The Oxford University History Faculty has announced that most final exams will be sat in person.

According to an email sent to finalists, which has been seen by Cherwell, four of the seven final papers will be sat in-person in the Exams School. These fall under the categories of Further Subject, Special Subject paper II, European and World History, and Disciplines of History.

The Special Subject Paper I, which consists of an extended essay, and the compulsory dissertation will be submitted through Inspera. The deadlines for submission are the Friday of Week 0, and Friday of Week 8 of Hilary Term respectively.

Most finalists who took History of the British Isles will have already submitted three ‘take home’ essays at the end of the previous academic year. Students who matriculated in 2019 and have are retiring to complete their final year have been contacted separately to explain the situation regarding this paper for their cohort.

Students studying a Joint School with history will receive further information “as the position becomes clearer and the University clarifies these aspects of the wider approach to examinations”.

The email went on to say that the Faculty and University have contingency plans in place incase circumstances regarding the pandemic change, rendering in-person invigilated exams impossible. The Faculty said these contingency plans could include online open-book exams. But they said they did not expect this to happen.

The Faculty said the decision to hold in-person exams was taken after student opinions were consulted. This included a survey of student opinions, which received 365 responses and is said to present “a picture of [the] student body fairly evenly distributed in its preferences”.

Some students have expressed frustration with the announcement. A history finalist at Lady Margaret Hall told Cherwell: “These generic statements do little to soothe history students, most of whom have never taken in person exams or collections. Our finals will be our first experience, a trial whose results will massively impact on our future. I do not feel the History Faculty has adequately taken into account the situations students have been put in by the pandemic and they have routinely broken promises. We were reassured in MT 2020 that tutors had been advised to reduce our our workload from 8 essays for the EWH [European and World History] to 5 to account for lack of access to the libraries/suitable reading resources – however, in my case and many others it was not. The History Faculty must provide clear details for how they will take into account the impact of the pandemic on their students, and, most importantly, follow through with them.”

The Faculty said: “We are aware that the learning experience of students has been significantly affected by pandemic conditions. Most Finalists, for example, will not have taken Prelims and will have felt the restrictions on library access and the general stress of the situation. While four of the seven History papers will be examined through in-person, invigilated exams, we are conscious that the run-up to them has been very different from pre-pandemic times. We have taken into account the exceptional circumstances created by the pandemic up to now and will continue to do so as the situation evolves…

“College organised collections will be a very useful resource for practising in-person examination and Exams Schools always run valuable practice sessions in Trinity Term. You may well feel that that pandemic conditions will have an effect on your examination performance. We are very alive to this issue and the system by which any student may submit a ‘mitigating circumstances’ statement for consideration by examiners will remain in place. Rest assured that the Faculty and tutors will be working to make this process as smooth and as fair as possible for everyone.”

Image: Maxine Gtn/CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons


For Cherwell, maintaining editorial independence is vital. We are run entirely by and for students. To ensure independence, we receive no funding from the University and are reliant on obtaining other income, such as advertisements. Due to the current global situation, such sources are being limited significantly and we anticipate a tough time ahead – for us and fellow student journalists across the country.

So, if you can, please consider donating. We really appreciate any support you’re able to provide; it’ll all go towards helping with our running costs. Even if you can't support us monetarily, please consider sharing articles with friends, families, colleagues - it all helps!

Thank you!