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 and, therefore, 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.

There are very strict deadlines for submission of exceptional circumstances applications.  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.  You should be aware that the deadline for submission of an exceptional circumstances application in respect of an assignment, coursework or a project is three working days after the deadline for submission of the piece of work or your return to study (whichever is sooner) UNLESS the piece of work is due within a University assessment period.  The deadline for submission of exceptional circumstances applications for work due or for an exam within a University assessment period is three working days after the date of the last assessment or your return to study (whichever is sooner).  If you are in any doubt about the procedure or the relevant deadline, you should contact your School as a matter of urgency.

In some Schools the examination period, and therefore the deadline for submission of exceptional circumstances applications may differ from the University timetable.  In such cases the deadlines set by your School will take precedence.  It is your responsibility to check with your School and to ensure that you adhere to the relevant deadline. 

Every student’s circumstances are different.  Therefore, every case is considered on its own merits. 

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?

Exceptional circumstances are unforeseen factors or factors outside your control which have a negative impact on your ability to study or your academic 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 encounter difficulties at any stage during your studies, you should contact your School as soon as possible to discuss your options.  If difficulties arise during an assessment period or close to an assignment deadline, you may submit an exceptional circumstances application or, where the circumstances are personal or sensitive, an application under the Personal and Sensitive Procedure.  However, you should be aware that 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, are your responsibility.  If necessary, you should consult your doctor before taking the assessment.

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 the death is recent and there is a demonstrably close relationship between you and the deceased, a death certificate, an order of service, a letter confirming the death from an independent person or other proof of death (eg a death notice in a newspaper) should be submitted.  Where the death is not recent or the relationship between you and the deceased is not demonstrably close, you should also provide evidence of impact on you and your studies (eg a GP’s letter).  

Serious illness of student - an incapacitating 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.  Long-term or chronic illnesses or medical conditions are not considered as exceptional circumstances and will not, therefore, be dealt with under the Exceptional Circumstances Procedure.  If you suffer from a chronic or on-going illness or medical condition, you should contact Disability Services for advice (see below ‘What about long-term illness or disability?’).  You may be entitled to ‘reasonable adjustments’ to assist your study.   

Severe pain – if you experience severe pain which is affecting your ability to study or your academic performance, you should inform your School or Student Wellbeing, even if you have not received a diagnosis of an illness or condition (for example, severe back pain which is later diagnosed as sciatica).  It is the pain which is impacting on your ability to sleep, study or attend an examination - not the diagnosis. 

Serious illness of a close relative. See notes above for definition of ‘close’.  Detailed medical evidence of your relative’s illness is not required.  You should provide confirmation that your relative has been ill and medical evidence (eg a letter from your GP) setting out details of the impact your relative’s illness had on you and your academic performance. 

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 your GP or other appropriate medical professional or counsellor

Emails or letters from the University’s counselling service, Inspire, are of little assistance to your School in assessing your exceptional circumstances application as, for reasons of confidentiality, the detail provided is extremely limited.  The email/ letterwill only confirm the number of sessions you have attended with Inspire and therefore is not 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, normally by a letter from your GP or another medical professional who has been treating you.

Significant Financial Problems. Stress brought on by acute financial concerns. It is the stress brought on by the financial problems which may be considered as exceptional circumstances, rather than the financial circumstances themselves.  The stress and its impact on your academic performance must be evidenced, normally by a letter from your GP or another medical professional who has been treating you.  It is your 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, normally by a letter from your GP or another medical professional who has been treating you.

Pregnancy-related illness or stress.  Pregnancy is not in itself considered to be an exceptional circumstance.  However, illness, stress, anxiety or upset related to a pregnancy may be considered.  A medical report from your doctor or midwife must be provided in support of such circumstances.  This also includes the stages following childbirth.  Anxiety or stress suffered by a student about the pregnancy of a partner may also be considered in certain circumstances.

Evidence of the impact the exceptional circumstances have had on you and your academic performance will normally be required.  

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 (unless in the writing hand/arm – please see Student Wellbeing website).

Non serious personal and domestic disruptions which could have been anticipated or planned. Moving house, weddings, holiday, failed transport arrangements.  Attending a wedding is not deemed to be an exceptional circumstance, although participating in a wedding as a best man or bridesmaid may be accepted.

Work Commitments. Paid work in the evenings and weekends.

Other issues not considered to be exceptional circumstances:

  1. Misreading the examination timetable.
  2. Over sleeping / alarm clock not going off causing you to be late for or miss an exam or assessment.
  3. Completing and submitting coursework too late and missing deadlines (time management problems).
  4. Non-availability of books or other resources.
  5. Losing coursework (not backed up).
  6. Problems with postal delivery of work (you are advised to obtain receipts for assessments submitted in this manner).
  7. Appointments (legal, medical, etc.) which could be re-arranged.
  8. A long-standing condition, such as susceptibility to hay fever
  9. A late diagnosis of a physical illness or condition, the symptoms of which you were aware (even if you had not received a formal diagnosis).

What if my condition or illness recurs before a subsequent assessment or during a subsequent exam period – can I use the same medical evidence again?

