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Online examinations for Parts IA and IB of the Law Tripos will take place in Easter Term. In certain circumstances, however, the University has indicated that students will be able to seek to participate instead in examinations that will be administered during a second assessment period. Assessment will be on an open-book basis. Students will be required to answer fewer questions than normal, and word limits will apply.

The information on this page is intended to explain why online examinations are going ahead in Parts IA and IB and how they will work. It is hoped that the information below will answer most of the questions that Part IA and IB students will have about online assessment. If you have questions that are not answered below, you should contact your Director of Studies or Tutor in College in the first instance (particularly if your question relates to your own individual circumstances and how they may interact with the mitigation arrangements that are referred to below). If, in due course, it becomes clear that there are questions that a number of students have that could usefully be clarified for everyone, we will add to this page in order to provide such clarification.

General matters

Q. Why are Part IA and Part IB examinations going ahead?

The Law Faculty’s Contingency Planning Group reflected very carefully on what should be done in relation to Part IA and Part IB assessment this year. In doing so, the Contingency Planning Group read and considered every email received from students. The Contingency Planning Group also took account of a range of other matters, including the regulatory requirements for Qualifying Law Degrees, which require assessment to occur in foundation papers, the University’s policy regarding assessment, and practice within the UK HE sector (with particular reference to the approaches being adopted at other leading UK Law Schools). In the light of these considerations, the Contingency Planning Group concluded that summative assessment should take place for Part IA and IB students, subject to appropriate mitigation measures and certain adjustments to the assessment process in order to take account of the current very unusual circumstances. The nature of those mitigation measures and adjustments are set out below. 

Q. Why online examinations? Why not some other form of assessment?

We concluded that it would not be appropriate to replace examinations with extended essays, on the ground that this would require students to undertake, at short notice, a form of assessment radically different from that which they had worked towards all year and without the guidance provided by past papers and examiners’ reports. Nor did we consider that basing our assessment on supervision essays and reports would be appropriate, given that supervision essays were written without any expectation that they would count for the purpose of summative assessment. The Faculty also took account of the University’s instructions that assessment should proceed on a basis that is as close as possible to the normal model of assessment for the relevant degree programme. In the light of this, it was decided that the fairest and most appropriate way forward would be to deliver examinations online.

Q. Is it fair to expect students to be assessed at this time?

We fully recognise that the current situation is difficult for everyone, and that it is particularly difficult for some students. This may be due to a variety of factors, such as illness, caring responsibilities, home circumstances, access to the internet and/or resources and the anxiety that many of us are experiencing at this time due to the Covid-19 pandemic and its implications. The Faculty’s Contingency Planning Group reflected at great length on these matters, and was clear that it would be fair to expect students to be assessed only if certain conditions were satisfied. One of those conditions concerns the availability of suitable mitigation measures (on which see the section below on mitigation measures). The Contingency Planning Group also felt that it would be fair to examine students only if an appropriate approach to assessment could be adopted in the circumstances. The approach to assessment set out below is intended to reflect these considerations.

Q. Why not assess only foundation subjects?

This option was carefully considered by the Contingency Planning Group. However, it was felt, on balance, that assessment should go ahead in all Part IA and Part IB subjects. In approaching this question, we were conscious that some students’ preference was to be assessed, if at all, only in foundation subjects (in order to make assessment less burdensome in the current circumstances) while others’ preference was to be assessed in all papers (in order to ensure a full set of results for the purpose of job applications or applications for further study). We also considered a number of further factors, including University guidance indicating that assessment should be capable of determining whether students have met their programme learning outcomes (which extend beyond foundation subjects) and the practices being adopted at a number of other leading UK Law Schools. The Contingency Planning Group’s conclusion, that assessment should proceed in all papers, was reached in the light of these considerations, the mitigation measures that the University is putting in place and the other changes to the normal assessment model (in particular the requirement to answer a reduced number of questions in Parts IA and IB) that the Faculty is adopting and which are set out below.  

