Extenuating Circumstances: Why applying for them isn’t as taboo as it seems

Demystifying extenuating circumstances

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I know a theme I talk about in these blogs quite a lot is how hard the last year has been.  But, frankly, it has been.  And you deserve continuing support for the long-term effects that’s going to have had, regardless of when things get better – not least because we’ve got assessments and exams left to sit (yes, I know you didn’t need that reminder, but I’m being blog mum).  At the end of the day, there’s a lot of things that can go wrong in life, regardless of a literal global pandemic, and factoring that in to the picture doesn’t exactly sweeten the mix.  So, it’s worth considering what your options are when it comes to your assessment season, especially if you’ve been particularly struggling this year.

a pug that looks stressed wrapped in a blanket


My first piece of advice is to get in touch with your personal tutor within your academic school, they’re able to give you an insight to the specifics of what your course will expect, and the provisions available if you have been struggling.  On a wider scale, I would also always advise contacting the Advice Team here at the Students’ Union (I promise it’s really not that scary).

Both of these are great starting points, and if you’re ready to look into Extenuating Circumstances a little more, I’m going to start reeling off some handy information below.


Extenuating Circumstances who?

It’s a big phrase, and honestly, pretty broad.  It took me some time to get my head around it too.  Basically, it’s when things that are out of your control start affecting your ability to perform to your usual academic ability – and YES, that includes mental health struggles!  What you should bear in mind, is that these are circumstances which are unexpected and couldn’t have been planned for.  The University defines Extenuating Circumstances as:

  • severe and exceptional, and
  • unforeseen or unavoidable, and
  • close in time to the assessment, or where you can demonstrate that the circumstances would continue to have an impact on your academic performance in the assessment.


For the Ins and Outs

All the really important information on this has been very helpfully integrated into this page – so do head here for the important details that I’m certainly not going to be able to word as skilfully. 

Some important messages to take away from this page are:

  • In most cases, you must report before an assessment deadline and before an exam start time.
  • You will NOT need evidence if you are reporting before an assessment deadline (or start time for an online exam)


  • You WILL need evidence if you
  • become ill during an assessment and are unable to complete it;
  • Suffer severe technical difficulties during the exam;
  • If you complete/submit your assessment and are affected by circumstances relating to a protected characteristic or caring responsibility

You will also need to report by the Extenuating Circumstances deadline set by your School – if you don’t know when this is, ask your School office.

What you will be offered if you report extenuating circumstances depends on the circumstances and when you report but, in most cases, you will be offered an automatic deferral of your assessment. For coursework, this means a two-week extension (or four weeks for a Postgraduate Masters Dissertation). For exams/timed assessments, it will mean deferring your assessment to the next time it is scheduled to take place – usually the August re-sit period or, if you are reporting in the re-sit period, the next academic year. If in any doubt, ask your School.


The Taboo Bit

During assessment season, it’s easy put a lot of pressure on yourself - and get into a bit of a rabbit hole.  Sometimes we need that extra support, and the Extenuating Circumstances procedure is there to let the University know that something is affecting your ability to study – and means they can take steps to do something about that!  Acknowledging that this has been a hard time, that it might be affecting your study, and that you need help to get through it is completely okay - and it will help you achieve what you are able to!  Asking for help should not, and IS not, taboo.


Final Thoughts…

Sometimes your personal circumstances can influence your ability to focus on your studies, and we can’t deny how difficult this year has been, particularly for students.  If you are struggling at the moment and this is preventing you from revising or finishing that coursework, you are not alone.  If you think your mental health may be affecting your studying capacity, do check our Mental Health support page for some super helpful resources.  Also, take a look at the Student Advice webpage; if your circumstances relate to a long term issue, or they look like they might do, then you might find that you are eligible reasonable adjustments for your upcoming assessments.  You might be thinking about deferring assessments, and if so, it’s worth looking here, and considering the academic and financial implications – don’t hesitate to contact the Student Advice team using the contact details at the bottom of the page if you’d like some further support on this!  And of course, theres the option of extenuating circumstances that we have focussed on in this blog too!  There is loads of support available from the University should you need it.  If you have any questions, or you want to know more about the support available, or how these policies and procedures could be applied to you, you can contact Student Advice using the contact details at the bottom of this page.


Whether you find you need to apply for extenuating circumstances or not, good luck with the assessments, and be kind to yourself – structure your time, take regular breaks, and get enough sleep!

There’s a really useful Q&A about Extenuating Circumstances on Wednesday 19th May at 6pm with the Advice Team and Hannah Doe, VP Education!  Click here for more – but don’t worry if you miss it – it will also be available to stream afterwards!


For more info on exam season and extenuating circumstances, and how to go about them, check out these useful pages:

SU Advice Page on Extenuating Circumstances

Looking after your Health & Wellbeing


This blog has been written by Charlie Mallinson from the Student Advice Team in the Students’ Union. If you would like further help and support with the issues raised in this blog, or any aspect of your student experience, please get in touch using the following links:

Contact Student Advice


+44 (0)2920 781410