Cambridge Uni law students express ‘serious concern’ over COVID-19 exam plans

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Some undergrads won’t be given formal 2:2, 2:1 and first classifications under current proposals

A group of Cambridge University law students have expressed “serious concern” over fresh proposals on grading exams during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cambridge law undergrads were recently notified of alternative assessment plans, which will see first and second year law students continue their exams online, on an open-book basis, with word limits and fewer questions.

For final year law students, assessments will also be online, open-book basis and word limits will apply. The assessment will differ, however, as they adopt a so-called ‘no-detriment principle’ — where no student who passes their final year exams will receive a class for it lower than the class in which they were placed in their second year.

The contentious point, according to some law students, is that first and second year undergrads will receive marks for individual papers but will not be given a formal classification — i.e. third, 2.2, 2.1 or first.

In a petition addressed to the Cambridge Law Faculty Board Chairs, the group argues that many law undergraduate students have expressed concern about this approach because employers, including City law firms, “will be able to extrapolate or infer a degree class from student marks despite the assessments for first and second years being formally unclassed”.

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The petition, signed by over 100 students so far, calls on law faculty bigwigs to make all of the first and second year law assessments pass or fail “in order to mitigate any negative impact this could have on students, on their mental health and on their future careers”.

It urges the law school to show the “same care that has been shown to students in other faculties” including economics, AMES [Asian and Middle Eastern Studies], HSPS [Human, Social and Political Sciences], NatSci [Natural Sciences], mathematics, English, engineering and classics.

These departments, according to the petition, have either cancelled examinations or offered pass/fail assessments. “This is especially important because law students have been no less affected than other students in the university,” the petition adds.

A spokesperson for the Faculty of Law told Legal Cheek: “The Faculty of Law gave detailed thought to arrangements for assessments in response to the unprecedented challenge we now face. It took into account the broad variety of views expressed by students, the University’s assessment principles and policy, the faculty’s regulatory obligations as a Qualifying Law Degree provider, and the approaches being adopted by other universities. While responses to the current situation within the University and the wider HE sector vary, the faculty is satisfied that its approach to assessment is in line with that of a number of other leading UK law schools.”

They continued:

“As in any assessment process, marks will be recorded on a student’s University record. It would be wrong for employers to infer any class from those marks because classification would normally rely on a wide range of other factors. While we understand that we cannot satisfy all students, we believe this is the fairest approach in what are extraordinary circumstances.”

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A man with an opinion

You know something has gone terribly wrong with a society, if students have genuine grounds to believe their grades have anything to do with their success.

Brendan Low

Let me kindly explain as one of the signatories explain that it is not simply about concerns for future success. It is the fact that marks will still be given, without a corresponding framework of class to interpret the value of a given mark. What we end up with is an arbitrary number on our transcripts. Rather than our grades determining our success, the concept of grades is out the window. It enables arbitrary classification. I am doubtless sure that a student scoring the lowest class may do phenomenally well in life, but there is no concept of highest and lowest as far as we know.

I also want to take this opportunity to express my appreciation at how willing the Law Faculty was to respond to our initial comments, students at this point of time are not doubting nor being ungrateful to that at all. Rather, we are signalling to the Faculty that the current solution, though certainly created with good intentions in mind, failed to consider in its balancing act a crucial impact of removing the classification system, which is our responsibility as students for our own education and with increasing consensus as to the significant of the matter and it’s impact, to highlight it to the faculty.

Ex-Cantab, 2nd seat trainee

I can see why they are frustrated when other faculties aren’t providing marks but realistically I can’t see the faculty being anything other than extremely generous with their marks this year. Also if you can’t write 3 one thousand word essays to a 2.1 standard in a 24 hour open-book time period then you’ve got bigger problems coming your way.

On the employer front yeah they probably will look dimly on someone with a 50 even if there’s no class but they’re not exactly gonna look much more favourably on students with just ‘pass’ next to 4 modules on their transcript. Any students coming from universities that do end up giving marks this year plus any 3rd years/graduates from law and non-law backgrounds that already have good marks in the bag will be at a huge competitive advantage compared to these students.

Finally any students who want to go to the commercial bar will surely want (and certainly need) to get marks as they’re so critical to gaining pupillage.

Law cantab

Because the standards themselves are going to be biased given that students will have more time and the possibility to cheat/be helped.
As the faculty wrote, students will be judged against the norm, implying that the examiners will reproduce the distribution curve of grades of the past years. What normally amounts to a mid 2.1 will therefore potentially be a low 2.1 or a 2.2 this time. This doesn’t sound really consistent with the approach adopted by the great majority of the other faculties


Are they private or state educated students? What is the proportion of state educated students among them?

(goes to Tescos to get some popcorn to watch how this thread develops)


Is that an essential trip?

Cantab Law Student

Lots of privately educated and rich international students but some state students (like myself) amongst them. It’s us state schoolers that don’t have connections in law firms or big business that suffer the most from the law faculty plans because we rely on our grades to get us into firms rather than our names.


Classic imaginary headwind stuff. Oh poor little state school Cambridge grad facing all those challenges alone in the darkness. Still, if they “It’s us” instead of “It’s we” then fair enough, who wants someone talking like they are on Eastenders?


Us few, us happy few, us band of brothers.
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.


English grammar has moved on in terms of subject and object pronouns since 1599.


Not really…”blue blood” always makes up for academic shortfalls (see royal family etc) but true merit will win out in the ginal CPE/bar exams to come.It is certainly harder to get magic circle firms to take notice of non private school applicants because we do live in a closed circle society that attributes higher esteem to those of the tribe that we feel affinity with by accent and physical appearance.In many ways England has not progressed from its Iron age hill forts roots.

Former LLMer

Any idea on what will happen to the LLMs?


You still need to get a pass grade for no detriment to apply. So what’s the point of it. If a student passes they wouldn’t need such a policy in the first place. Colleges should be helping students seriously struggling.

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