No.  You will need to obtain up-dated medical evidence to cover the relevant exams or exam period. 

If your condition or illness is on-going you should seek advice from the Student Wellbeing Team  or Disability Services.  You should also speak to your Personal Tutor or Adviser of Studies about the option of taking a period of temporary withdrawal from your studies.

 

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 so that any reasonable adjustments recommended by Disability Services to support your learning may be put in place.  You should contact Disability Services as soon as possible as it may take a while for your assessment to be carried out and for support or reasonable adjustments to be put in place.

I have a fluctuating disability / condition – do I need to submit an exceptional circumstances application?

No.  If you have a disability or a chronic/on-going medical condition which, due to its nature, may flare up or become worse at times, you do not need to submit an exceptional circumstances application (eg you may have a flare-up of a back condition or depression before an assignment deadline or an examination).  Flexibility with deadlines and examinations will be included in your Individual Student Support Assessment (ISSA) if it is considered that your disability / condition is prone to flare-ups and you should follow the guidelines within to agree submission deadlines for your on-course assessments. If you are unable to attend an exam due to a flare-up of your condition you should notify your School (by email and telephone) and Disability Services (by email: disability.office@qub.ac.uk ) as soon as possible prior to the exam to ensure that your absence is recorded as mitigated for medical reasons. On your return to study your options for resit or an alternative form of assessment will be discussed with you by your School. Please note: if your flare-up impacts on more than one exam in an assessment period, the above process should be applied for each exam that you are unable to sit.

If you experience exceptional circumstances which are not related to your disability / condition or flexibility is not included in your ISSA, you should submit an exceptional circumstances application.

How 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.  You should email or telephone the School Office to inform them that you are unable to meet a submission deadline or attend an examination.  You should do so in advance of the deadline or examination, if possible, and ask the School Office to send you an email confirming that you have told them that you are unable to submit your assignment or attend your examination and the time and date of your notification.  If you are unable to notify your School, you should ask someone else to do so on your behalf.  If you do not inform your School, you will be expected to explain why you did not do so.    

Informing your School is not sufficient.  You must also submit an exceptional circumstances application and the necessary supporting documentation before the deadline for such applications.  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 relevant deadline.

If you attempted 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.

When do I inform my School?

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 should ask the School Office to send you an email confirming that you have told them that you are unable to submit your assignment or attend your examination and the time and date of your notification.  You must then submit an 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 is sooner).

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.

If you have any queries about the procedure or are in doubt about the deadline, you should contact your School immediately. 

The University deadline for the submission of exceptional circumstances can be found here.

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

What evidence is required?

Although evidence will be required of your exceptional circumstances, it is evidence of the impact that the exceptional circumstances have had on your ability to study or perform academically (rather than the exceptional circumstances themselves) that will be considered by the University.  

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:

  1. Original; photocopies will not be accepted.
  2. In English.  If you provide an English translation of a document in another language, the translation must be certified as an accurate translation.  The University may check that the translation is accurate.
  3. Relevant to the missed/failed examination or assessment.
  4. From an independent body, e.g. your G.P.

Medical evidence must:

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

A letter from a G.P. stating that you report that you felt unwell is not considered sufficient evidence on its own. 

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.  Fabricating or falsifying supporting evidence (eg medical evidence) is considered to be a serious disciplinary offence.  If you are suspected of fabricating or falsifying supporting evidence, the School or University may require the matter to be investigated under the University’s Conduct Regulations.  The standard penalty for a first offence of fabricating or falsifying evidence submitted to the University is expulsion from the university.   

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 Adviser 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 Advice SU.

What if my circumstances are confidential or sensitive?

All information provided will be treated by the University within the normal bounds 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 with anyone within your School, then please see Personal and Sensitive Circumstances - A Student Guide.  

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 (eg you may be permitted to resit the examination without penalty).

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 about my circumstances?

You should try to meet regularly with your Personal Tutor or Adviser of Studies to discuss any 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 and support are available from Advice SU or your Student Officers.

Student Resilience and Wellbeing

If you are experiencing personal or emotional difficulties that are impacting on your academic performance you can speak to a member of the Student Resilience and Wellbeing Team about support available to you by emailing studentwellbeing@qub.ac.uk or completing the online contact form; look at online self-help resources or visit the Student Resilience and Wellbeing Zone, First Floor, Student Guidance Centre.

For 24 hour telephone support from a counsellor, contact the Counselling Service on 0808 800 0016 (free from mobile or landline).

What happens next?

Your 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 available.  In any case, you may wish to discuss your progress with your Personal Tutor or Adviser of Studies.

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

Appealing the decision

You can submit an appeal against the decision of the Board of Examiners to the Faculty Student Appeals Committee (FSAC).  The grounds for appeal are set out in the Academic Appeals Regulations (Taught Programmes). 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, you may contact the Director of Academic and Student Affairs who may consider an application under the Personal and Sensitive Procedure and may decide to refer your case back to the Board of Examiners for consideration.  Please see guidance on personal and sensitive circumstances.