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First Year Student Speaks Out on Exam Fiasco



The wave of COVID-19 brought unprecedented changes to educational institutions around the world, with many students facing disruption to teaching and examinations. 

We explore accusations from Year 1 medics regarding the mishandling of their first year exams.

Zahrah Sufi, First Year Medic

I can remember waiting in anticipation for Term 1 to start as I was beyond excited to embark on my medical school journey. However, if the freshly minted Imperial medical student that I was at the start of October spoke to the version of myself that has just survived first year, she’d be horrified and would have certainly made much better use of her time whilst university was actually open.

COVID-19 sparked a global panic unlike no other that I have witnessed so far in my lifetime. To have lived through a pandemic that will be no doubt written in history textbooks for the GCSE students of 2050 is a strange feeling. Being on lockdown and experiencing quarantine has felt as if time has stopped and the days have blurred into each other, with every semblance of routine suddenly vanishing as if Thanos himself had clicked his fingers. I was lucky enough to have rushed back to my home in God’s own county (Yorkshire) early on to be with my family, expecting to be back in London two weeks later to revise for my exams, before good old Boris decided to impose a nationwide lockdown. Unfortunately, the comforts of home weren’t available to everyone. Whilst some of my international peers could not get back home due to closed borders and a lack of flights, some of my fellow British peers chose to stay in halls for third term so that they could prepare for exams in a more productive environment.

Regarding exams, I personally believe that the Faculty handled their approach disastrously – I can still feel my blood pressure rising as I think about how insensitive and callous they were. Exams are necessary for the progression into second year, but these were extraordinary circumstances. From my own personal experience, I detested remaining at home throughout third term as it was impossible to revise adequately for exams in a busy household like mine.

Regarding exams, I personally believe that the Faculty handled their approach disastrously – I can still feel my blood pressure rising as I think about how insensitive and callous they were.

As my peers and I heard about the arrangements different universities had made from fellow non-ICSM medical students, we began to be embittered by the university’s lack of concern for our mental health and wellbeing, instead prioritising their obsession with their reputation. We saw other universities have formative and untimed exams to allow everyone to do their best in challenging circumstances – some postponed exams until second year, and others even cancelled exams completely and appeased the GMC with their mock data.

Rather than listening to students’ concerns about difficult home environments, the added stress of relatives being exposed / infected with coronavirus and the deteriorating mental health of students, the Faculty reaffirmed to us that their shining reputation was the priority and not the wellbeing of their students. Whilst students gave up on negotiating for delayed exams or formative assessments, we eventually realised that the Faculty would never budge and thus we started preparing for our first exam: Principles of Medicine (a rebranded version of MCD).

As one of my peers describes it:

“[it] was cancelled halfway through, many students completed this exam. Finding out that you just sat for 2 hours doing an exam that doesn’t count is extremely demotivating. Faculty then decided they could push exams back and made us re-sit the POM paper.”

This debacle unleashed a quiet rage that I honestly don’t think the Faculty was expecting: their inboxes were bombarded with angry emails, tutors were contacted to deal with wellbeing crises and the entire student population felt extremely demoralised. There was an almost widespread agreement that the Faculty had not handled this with our mental health in mind.

Following on from exams, we were soon faced with completing a group podcast virtually, attending live sessions and completing preparation for our CSI exams. The timetabling for this was commended by some of my fellow first years but Term 3 for me whizzed past and somehow, we reached the end of the year after we submitted our assignments and completed our CSI exams. The Faculty had decided to celebrate by doing a virtual end of year ceremony via Zoom – although I am not sure what the attendance rates were, those that I knew that had attended said it was wholesome and quite cute. The fact that the ceremony was in the morning was one of the reasons why I personally didn’t attend, but I also think that some of my other peers and I were simply so exhausted by remote learning and remote examinations that we felt no desire to celebrate, which was a shame.

There was an almost widespread agreement that the Faculty had not handled this with our mental health in mind.

Ultimately, this unforeseen pandemic was difficult for the entire globe to adapt to. A fair share of us feel that Imperial did the best they could, but only for their reputation rather than for our cohort. It is a shame that an institution as welcoming and as enjoyable as ours put us through the wringer where we faced a boatload of emotional, mental and physical stress, and felt that an end of year Zoom call was the answer to celebrating the climax of our first year at ICSM. Term 3 felt like one long Zoom meeting that I couldn’t wait to click ‘Leave Meeting’ and escape from.


Following this article, the Gazette reached out to faculty to give them an opportunity to respond to the situation. We will be publishing an official response written by Professor Mary Morrell and Dr Paul Kemp in the following days, so make sure you don’t miss it!

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