The Safety and Inequity Concerns of In-person Exams

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Dear Health Faculty, 

It has recently been announced by a number of units that the university intends to hold final examinations on campus during the final exam period in November 2020. The student cohort has several concerns in relation to this and we strongly request that the decision be reconsidered.

Health and Safety 
We are primarily interested in the health and safety ramifications that an in-person examination may hold for students, vulnerable people in close contact with students, and the wider Brisbane community. Currently, several contact tracing locations have been identified in South-East Queensland. As of Tuesday the 10th of September, the number of active cases in Queensland is 27, the highest number of new cases reported since April. Whilst most of our community have been mindful of the risk and are employing proper hand-washing hygiene and social distancing, there is no guarantee that community transmission will not take place. Students with comorbidities such as respiratory issues are at a much higher risk for mortality from covid, and even simple respiratory or immune issues amongst the student body are grounds for an online exam to be granted.   

Fairness and Equity 
It has been mentioned in some units that one reason for holding the exams in person is to ensure invigilation and academic integrity of the exams. In the case of those granted special consideration to sit the exam at home, how will the university maintain the same levels of scrutiny? For exams that are closed books, how will that be monitored for students sitting the exam at home / in an online setting, and what is to stop a student at home using notes and resources? Would this become a moderating factor when exams are graded? 

Discrepancy between learning online and completing examination in person 
Psychology students have had the privilege of learning about how people learn and perform best. We have been told consistently by lecturers and tutors that it is important to attend in-person classes and lectures to perform the best. For the past semester, understandably, the main mode of teaching and learning for all psychology units has been online. For some students, their units were provided in an online-only format, with no in person classes provided, and for some units such as PYB306, only recordings were provided to watch during designated lecture time. Because of this, it seems unreasonable to place the same expectation to perform as well as previous years upon students as when in person learning was available. Additionally, other faculties have taken this issue into serious consideration and have opted for online exams - this should not be different for faculty of health students. If regular capacity, in-person lectures and tutorials thus far have been deemed as too risky, it stands to reason that an exam environment should also be considered high risk. 

Student mental health 
Our final concern relates to the overall wellbeing and mental health of the student cohort. University is a stressful experience at the best of times and students have high recorded rates of anxiety, depression, mood disorders and other mental health issues to navigate. The current COVID-19 global pandemic has exacerbated these issues and brought many associated hardships such as social isolation, financial uncertainty, and additional family and caring commitments. As psychology students, we know that stress is the result of a discrepancy between what is demanded of us and our ability to satisfy those demands, whether actual or perceived. The current decision to hold an on-campus examination relies on Queensland continuing to have a low number of cases, and may be changed at the last minute to obey government guidelines. By announcing an in-person exam that may be switched to online at any stage only increases the mental demand on students. Making the proactive decision to hold examinations online, as was done in Semester 1, will enable students to have a clear picture of what is expected  and work toward achieving to their best ability. 

We request that you consider our reasons and concerns listed above and reassess the format of the final examination for all faculty of health subjects in Semester 2 of 2020. 


The 2020 Health Cohort