Universities should encourage exam deferrals—when students really need them

exam deferral ed illustration

Exam deferrals are often treated as shameful things students should avoid at all costs. In reality, an exam deferral is a valuable resource for students who may be struggling with their mental health. While universities should discourage students from abusing the system, they shouldn’t discourage the system itself.

An opinion piece appearing in University Affairs claims that exam deferrals contribute to the “infantilization” of students, yet simultaneously recognizes the reasons mental health has declined over the years.

Exam deferrals don’t baby students; they help students in their time of need. If anything, we need to reconsider how the workplace functions. Student or adult, work should never be so stressful that you need to sacrifice your mental health simply to make enough money to live or, in the case of university students, to graduate.

Let’s not also forget that many adults suffer from mental health issues too. Mental health isn’t something that simply vanishes once you reach adulthood—it’s something that stays with you throughout your lifetime, affecting your adulthood as much as your adolescence.

Of course, there are always going to be students who abuse the system. Professors should rightly discourage these instances—but not at the detriment of students who truly need exam deferrals. Instead, professors should consider compassion. Doing something as simple as sitting down with a student and discussing why they might need an exam deferral would help professors understand where their students are coming from and what they’re going through.

That said, in many cases, it’s not the professor’s place to deny an exam deferral, especially when mental health issues aren’t always obvious.

Some professors rely on altered exam formats in the event a student needs a deferral. This seems unnecessary and cruel. These students struggle to prepare for the exam material as is; making that exam material harder is unfair, especially when the professor could simply change the exam questions.

At the end of the day, there are always going to be students who abuse exam deferrals. But having people occasionally abuse the system has far fewer repercussions than revoking that system entirely.

If anything, the University should proactively give students resources to manage their mental health. In doing so, Queen’s could address the problem at the source and reduce the need for exam deferrals altogether.

If students want to abuse the exam deferral system, let them. This will backfire later in life. But for every student that abuses the system, there are countless more who need the accommodation—and there’s no shame in that.

In a perfect world, every student would be able to take their exam on-time. But that’s simply not the case. Instead of shaming students for needing deferrals, let’s support them.

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