The letter has been signed by 89 students on the Part III Physics courseLouis Ashworth

An open letter from students on the fourth-year Part III Physics course has called on the Department of Physics to change its procedures for moderating exams, which the letter describes as “arbitrary, punitive, and unfair”.

The concerns are over the moderation of exams for the course’s Major Topic, taken by students online in January.

One of the authors of the open letter clarified that the concerns were related to the structure of the exams, and not technical issues.

The letter objects to the Department’s “plan to lower the average mark of the 2021 cohort compared to that of previous year groups” by not maintaining the same proportion of first and upper second class marks that were awarded before the pandemic.

The authors of the letter are also concerned about the use of students’ second-year marks in the moderation process.

The signatories of the letter believe the plans to be “in clear violation of the University’s policy to ensure a consistent quality of education during COVID; to be unsupported by what little of the Department’s data they have been willing to reveal; and beyond that, to be arbitrary, punitive, and unfair, especially when compared to the treatment of students on similar courses.”

According to the authors of the letter, the exams this year were more difficult because of the lack of simpler “‘bookwork’” questions, which are based on material from lectures. The letter states that “the end result of this process was an average mark of 64.3%, in comparison with an average (over the previous three pre-Covid years) of a 70.8% raw mark”.


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In response, a University spokesperson told Varsity: “We take concerns raised in this open letter seriously, and all Part III Physics students will be invited for further discussions with the Department shortly. This is undoubtedly a difficult and stressful time for many, and we will continue engaging with the students openly ad regularly on this matter.”

The Department of Physics has this year waived entry requirements for the fourth-year course, with students required to demonstrate that they would have passed under normal circumstances, which the authors of the letter argue is the reason the Department gave for awarding fewer high marks.

The open letter has so far been signed by 89 students (as of 20/03) on the Part III course, as well as over ninety students who are not members of the Part III cohort.

A Part III representative and signatories of the letter emphasised to Varsity that they were “bewildered” by “the Department’s position [which] seems to be that no factors other than the poor quality of our cohort could explain why our exam results are lower than the 2017-19 average.”

Their statement continued: “We argue that this 6% deviation from the 70% average of previous years is due to a multitude of factors, including the unpredictable new structure of the exams and the stressful conditions under which they were taken (some students in different timezones had to sit theirs late at night), and that the average should be adjusted upwards to match previous years, in accordance with the University’s policy, which states that they will ‘ensure that the distribution of classes for this year is no less favourable than the average class distribution in the three years before the pandemic’.”