Extenuating circumstances: what they are and how they work

I mentioned a few posts ago that I had to apply for extenuating circumstances during the semester, today I’ll go over what extenuating circumstances are, what the process was like and how it compares to when I had to apply for extenuating circumstances at UC Berkeley.

Extenuating circumstances mean anything that is beyond your control that affects your academic performance in any way. What it was for me this semester was that I’ve been caring for someone who got quite unwell which meant I was providing support basically 24/7 for the past 10 months or so and as things got worse it also started to negatively impact my mental health to the point that I knew I couldn’t sit my in semester tests at all, let alone perform well. I didn’t know this was an option available for me since I knew the process exists but I thought you needed proof of things like a family member passing away, or medical records for physical problems and that kind of thing (in retrospect I really should have applied for extenuating circumstances from the first semester since my performance was affected negatively for the same reason, the situation wasn’t as bad but I still was caring for someone 24/7 and rarely attended lectures or turned in coursework) but I had self referred to the centre for wellbeing and they asked me if it was something I needed during the intake appointment which got me thinking about it. When things were at the worst point I contacted my personal tutor to explain the situation and get his advice and he recommended I apply, gather up evidence and then submit that after the fact, he said it was important to get the application in as soon as possible and that it was also important for me to sit the exams if I didn’t hear back about it before the day of the exams. At that point it was spring break with about 2 weeks to go and my first in semester test was the very first day back from break in the morning. I submitted the application like he recommended, then I contacted the person I was seeing at the centre for wellbeing, my GP and obtained the relevant medical records regarding the person I was caring for and I submitted letters from both the centre for wellbeing and my GP talking about the impact it was having on me (the centre for wellbeing letter was free, the GP letter cost me £20 and I had to fill out a form to request it) as well as a letter saying that I’m a carer attached to the medical records showing how things had gotten worse a week before and what that meant in terms of the increased support that was needed from me. Once I submitted the evidence my application was reviewed, I heard back about a week later saying it was approved and my in semester tests would be delayed to the examination period. Once the exam period was about to start I got an email from the math department with the specific times for the exams and I ended up taking them alongside my finals (different days, but they were spread around my other exams, one was around the start of the exam period and the other one was the very last day, both after I’d already done the final exam for that class which was a little weird but since they covered less content than the finals I was definitely prepared). A couple of weeks after taking the exams I stopped by the math department and I was able to pick up my graded tests. It was a little unnerving to not have that feedback before the exams and know how well I was doing but overall I’m glad I applied and wish I’d done it earlier. Grades came out a few days ago and on the modules affected it shows my final exam grade and then for the in semester tests it says attempt 1 0 and then resit and my grade (resits are normally capped at 40 so it’s clear I didn’t fail and then had to retake it but it doesn’t explicitly say that I had extenuating circumstances and took it late or anything). I should also mention that if you don’t hear back about your application you have to sit the exam but if your application does get accepted after the fact you have to retake the exam anyway no matter how well you did, and if it doesn’t get approved then you have to keep the grade no matter ho bad you did.

During my first semester at UC Berkeley I also had to apply for extenuating circumstances so I’ll share a bit about how that was like as well so that you can see the differences and similarities between the two. Halfway through the semester I started having really strong migraines that were practically nonstop for several days so I ended up being sent to urgent care and the ER for extra tests, including a spinal tap. The migraines continued plus I ended up getting spinal headaches and I would throw up every time I wasn’t lying down flat on my back, no matter how briefly that was, so I ended up needing a blood patch which also involved extra recovery time. In the middle of all of that I was meant to be taking exams, midterms, and turning in homework. I emailed the lecturers with the medical records from those days showing that I was at urgent care/the ER and what happened was up to each lecturer. Some of them decided my homework would be worth more, other decided my final exam would be worth more, I think one decided to just calculate my grade pretending the midterm didn’t exist to begin with but I don’t recall any of them deciding I had to take the midterms at a later date. After that, since I ended up missing over a month of classes I decided to apply for the equivalent of extenuating circumstances. How it works there is that you need to fill out a form and provide evidence (for that since it was more about the semester as a whole rather than a specific day I had to fill out a form at the GP and they provided the necessary evidence, I might have paid for that but I honestly can’t remember). Then there were several options on the form for what you wanted to do about the situation, what I personally chose was to still take the exams but change my grades to pass/no pass which means I would get either a pass or a no pass at the end of it rather than a letter grade so if I failed or didn’t do too well it wouldn’t affect my GPA. Once I did that it got approved (there’s a deadline so you hear back before the exams) which meant that I didn’t actually get my number/letter grade at all, just the P/NP and I couldn’t have asked to have it changed even if I did really well. Students at Berkeley do get to choose to have their grade be P/NP without any extenuating circumstances but they generally have to make the choice during the first few weeks of the semester, I had to apply to do it because I wanted to change the grade option I picked when the semester was about to end. Overall I think the process was fairly similar, Surrey was more standardized for the midterms than Berkeley was (though Berkeley was more flexible) and Berkeley also let you chose what you wanted to do rather than give a single option that every student has to take regardless of circumstances (though then again, Berkeley’s grading system has more options for everyone to begin with, so it might be more related to that than the process itself).

I hope this post was useful, and as always, if you have any more questions feel free to email them through!