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An introduction to university exams

22 April 2022

Broken up into three divisions, a typical undergraduate year at Cardiff University consists of two main teaching semesters in autumn and spring, accompanied by the examination period running from approximately late April to early June. There are exceptions to this depending on your course, with several schools hosting mid-year exams in January too, and you will likely have coursework throughout the year either way, whether this be formative or summative. The former of these two does not contribute towards your final degree mark, but rather acts as practice for summative assessments that do count towards your grade. Since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cardiff has introduced ever-evolving measures to allow examinations to continue in a safe and controlled manner. This has resulted in a blend of online and in-person exams. An ever increasing amount of teaching is reoccupying university buildings and being held face to face thanks to declining COVID cases, however online assessment will remain in place as an option for staff should they deem it safer given any potential safety concerns for students.

If you have ever sat an exam at secondary school or college, in a big room with separate single desks and strict etiquette to follow, in-person university exams are really quite similar to this. Utilising a number of buildings outside the main Cathays campus, exams can occur anywhere from the Heath Hospital campus to Talybont sports centre. My favourite venue was the city hall, completing a history exam in a gorgeous, grand assembly room. Due to the nature of such venues, being spread across the student occupied parts of the city, I would highly recommend preparing your route beforehand, leaving plenty of time once you get there. Within large complexes such as that of the Heath campus, it can be difficult to find the correct building, and I was not the only one to walk into the wrong building upon my first visit. Even within buildings such as the city hall, it can be tough to find the correct room. In any event, simply find the building’s staff, as they are almost always extremely friendly and helpful, or as a backup plan simply look for other students who look lost and then stick together.

Online exams have become a staple in the university calendar since January 2020, when all teaching became remote. As a symptom of the hangover of the pandemic, these online assessments have stuck around and you may or may not face them depending on your course, government guidelines and university policy at the time of assessment. The two major forms of this are timed exams and 24 hour exams. Timed exams replicate the paper as if it were occurring in person, with a strict time limit of say 2 hours, with an extra hour to allow for submission. 24 hour exams are as they sound, with both types of paper being treated as open book. This benefits different courses in unique ways and students often enjoy conducting the assignment from their rooms, in a comfortable environment without having the hassle of travel, allowing them an extra hour of sleep. However, it can be difficult to remain focussed in your bedroom, particularly in timed exams, and I would highly recommend that in order to keep to the stated timeframe, you attempt to replicate exam conditions with no distractions.