Students Battle Chemistry Department’s “Unfair” Exam U-Turn

The Chemistry department announced a 20 hour reduction in exam time, little over two months before.

In an email sent to Chemistry students on Monday, their department announced a 20 hour reduction in exam time for those sitting exams in Week 1 Spring Term and Weeks 5-7 Summer Term.

This prompted students to organise an open letter with, at time of writing, 285 signatures, outlining their concerns over the sudden U-Turn, when the next exam is a little over two months away. 

Nigel Lowe, Chair of the Board of Examiners for Chemistry, stated in his email: “the point in so doing [sic] is to allow the examination to discriminate better between candidates”.

However, in an open letter to Lowe and Duncan Bruce, the Head of the Chemistry Department,  students make clear the unfair advantage given to middle class, UK based, and those with more advanced computer skills.  

The letter says: “it is plausible that a middle class student is substantially more likely to thrive in an online examination than a working class student, purely due to the nature of their home environment and differing access to technological resources”. 

According to the email sent to students, the 4 hour time slot was worked out from the model [(1.5 x regular paper duration) + 1] hours, with the original closed book examination being 2 hours long.

One of the main concerns raised in the open letter was the time allowed to format the exam script, which includes uploading handwritten diagrams. 

Thomas Dugdale, a third year Chemistry student and one of the three authors of the open letter, told York Vision: “I spent hours formatting exams in summer, and was constantly flipping between tabs to refer to the questions, and I can’t see myself doing this in a 4 hour period with just a laptop and unreliable WiFi.

“I completely understand 24 hours isn’t feasible, but neither is 4 hours. It’s just simply unfair”. 

This unhappiness has prompted Matt Johnstone, YUSU’s Academic Officer, to speak out: “I’m angry at the lack of compassion being shown by these departments, and frankly shocked at the timing of these announcements.  

“It’s possible they didn’t announce this until the last possible minute – so there (kind of ironically) may not be enough time left”.

Speaking to Vision, Matt explained: “Because these changes have been approved by the Uni, the January Exam Timetable is being constructed with them in mind.

“If the exam timetable has to be started from scratch, it would push its release back further, which may have an impact on students who are planning their return to the UK such that they are out of their quarantine before their first exam”.

The Chemistry Department has been contacted for comment. 

If you would like to read the open letter and sign the reply to the Department, click here