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Exceptional Circumstances - A Student Guide

Things may not always go to plan during your time at University; something may happen that has an impact on you personally or on your academic progress.  If any such factors have a significant effect on you and your studies (especially around the time of assessment deadlines or exams), you should always let someone in your School know at the earliest opportunity.

It is vital that you recognise that there are very strict and inflexible deadlines within which you must make the University aware of any exceptional circumstances.  Key dates are set out below, along with guidelines on what the University will accept as “exceptional circumstances” and what you should do in the event of such circumstances. 

This guide will help you understand what exceptional circumstances are and explain how and when you should inform your School.  It is essential that you read the University Study Regulations in conjunction with this guide. In the event of any confusion, the University will rely on the regulations in order to reach a decision.

What are exceptional circumstances?

Unforeseen factors or factors outside your control which have a negative impact on your performance.  Some events, even if difficult, distressing or unpleasant, are not in themselves deemed exceptional. Chronic conditions for which you have received support and reasonable adjustments do not constitute exceptional circumstances.

If you turn up and attempt an examination, or submit a piece of assessed work, you are deeming yourself fit to be examined.  The decision on whether to attempt the examination or submit the assessed work, and the consequences of that decision, shall remain the sole responsibility of the student in question.

Please remember that exceptional circumstances should not be submitted as an insurance against possible poor performance and acceptance of exceptional circumstances will not result in individual marks being raised.

Exceptional circumstances - normally acceptable

Death of a close relative or friend.  ‘Close’ means parent or guardian; partner or spouse; child or sibling. Where there is a demonstrably close relationship between the student and the deceased, a death certificate, an order of service or a letter confirming the death from an independent person should be submitted.

Serious illness of student - an incapacitating illness or an on-going illness or medical condition. This includes breaks and serious sprains to the normal writing hand/arm.  Medical certification must be obtained, self-certification is not acceptable.

Serious illness of a close relative. See notes above for definition of ‘close’.

Hospitalisation. A medical letter/certificate from the relevant hospital confirming the nature and severity of the student’s circumstances and the likely impact it has on the student’s ability to undertake formal assessment will be required.

Acute Personal/Emotional Circumstances. The following will be required:

  • A medical certificate or letter from the appropriate medical professional; or
  • A letter from the University Counselling Service, or equivalent confirming the general nature of the student’s circumstances.*

*If attending counselling, you can request an academic letter from your counsellor once you have attended a number of sessions.  This letter can be submitted as part of your supporting evidence if you are making a request for extenuating circumstances to be taken into consideration in the assessment of your coursework or exams.  However, it is very important that you do not rely on this letter as your only evidence for exceptional circumstances.  Due to confidentiality the letter will only confirm the number of sessions you have attended with Carecall and therefore is unlikely to be sufficient evidence on its own to demonstrate that your circumstances have had an impact on your studies.  

Victim of Crime. A written statement of events which is supported by written evidence from the police and/or appropriate medical professional (or equivalent) will be required.  Please note that a letter from the police stating the crime number is not, on its own, sufficient evidence that you have been the victim of a crime.   It is the stress brought on by being a victim of a crime which may be considered as exceptional circumstances, rather than the crime itself.  The stress and its impact on your academic performance must be evidenced.

Significant Financial Problems. Stress brought on by acute financial concerns. It is the student’s responsibility to maintain a proper balance between work and study.

Serious personal disruption. Stress brought on by divorce; fire; burglary; serious assault; jury service, serious childcare difficulties.  Corroborating evidence of the stress and its impact on your academic performance must be produced.

Pregnancy. A medical report from the student’s doctor or midwife must be provided in support of such circumstances.  This also includes the stages following childbirth.  Pregnancy of a wife/partner may also be considered in certain circumstances.

The following are not exceptional circumstances

Social activities. Hectic social or sporting life, parties, visits to/from friends.

Temporary self-induced medical conditions. Hangover, drug taking (excluding prescribed medication).

Minor ailments. Coughs, colds, sprains, minor fractures (other than in the writing hand/arm).

Non serious personal and domestic disruptions which could have been anticipated or planned. Moving house, weddings, holiday, failed transport arrangements.

Work Commitments. Paid work in the evenings and weekends.

Other issues not considered to be exceptional circumstances:

  • Misreading the examination timetable.
  • Over sleeping / alarm clock not going off causing you to be late for or miss an exam or assessment.
  • Completing and submitting coursework too late and missing deadlines (time management problems).
  • Non-availability of books or other resources.
  • Losing coursework (not backed up).
  • Problems with postal delivery of work (you are advised to obtain receipts for assessments submitted in this manner).
  • Appointments (legal, medical, etc.) which could be re-arranged.
  • A long-standing condition, such as susceptibility to hay fever.

What about long-term illness or disability?

Long-term life circumstances such as a disability or a chronic/on-going medical condition are not considered as exceptional circumstances and therefore are not dealt with under these procedures. You should seek advice from the University’s Disability Services, ideally at the beginning of your studies if you have a disability or medical condition that may affect your studies or academic performance. A worsening of a condition may be considered as an exceptional circumstance, if documented by a letter from your GP outlining how your condition has worsened and the impact this has had on your studies or assessment.