Q. Why isn’t assessment formative rather than summative, or on a pass/fail basis only?

Assessment for all Law Tripos students, including Part IA and IB students, will be summative because it is considered that online examinations, which are inherently summative in nature, are the fairest and most appropriate form of assessment for the Law Tripos. This view was reached bearing in mind a number of factors. Those factors include the way in which students have been taught and prepared for assessment over the course of the academic year, how students will have been preparing for assessment in recent weeks, and the fact that, for the purposes of Qualifying Law Degrees, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (which also acts for the Bar in this respect) requires that summative assessment take place in all foundation subjects. (Reasons for not limiting assessment to foundation papers are set out above.) When summative assessment occurs, the University requires marks to be recorded, including in Part IA and Part IB assessment. Summative assessment on a pass/fail basis would not satisfy this requirement and is therefore not an option open to the Faculty under the University’s assessment principles.

Q. I’d have liked to choose my own mode of assessment. Why isn’t that possible?

The University has determined that to ensure fairness, all students enrolled for the same paper will be required to undergo the same method of assessment. Exceptions will, however, be made if necessary for students requiring alternative modes of assessments on medical or disability grounds.

Q. Will online assessment in respect of foundation subjects meet the regulatory requirements for a Qualifying Law Degree?

Our clear understanding is that the regulatory regime for Qualifying Law Degrees is compatible with online assessment, provided that suitable integrity-assurance measures are in place. Reports indicating that online assessment is not permitted in respect of Qualifying Law Degrees are inaccurate.

How online exams will work

Q. How will I access question papers?

Question papers will be released via Moodle. Further information about this will be provided in due course.

Q. What will the question papers be like?

Although examiners will be invited to review their question papers in the light of the new arrangements, it is anticipated that this year’s question papers will follow the usual pattern in terms of the number and style of questions.

Q. How will I be expected to produce my answers?

You will be expected to type your answers into a template document that will be made available via Moodle. Further information about this will be provided in due course.

Q. How will I submit my answers?

Answers will be submitted by uploading them via Moodle. Instructions about how to do this will be provided in due course.

Q. How long will I have to write my answers?

You will be required to submit your answers within 24 hours of the release of the question paper.

Q. Why was a 24-hour assessment window adopted?

The Contingency Planning Group carefully considered a number of possible approaches. It was decided that a 24-hour window would be the fairest model in the circumstances. This decision was reached in the light of representations made by students, technical considerations and the need to accommodate students taking the examinations across multiple time zones.

Q. If I am in a different time zone from the UK, will this disadvantage me?

No. Irrespective of the time zone you are in, you will have, during the 24-hour assessment window, the same number of daylight/normal working hours as everyone else to complete the assessment.

Q. Will I need internet access throughout the 24-hour assessment window?

No. You will only need internet access in order to download the question paper and to upload your answer paper.   

Q. When will online assessment happen?

Online assessment will begin no earlier than normal examinations would have started in Easter Term. The assessment period is likely to be elongated. The examination timetable is being revised in the light of the shift to online assessment. The University is responsible for drawing up examination timetables and you will hear from the University about this in due course.

Q. How will the academic integrity of examinations be maintained?

In line with University guidance, answers will be scrutinised using software that is capable of identifying plagiarism and collusion. Any pieces of work that give rise to concerns following the use of such software or otherwise will be carefully reviewed by the Examiner and, if necessary, the Chair of Examiners. Decisions taken in relation to such concerns will be made on the basis of careful judgement, and not simply on the basis of 'similarity scores' generated by the software. In addition to the use of software that is capable of identifying plagiarism and collusion, some students may be asked to take an online viva. Such vivas will not form part of the assessment per se, meaning that there will be no need for students to make preparation for vivas an integral part of their preparation for assessment. Rather, the purpose of such vivas would be to detect academic misconduct. In addition, the Law Faculty will issue ethical guidance, details of which will be made available in due course.

