider 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.

For failed units, exam boards 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?

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 as a result

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.

If you would like further advice on this, get in touch with Just Ask.

Filling in your extenuating circumstances form

The University of Bristol's Extenuating Circumstances form can be downloaded here.

How to fill in the form

It is important that you give as much information as possible on the form to help the University to make the best decision. The same circumstances may affect different people in different ways, so it is important that you say clearly how your work has been affected.

It is also important that you state clearly when you had problems and which assessments or exams were affected by your circumstances. A good way of doing this can be to write a table of events with dates.

You need to show when and how your circumstances have impacted on your academic performance and be clear, concise and comprehensive in the information that you provide. 

Contact the Just Ask team if you would like some help filling in your extenuating circumstances form. 

Supporting evidence

Evidence should be provided along with your extenuating circumstances form so an informed judgement can be made about the impact. If your extenuating circumstances are health related you can provide a letter from your doctor, counsellor, psychiatrist or other health-care professional. It is important that you see a health specialist whilst you are ill, as retrospective diagnoses cannot be made. In the case of ongoing conditions, such as depression, you should obtain a medical note even if the condition has been affecting you for some time.

If you are unable to provide evidence it is still worth filling in and submitting an extenuating circumstances form. Explain why you are unable to provide evidence, or when it will be available if you're able to provide it later.

If you have been a victim of crime, include a crime reference number or police report.

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.

Self-certification

Where it is inappropriate or impossible to provide evidence of illness, for example a migraine (any symptoms may have passed by the time you can get an appointment with a doctor), the University will accept a self-certificate to explain your absence from an exam. In this case the only solution offered is for you to take the assessment next time it is offered by your School, normally in August/September;

  • A self-certificate is only accepted for one-off absences from an exam due to illness.
  • A self-certification of absence from an exam only covers one day in the examination period. Remember to contact your school and complete a form for each day you are absent from an exam.

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.

Case Study 5: Leaving exam due to illness

Annabel, who is in her final year of study, feels fine prior to starting an exam, but then suffers from sickness during an exam. It becomes impossible for her to complete the paper. She tells the invigilator and leaves the exam. Annabel then fills in an extenuating circumstances form and submits it to her school office. The exam is one of two assessments in the unit. As she only completed a small part of the exam, she receives a low mark and therefore narrowly fails the unit.

The Extenuating Circumstances Committee considers her extenuating circumstances form along with the invigilator's report and classifies the impact of the circumstances on Annabel's capacity to perform in assessment as ‘moderate’ and ‘acute’. The boards of examiners decide that since Annabel was unable to complete the exam, the mark she received for the unit was affected by her illness and doesn't reflect her academic ability.

Normally, Annabel would be allowed to reattempt the exam at the next sitting, without penalty; however as she was in the final year of study the Board of Examiners decide to award credit for the unit on the basis of the otherwise ‘good’ marks she received in the year, and agrees to disregard the mark when calculating her degree classification.

If you are ill during an exam:

If you are ill during the exam and cannot complete the paper, you must inform the exam invigilator at the time. The extenuating circumstances form should then be submitted to your School Office as soon as possible.

What if...?

What if I'm ill during the teaching period? What if I think I'll miss a coursework deadline? What if I have problems on exam day?

What if I’m ill during the teaching period?

If you are absent during the teaching period because of illness or some other reason, let your School know as soon as possible, and:

  • If the absence is seven consecutive days or less in the teaching period, complete and submit a Student Absence form so that your absence can be recorded. No medical evidence is required for the absence.
  • If the absence is for more than seven consecutive days in the teaching period, you should complete and submit an extenuating circumstances form as the prolonged absence could have affected your learning. Usually, medical evidence will be needed if you were absent due to ill-health.

What if I think I'll miss a coursework deadline?

If you’re ill or for some reason feel you won’t be able to submit a piece of coursework by the deadline:

  • If you are ill during the teaching period, such that you cannot complete coursework as scheduled, fill in a coursework extension requestThis must be requested before the deadline. There is some guidance on how schools consider coursework extension requests available here

If you are ill on exam day, click here.