How and when do I inform my School?

If you believe your performance has been adversely affected by exceptional circumstances, please inform your School as soon as you can. 

A number of Schools have their own specific exceptional circumstances forms. In the first instance you should log in to your QOL account and search for this form.  If you are unable to locate the School’s form then you should submit this Exceptional Circumstances Application Form along with all necessary documentary evidence, to your School Office by the published deadline.

If you attempted/passed other examinations or assessments during the same exam period, you should be able to explain why the exceptional circumstances relate to only the one missed/ failed examination or assessment.

You must submit the form and provide the relevant evidence to your School Office by the following deadlines:

Assignments/coursework/class tests

During illness, and especially if you know that you will miss an assignment deadline or class test because of illness, you should inform the relevant School Office in advance by telephone or email.  You must then submit a formal application for exceptional circumstances, along with the appropriate medical evidence/certificate within three working days of returning to study or within three working days of the deadline for submission of the assignment (whichever date comes first).

Examination Period

In some Schools the exam period may differ from the University exam period, in which case the deadline for submission of exceptional circumstances will also differ from the University’s published deadline.  In these instances the School deadline will apply.  It is your responsibility to ascertain the correct deadline applied by your School and to submit any exceptional circumstances application (and supporting evidence) to your School within the specified time.  For up to date information about exceptional circumstances submission deadlines please visit your School webpage.

The deadline for submission of Exceptional Circumstances is three days after the date of your last assessment/examination.  If you have any queries about the procedure or are in doubt about the deadline, you should contact your School immediately.  

Application for Exceptional Circumstances will not be considered after the publication of results.

What evidence is required?

It is entirely your responsibility to submit all the necessary documentary evidence on or before the relevant deadline.  Failure to do so will result in your request being rejected.  The evidence must explain the impact of the exceptional circumstances on your academic performance.

Evidence must be:

  • Original; photocopies will not be accepted.
  • In English.
  • Relevant to the missed/failed examination or assessment.
  • From an independent body, e.g. your G.P.

Medical evidence must:

  • Relate specifically to the dates and duration of the illness.
  • Contain a clear medical diagnosis or opinion and indicate how this impacted on your academic performance.

A report or letter form a G.P. merely stating that you felt unwell is not considered sufficient evidence.

Please be aware that, should a School have any concerns about the authenticity of evidence of exceptional circumstances, it reserves the right to contact the author of the supporting evidence. 

What if I need further assistance?

If you require assistance you should, in the first instance, contact your School Office

If you require advice on how your circumstances will affect your academic progression, you should contact your Personal Tutor or Advisor of Studies. 

If you require guidance, such as how to complete the Exceptional Circumstances Form or on the procedures in relation to the submission of exceptional circumstances to your School, you should contact the Education and Welfare Adviser agnes.crawford@qub.ac.uk.

What if my circumstances are confidential or sensitive?

All information provided will be treated by the University within the normal boundaries of confidentiality and in accordance with Data Protection requirements.  Please be aware that if you do not want to share your circumstances with your School, within the Exceptional Circumstances procedure, this may result in your situation not being taken into account in progression or award decisions.

If you feel that your exceptional circumstances are highly personal and you cannot discuss them within anyone within your School, then please see guidance on personal and sensitive circumstances.

How will my circumstances be considered?

Evidence of your exceptional circumstances will be considered by the School Exceptional Circumstances Committee (SECC) which meets prior to the Board of Examiners’ meeting.  The SECC will make a recommendation to the Board, regarding concessions which may be granted on the basis of the evidence of your exceptional circumstances, as appropriate.

The Board of Examiners cannot change your mark or award extra marks.  

For more information on the School Exceptional Circumstances Committee (SEEC) click here. 

Will I be able to talk to someone in my School about my circumstances?

You should try to meet regularly with your personal tutor and discuss all issues relating to your progress.  If you would like to speak to someone outside of your School you should contact one of the University support services:

Students' Union Advice Centre

Education and Welfare Adviser, agnes.crawford@qub.ac.uk

Student Officer

Vice President Education, su.vpeducation@qub.ac.uk

Student Welfare

Kara Bailie, k.bailie@qub.ac.uk

What happens next?

Your re-sit examination results will be published on Qsis.  If your School is concerned with your progress, you may be called to discuss these concerns with your personal tutor or to attend a Student Support Meeting in your School.  It is strongly recommended that you attend this meeting and avail of the advice provided. In any case, you may wish to discuss your progress with the Personal Tutor or Advisor of Studies.

What if I am unhappy with the decision of the Board of Examiners?

Appealing the decision
You can request an appeal of the Board of Examiners’ decision to the Central Student Appeals Committee (CSAC).  The grounds for appeal are set out clearly and it is your responsibility to identify the grounds upon which you wish to appeal. Guidance on the procedure can be found here.

Highly sensitive and personal circumstances
Evidence which was withheld from the Board of Examiners because it was of a highly sensitive and personal nature is not a ground for appeal.  However it can be referred to the Director of Academic and Student Affairs who will consider if it should be referred back to the Board of Examiners for consideration.  Please see guidance on personal and sensitive circumstances.