Lancaster Biomedical and Life Science Students Write Open Letter After “Damaging” Exam News

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Despite over two years of online teaching, Biomedical and Life Science students have been informed that summer exams will remain in-person, giving students just 10 weeks to prepare.

On the 31st January 2022, Lancaster University announced that the only in-person summer exams to go ahead will be “Biomedical and Life Sciences, Chemistry, Engineering, Law, Mathematics and Statistics, Medicine and Physics.”

Exams for Part II students have been scheduled to commence on or after Monday 25th April 2022 (week 21), and Part I students won’t have exams any sooner than Monday 6th June (Week 27), giving students 10 weeks’ notice.

Although the majority of departments have kept transparent communication with students regarding summer exams, the Biomedical and Life Science students claim that their voices haven’t been heard.

Although a student survey in relation to exam preferences was issued, numerous students and student representatives for the course feel that the “department completely and utterly ignored it, and haven’t compromised in anyway.”

Following the University’s announcement about in-person summer exams, Biomedical and Life Science students have had to wait a further five days for confirmation on what was happening within the department.

“We’ve been told to do ‘wrist exercises’ to prepare – that’s how ridiculous this whole thing is.”

BIOMEDICAL AND LIFE SCIENCE STUDENT

Biomedical and Life Science Rep, Amelia Doran, commented that after prompting multiple members of staff, a statement was issued saying that students will be having an in-person closed book exam for every module taken; these exams will be two hours each and include either two hand-written essays or one essay and a data analysis multi-part question.

Since this announcement, Biomedical and Life Science students have written an open letter to the Department outlining their concerns for the damage in-person exams will have on students’ university degrees, mental health, and physical health.

The open letter begins by highlighting the contrast in-person exams will have after over two years dominated by online learning and virtual resources. In-person exams now sit outside of all the learning skills students have developed meaning, for the majority of students, the classification of their degree and “possibly their future careers” will be based upon skills they had no opportunity to develop or practice.

Biomedical and Life Science students believe that not only would in-person exams be testing skills they haven’t practiced but, for the majority, the last time many took a closed book exam will have been before university.

Students made further comments that those who studied BTEC may not have taken summer exams since GCSE and mature students possibly even longer.

The open letter goes on to detail that only “one out of the four degree classes run in the department is accredited, which means those without accreditation will suffer from in-person exams without any benefit.”

One student told SCAN: “I don’t agree with in-person for anyone even those who need them for accreditation but it’s unfair for people who won’t receive the accreditation to be at a disadvantage.”

“If I knew earlier I would have changed my modules to LEC.”

BIOMEDICAL AND LIFE SCIENCE STUDENT

Furthermore, students conveyed worry for mental and physical wellbeing, expressing: “The pressure of taking in-person exams will negatively impact student mental health, as stress and anxiety will be heightened through this form of examination.”

Another student writes: “I’ve already struggled quite a lot with exam anxiety/phobia. With anxiety, you’ve got to practice and do the things that make you anxious about them.”

After over two years of online teaching, students feel the conditions faced during in-person exams would be detrimental.

The Head of Department has commented on these concerns surrounding mental health, saying that “a small number of departments require in-person exams, principally where there are equity and professional regulatory reasons for doing so.” The Department “recognise that some students will be anxious about in-person exams, so students were contacted last week to publicise revision and exam workshops that will help students prepare for in-person summer assessments.”

Aside from mental health, students also feel that the department hasn’t thoroughly considered but the risk of in-person exams becoming “super-spreader events” for COVID-19.

The open letter highlights the potential risk to all students, especially those who are immunocompromised and at higher risk for complications as well as those living with people who fall under this category.

The challenges of isolation have also been brought into conversation with students highlighting that those forced to isolate after a positive test result would be unable to attend exams, likely meaning complications with graduation down the line. 

Additional questions have been raised by those who either completed their placement last year or are currently on a placement year. One student expressed:

“As I did placement in 20/21, […] my exams after my second year were cancelled, all my coursework marks were scaled down, and for almost three years I haven’t had any exams, neither in person nor online. My first experience with Part II exams will be in my final year, which sucks.”

BIOMEDICAL AND LIFE SCIENCE STUDENT

A further addition was made by a student presently on placement: “The University have just lumped us in with the second years now and they won’t remember or don’t care that we had to go through all the problems our year faced.”

The Biomedical and Life Science Department have invited students to “an in-person listening event with the Department this week, where any concerns can be raised directly with staff.”

Third-year Biomedical and Life Science students intend to present the open letter to the Head of Department. To view or sign the open letter, follow this link.

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