COVID-19: Law schools embrace technology to deliver exams remotely

COVID-19: Law schools embrace technology to deliver exams remotely

The government’s decision to introduce a nationwide lockdown in March led universities to move from traditional face-to-face seminars and lectures to online teaching methods. This means using technology to stay connected with and assess students. We surveyed a pool of law students* to find out how law schools have made this transition.

How are students being assessed?

  • The vast majority of students surveyed (88%) will be assessed online.
  • The most common form of alternative assessment is an open book exam. This allows students between 24- to 48-hours to complete an exam question and submit their work. 
  • Another popular alternative has been to set coursework instead of exams. The titles are released on a specific date and students are given 2-3 weeks to complete essays. 
  • Almost a third of students surveyed were still waiting to be given details on how they would be assessed.

How do students feel about doing exams remotely?

  • Half of the students are nervous about new forms of assessment. They feel unprepared as they are having to take a different style of exam without the chance to practise beforehand. “I have done 4 years at university where we have used one method of examination. A new method at this stage is not going to show my best work.”
  • Students whose exams have been replaced by coursework feel under pressure to produce well-researched essay answers, rather than concentrating on memorising information for the traditional controlled exams. “I am worried about how I will complete three pieces of coursework over a period of two weeks to my usual high standard. We would usually have just over 4 weeks.”
  • Several students who perform better in exams than coursework and purposely chose exam modules in order to get better grades are understandably concerned.
  • Half the students are frustrated due to the uncertainty and misinformation; with many still unsure of the exact details or of the marking matrix. “I probably would feel better if my university provided more information, but right now I'm just in the dark.”
  • A quarter of students are relieved that online assessments are going ahead, so that their future career plans are not interrupted. “I am relieved my exams aren't delayed as I was very concerned my training contract could be deferred.” 

Universities offering law courses are reliant on decisions made by regulatory boards such as the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and Bar Standards Board (BSB) to ensure students earn a qualifying law degree at the end of their studies. While many universities chose to cancel exams for first- and second-year students, final years and postgraduate students are finding themselves in a unique situation. They must pass certain core modules to be able to qualify. 

After initial plans to postpone examinations, the SRA has approved alternative arrangements for assessment. This may include online assessment. It has, however, left the details to universities to decide. The BSB, on the other hand, remains firm in its decision to postpone April’s exams for the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). The next available sitting is in August, making it one of the last courses during COVID-19 still requiring students to sit an in-person exam.

Legal education is still considered traditional in its approach. It is often seen as slow to adopt online teaching methods. Due to COVID-19, however, we are seeing faculty adapt to different technologies in order to deliver their lectures and seminars. Whether they are hosting pre-recorded lectures on the university portal, holding seminars via Zoom video calls or using the chat function within MS Teams, faculty have been working hard to ensure their students don’t miss out on those last few weeks of study before the exam period. While current students are facing a level of disruption not previously experienced by past cohorts, it is clear that legal education is changing, and we are only just seeing the beginning.

*LexisNexis surveyed 25 law students between 26 March and 10 April 2020.

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About the author:
Laura manages our Student Engagement programme at LexisNexis. Laura has worked on a wide variety of areas within education marketing, from global PR campaigns, to events, social media, as well as corporate branding across print and digital channels. Her role at LexisNexis is to support the development of our student cohorts each year, providing them with the necessary know-how to enter the legal industry with confidence.