Q. What rules of conduct will apply to online examinations?

The rules relating to University of Cambridge examinations apply to the online exams to the extent the rules are relevant for take-home exams. The University’s rules on plagiarism and academic misconduct also apply. In addition, the cover-sheet for each exam will contain an originality statement to which you will be agreeing, by virtue of submitting your answers, to adhere.

Form of examinations

Q. How many questions will I have to answer?

With the exception of one paper, Part IA and Part IB students will be required to answer three questions (rather than the usual four). The exception is Paper 37 (Jurisprudence) in which Part IB students will be required to answer two (rather than the usual three) questions.

Q. Why will I be required to answer fewer questions than normal?

Part IA and Part IB students are required to answer fewer questions than normal for two reasons. First, since the number of questions on each examination paper will not be reduced, requiring students to answer fewer questions will have the effect of increasing the range of choice open to students when selecting questions to answer in each examination. This change is being made in recognition of the fact that all students will be preparing for and participating in assessment in unusual and challenging circumstances, even if their circumstances are not such as to trigger the possibility of mitigation via access to the second assessment period.  Second, the University’s policy is that the assessment of final-year undergraduate and one-year taught postgraduate students must be prioritised. Reducing the number of questions that Part IA and Part IB students are required to answer will reduce the overall marking load for those examinations. In turn, this will enable resources, if necessary, to be diverted to the marking of Part II and LLM examinations, in line with the University’s policy.

Q. What if the previously announced rubric for an exam no longer makes sense given the requirement to answer fewer questions?

Where the rubric previously announced requires, for example, that a certain number of questions should be answered from Section A and a certain number from Section B, this will be amended if it no longer makes sense given the requirement to answer fewer questions. This will be the case if, for instance, the rubric for a given paper requires students to answer two questions from each of two sections, given that this will not be possible if the overall requirement is for three questions to be answered. Students taking relevant papers will be notified of any rubric changes as soon as possible.

Q. Is there a word limit?

Yes. The word limit for each Part IA and Part IB paper is 3,750 words - an average of 1,250 words per question. You are advised to write roughly equal amounts for each question, but the word limit will apply on a per-examination, not a per-question basis. You should treat the word limit as a maximum, not as a requirement. Your answers should be as long as you feel they need to be, subject to the word limit. There is no requirement that your answers, in combination, should reach the word limit.

Q. What if I exceed the word limit?

Examiners and assessors will stop reading your script when the word limit is reached.

Marking and expectations

Q. Will examiners have greater expectations given the 24-hour assessment model?

No. The shift to a 24-hour model will not result in examiners having greater expectations or applying higher marking standards. The Faculty’s normal marking criteria will continue to apply.

Q. How long should I spend writing my answers?

Although there will be a 24-hour assessment window for each paper, there is absolutely no intention that students will spend 24 hours, or anything close to 24 hours, writing their answers. Examiners’ expectations will be the same as they would have been under the normal assessment model, and the word limit specified is intended (on the basis of analysis undertaken by the Faculty) to approximate to the amount that students generally write by hand under normal examination conditions. You should not therefore expect to spend significantly longer writing your answers than you would have done under normal circumstances.

Q. How will marking work?

As usual, each paper will be marked out of 200.

Q. Should I write my answers differently given the shift to online assessment?

No. You should write your answers just as you would have done if you had been sitting in-person examinations in Cambridge.

Q. Should I use footnotes or otherwise include full references to cases and other sources?

You should not use footnotes. There is no expectation that references will be fuller than those that you would have provided under normal circumstances. This means, for instance, that you do not need to include neutral or Law Reports citations for cases.

Q. Can I refer to notes and other resources while writing my answers?

Yes. The online examinations will be administered on an open-book basis. This means that it is permissible to consult notes and other resources during the assessment.

Q. What if performance across my cohort is lower this year?

In recognition of the current circumstances, steps will be taken to guard against this possibility. During and at the conclusion of the marking period, examiners will be required to consider the profile of marks for their paper against the norm for the relevant paper during the last three years. Examiners will be expected to ensure that this year’s mark profiles for each paper are no lower than the three-year norm for the relevant paper. In respect of papers that are shared between two Tripos Parts, these comparisons will normally be made with reference to performance in the relevant Part, subject to the possibility of making reference to performance in the other Part where necessary to allow for very small numbers having taken the paper in the relevant Part in previous years.

