Finalists reading Philosophy, Politics, and Economics are cosigning an open letter to the departments of philosophy and politics to ask for open-book online exams at the end of the year.
Economics finals will be held in an open-book online format, while politics and philosophy are set to be sat in-person. The signatories say that this discrepancy will disadvantage them, since finalists who matriculated in 2019 will never have sat an in-person exam during their time at Oxford University.
The letter says that because students have become accustomed to revising for open-book exams, switching back to closed-book would penalise students who have started preparing for open-book exams. It says: “Online exams require a different skill set; they focus less on memory, and more on the ability to synthesise information effectively into an argument. To prepare, we have been looking at making detailed notes that can be easily used to answer a question, rather than memorise large quantities of information. Advising students now of the in-person format leaves them minimal time to completely re-write their notes before Finals.”
Justifying their decision to hold exams online, the economics faculty said: “Finals exams in 2022 will take place in the online, open-book format used in 2021, recognising the fact that Finals students in 2022 will have done most of their college collections in that format.”
The students added: “To switch the format now devalues the work students have put in, and rewards those that saved time by not putting work in for collections or who have not yet started consolidation of notes.”
The letter also raised concerns about the suitability of the exam halls, and the possibility that sitting multiple students in one room for three hours could lead to the spread of COVID-19, or cause problems for people with health anxieties.
The letter continued: “The move to in-person exams is yet another burden after the unpredictable and anxiety-inducing eighteen months we have all had. And make no mistake, this cannot be compared to ‘standard’ exam stress. The additional stress here is due to students being required to abandon the exam skills they have cultivated for the last 18 months, and begin the process of preparing for a new and unfamiliar exam format. This is not unnecessary stress for students who have already dealt with so much change.”
Pandora Mackenzie, a PPE finalist at The Queen’s College, highlighted concerns that the variety of optional papers available to finalists would lead to students having radically different experiences. She told Cherwell: “I’m most upset that there will be such a disparity between candidates within the PPE degree: some will sit only 3 in-person, handwritten exams whereas others will be sitting 8, and yet we will all come out with the same degree and be graded against each other. Had I known about the different formats, I would have picked different Finals papers.