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My Exam Disaster: An Ethical Dilemma

Woman covering her mouth in shock

This is a little story about something that happened to me during last semester’s exam block. The events that unfolded the morning of my first exam were the kinds of things I had nightmares about in my first year of university.

In the weeks leading up to exams, I always like to get into ‘hermit mode’, cancelling all social obligations and sending my friends the “I’ll see you in a few weeks” message. In between working and sleeping, I prepared all of my notes.

I printed off the notes for my first exam and added a lovely colour-coded index of post-it notes. I was feeling so confident for the big day that I decided to commit myself to an early night and I managed to do this despite my housemate yelling at the State of Origin in the next room.

The morning of the exam arrived and I woke up bright and early before my first alarm. I was feeling confident and had checked the timing of my two-bus trip to the exam venue the night before, allowing for a 35-minute window between arriving at the venue and the start of my exam. With beautiful notes in hand, I left my house and walked to the bus stop. The first bus was late. “No biggie,” I thought as I waited on the side of the road. When the bus did arrive, it was packed and travelling at what felt like 40km/h in traffic heading towards the city.

I finally arrived to interchange to swap buses and wondered where the time had gone. I nervously awaited the next bus as I watched the minutes go by. I made a quick decision to cab the rest of the way. Sitting helplessly in the taxi, I became more and more anxious with every red light. More traffic!

My optimism faded quickly and I become agitated. The cab dropped me off at the venue at 8:30. My exam had started and I was not yet in the clear. Sweating and panting, I ran up the hills to the main building sand then up 10 flights of stairs.

I arrived at the door 11 minutes late and it was locked. I could hear my convener reading the instructions inside. I knocked and waited, then knocked again. With no success, I collapsed to the ground in tears. With my last hope dashed, I made my way back down the stairs still sobbing. Realising that I had no tissues, I peeled off some of my post-it notes to wipe my face with.

On my way back home, I just felt sorry for myself. I was absolutely defeated. My answer to every question in my head was “it doesn’t matter because my life is over anyway.” When I got home, I became more practical about my situation. I logged on to the university website and downloaded the assessment policy and read the requirements for deferred exams. The policy allows applications for deferred exams on the grounds of:

  • Accident (for which you require a statement from a police or fire officer)

  • Bereavement (for which you would provide a statutory declaration stating the grounds of the request and your relationship with the deceased)

  • Disability or illness (providing a medical certificate outlining the duration, severity of the illness and the doctor’s opinion of whether you can sit the exam or not)

I read and re-read the policy but could not fit my situation under any of the reasons for a deferred exam. Conflicted about what to do, I called up friends and family looking for advice. I received some helpful and some very questionable advice. People shared their experiences of faking illnesses to get medical certificates. I sat in my lounge room considering what to do and narrowed down my options:

Option A: The Honest Approach

Call the university and speak to someone about what had happened on my way to the exam and plead with that person to make an exception and grant me a deferred exam.

Pros: Maintain integrity.

Cons: Risk being rejected (and fail the exam).

Option B: Eat Some Bad Chicken

This approach was one of my first thoughts. I could half-cook some chicken for lunch in order to induce food poisoning before going to doctor. Clearly, I wasn’t in a great state of mind at this point.

Pros: Not having to lie to a doctor and perhaps feeling less guilty.

Cons: Food poisoning.

Option C: Fake It

I had at least 10 suggestions for this approach. The policy allows you to apply for a medical reason and provide the detailed medical certificate up to three days later. I walk to the doctor, work up a sweat and claim some embarrassing symptoms of gastroenteritis.

Pros: Medical certificate has a good chance of being approved.

Cons: Guilt, embarrassment involved in discussing the symptoms with your doctor, and perhaps not receiving the medical certificate because of my terrible acting skills.

After a few hours, I made an anonymous phone call to my university and explained my horrible situation to the woman on the other end of the line. She sighed and told me to calm myself down, explaining that “these things happen” and that the policy was there to prevent unprepared students from deferring their exams.

After breathing a massive sigh of relief, I went with Option A and successfully applied for a deferred exam. Despite the challenge of staying motivated for a deferred exam, it went quite well and was relatively stress-free.

If something goes wrong for you this exam season, keep calm and go with Option A. When it comes to solving exam time misadventures, honesty really is the best policy.

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