Q. Will I get a class for Part IA or Part IB this year?

No. The University has decided that Part IA and Part IB students will not be classed this year. This means that you will receive marks out of 200 for each of your papers, but you will not receive an overall class for Part IA or Part IB. In due course, the marks you receive for each paper will be recorded on your transcript, but no overall class for Part IA or Part IB will be recorded. Nor will students be ranked.

Q. Will it be possible to infer a class from my transcript marks?

As in all other matters in this context, the Faculty is required to work within the University’s assessment framework. That framework provides that when non-final-year undergraduate students undertake summative assessment this year, marks must be recorded but those marks will not be used to produce a class reflecting the overall level of the student’s performance across all of the relevant assessments. This approach is intended to strike a balance between providing a meaningful outcome, in the form of a mark, to the assessment process and acknowledgment of the unusual circumstances in which examinations will occur this year. It does not, however, follow that an overall class can reasonably be inferred from the marks awarded for individual papers. When classing occurs, it is done on the basis of a detailed set of classing conventions. Without the application of those conventions, no class can reasonably be inferred. Moreover, classing occurs according to conventions rather than rules, meaning that the exercise permits recourse to discretion on the part of examiners. In the absence of a classing process that relies upon the classing conventions and offers appropriate opportunities for the exercise of such discretion, it would not be reasonable for anyone to infer a class. The University will be adding contextual information to transcripts in order to make it clear that classes cannot and should not be inferred from Part IA and Part IB students’ unclassed transcript marks. It is also important to note that, as is always the case, Directors of Studies and Tutors will be able, when writing references, to draw attention to any mitigating circumstances or other factors in order to place students’ examination performances in an appropriate context.

Mitigation

Q. What if I cannot participate in online assessment in Easter Term?

The University’s expectation is that most students will be able to undertake their assessment in the normal examination period in Easter Term, but the University understands that there may be legitimate reasons why this is not possible, such as illness, caring responsibilities or technical difficulties. Therefore, those students whose assessment is disrupted in Easter Term may apply to sit the examinations during a second assessment period, which is expected to take place once the University is fully operational again. Students who are unable to take any assessment either in the first or second assessment period, or only some of the assessment, will need to apply for consideration by the Examination Access and Mitigation Committee (EAMC) for the award of an alternative examination allowance that would allow a student to proceed to the next year. Any circumstances that may warrant an application to participate in the second assessment period or an application to the EAMC should be discussed with your College.

Q. What form will assessment during the later period take?

Assessments in the second assessment period will be delivered in the same way as those delivered in Easter Term. The second assessment period will only be available to those students who were unable to take assessments in the Easter Term.

Q. Do I qualify for the second assessment period?

Information on the circumstances in which deferral of assessment to the second assessment period may be available can be found on the student page of the University’s Covid-19 website.

Q. What happens if I experience technical problems during the assessment?

You should report any such difficulties to your College Tutor or Director of Studies as quickly as possible. Depending on the level of disruption, it might be that you are able to take it again in the second assessment period when the University is back in full operation.

Q. Who should I contact if I want to discuss the possibility of seeking access to the second assessment period?

You should contact your College Tutor or Director of Studies about this.

Q. I have agreed Exam Access Arrangements in advance, or require new adjustments due to a changed assessment method. How will my needs be met?

If your Exam Access Arrangements require additional time or rest breaks, it is not anticipated that the 24-hour assessment window will be extended or the assessment arrangements otherwise adjusted as a matter of course. This is because there is no expectation that any student will spend significantly longer writing their answers than they normally would have done, meaning that those who would have been entitled to extra time or rest breaks under normal examination arrangements will have sufficient time to complete their answers under the revised assessment arrangements. If, however, you feel that this would not meet your needs, you should contact your College Tutor to discuss this.