What are Special Circumstances?
If you have been through or are having a difficult time coping with your studies, the Special Circumstances process may be able to help. Special Circumstances are broadly defined as serious personal issues that have had a negative impact on your academic performance or attendance at University. This could, for example, be illness, a mental health crisis or bereavement.
It is important to tell your Department about these matters as soon as possible, usually before you miss any classes, or submit coursework or sit exams (or fail to do either); but you should get in touch at the latest before important decisions are made at the Examination Boards meetings for each semester (usually end of February and June each year) or in the resit exam period in August/September. If you are a research student, your Examination Board is individual to you (the viva exam).
There is a form to complete which provides space to outline the specific issues you have faced in that semester and the impact on your studies or attendance. The form asks three key questions:
- Why are you requesting Special Circumstances e.g. a illness, mental health crisis or bereavement.
- Which module(s) and assessment(s) have been impacted by the Special Circumstances e.g. the title and type of assessment(s) and dates of which they were affected.
- How have the Special Circumstance explained in the first question impacted your academic performance.
There is also an opportunity to add any additional information not already covered by the above questions. Normally students are asked to provide supporting evidence preferably letters from medical professionals or officials.
Examples of evidence could include a GP or counsellor’s letter or a letter from a member of staff (academic or support staff). In some cases however, it may be useful to provide a supporting statement from a parent or friend to comment on particular personal issues that may have been affecting your studies. Further rules for evidence and details about the process, form and departmental contacts can be found on the web links provided at the end of this guide.
What happens when I tell my Department about my special circumstances?
If you have problems that have or will affect essays, project work or an assignment, telling your Department in advance means that they might be able to arrange a short extension. You will need to contact the relevant Extensions Officer in your Department who can help you to submit a form and make the request for extension.
The University does not accept ‘retrospective’ requests for extensions, so it is vital to get these requests in at least 3 days before your assessment due date. Further details about the process, form and departmental contacts can be found on the web links are provided at the end of this guide.
Exam papers and assessed work are marked anonymously, and final marks are agreed by a Board of Examiners (including external examiners). If you have failed an exam or assignment due to special circumstances, the Examination Board may allow you an extra re-sit opportunity with your full marks being awarded instead of capped pass marks.
Individual assessment marks are not normally altered due to special circumstances, where a student has circumstances that prevent them from completing assessed work or taking an examination or have resulted in failure, the Department Board may recommend an uncapped (Honours) resit(s).
Where the performance of a student is not sufficiently impacted so they fail, the department may, with the agreement of the student, amend the recorded mark to enable the student to retake the module and resit elements of assessment that were affected while carrying forward unaffected marks.
In exceptional circumstances where an Honours resit may not be possible in the future the Department Board may recommend the mark of one element of assessment be taken as the mark for the module as a whole.
If you are in your final year, and you are within 1-2% of a higher classification of degree and the Examination Board decides that your work was affected, they may consider uplifting your degree classification by up to 2%. Further details about this can be found in the Examination Conventions found in the web link provided at end of this guide.
If you have realised that you might have a disability (such as a physical or mental health condition) that has been impacting on your academic studies, then the University will be able to support you to engage with your studies with better support. Depending on the nature of your needs this may take time to put in place so the sooner you seek help the better.
If your circumstances are serious and likely to last a long time, you and your Department may decide that you should take some time out of your course temporarily or permanently. If you feel this may be relevant, we recommend that you seek advice first from the Advice Service to identify any implications (including financial) either way.
What if I don't tell my Department about my special circumstances?
If you do not tell your Department about any special circumstances (or a disability), then they cannot take these into account to better understand how these might have affected your work. Therefore, if you delay telling your Department about any problems, it will be more difficult for them to take action to help you.
Further, if you miss lectures or keep handing work in late or you fail modules, your Department may decide to refer you to the Academic Progress regulations. These are procedures the University uses when it feels that a student is not engaging effectively with their studies and no reasonable explanation can be found. Ultimately this could result in you being excluded. Please see our Academic Progress guide for more information.
Formal action can usually be avoided if you inform your Department about any problems as soon as they occur. We recognise that sharing circumstances which may be affecting your studies can be a daunting experience, however the Aber SU Advice Service is here to help you, so please do seek advice if you are unsure about whether your circumstances are relevant.
What if I have problems during an exam?
If you are late to, or miss an exam, you must explain the reasons, in writing (normally by completing a special circumstances form) and provide supporting evidence, as soon as possible to your Departmental Examinations Officer. If you become ill during an exam you must tell the Invigilator. You may still be able to sit the exam in another room or at another time, normally during the August resit examination period.
If you think your performance in an exam was affected by Special Circumstances, you must explain these, in writing (by completing a special circumstances form) and with supporting evidence, to the Department's Exams Officer immediately after the exam. If you do not provide this before the Examination Board meets, it cannot be considered when finalising your marks.
What can the AberSU Advice Service do to help?
The AberSU Advice Service is independent from the University and provides a free, confidential and impartial service to all Aberystwyth University students.
The Advice Service can assist you in a range of ways, including:
- Discuss your circumstances in confidence either in person, over the phone or by email.
- Review any draft statements that you prepare and offer suggestions.
- Accompany you to any meetings to provide support and representation.
- Help you to collate appropriate evidence to support your case.
To make an appointment to discuss all of your options, including what support is available to you, please contact us below:
Contact an Advisor
First Produced: June 2017
Reviewed: November 2023