With the return to in-person classes, in-person exams have also resumed. Following the fall 2022 exam season, many students turned to social media, asking their peers for advice on academic offences, course petitions, and deferred exams. For students in these situations, The Varsity broke down how to deal with exam fallout.

Academic misconduct

U of T’s Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters classifies nine actions as academic offences: altering, forging, or falsifying documents; possessing or using unauthorized aids; impersonation; plagiarism; submitting work from a previous class; submitting work containing fake statements of fact or references to sources; altering, forging or falsifying an academic record; any other misconduct to obtain academic credit or advantage; or helping another student commit an offence. 

Examples of academic offences include having a cell phone in your pocket during an exam; failing to cite information; forging a death or medical certificate; posting work online; submitting a purchased essay or an essay you did not write; and failing to reference quotes, passages, or sources.

In an email to The Varsity, a U of T spokesperson wrote, “Students with additional questions about academic integrity should always speak with their instructor or teaching assistants first, as they can discuss academic integrity as it applies to the particular assessments in their course.”

For assignments worth more than 10 per cent of the course grade, the process to investigate and arbitrate an alleged academic offence includes four stages. 

If an instructor suspects that you committed an academic offence, they should inform you immediately of their suspicions and provide you with an opportunity to discuss the matter. Nothing a student says in this discussion can be used as evidence against them in their academic misconduct case.

According to the U of T spokesperson, the instructor’s initial review can take a considerable amount of time to complete. If the instructor decides that your action doesn’t constitute an academic offence, the process ends. If the instructor thinks you committed an academic offence, they will report the action to the department chair. 

In the second stage, the chair notifies you of the reported offence in writing. You receive a second opportunity to discuss what happened with the chair and the instructor, as well as to defend against the allegations. During this conversation, the chair can issue a sanction or penalty for the offence. Chairs determine sanctions based on factors including the context and seriousness of the situation, the number of academic offences you previously committed, and finally, whether you admit to the offence. 

If you don’t admit to the offence, the department chair may bump the matter up to the dean. At this level, students can bring an attorney to their discussion with the dean, department chair, and instructor. The dean may dismiss the allegations or, if the student admits they committed the offence, impose a sanction. If the student admits to a particularly egregious offence, previously committed multiple offences, or does not admit fault despite the dean’s conviction that the student committed the offence, the matter might go to stage four, the University Tribunal. 

The two most common types of offences are utilizing “an unauthorized aid,” which makes up 66 per cent of all reported academic misconduct, and plagiarism, which constitutes 30 per cent of cases. 

According to the U of T spokesperson, “The number of academic offences has been trending downward with the return to in-person assessments.” Over the pandemic, the university introduced multiple initiatives to address the increase in offences. Even with the return to in-person classes, the U of T spokesperson wrote that these measures continue to streamline sanctions and decisions. 

They also explained that any students whose well-being is negatively impacted by the academic misconduct process have access to mental health supports

Deferred exams and petitions

The criteria one must meet to defer an exam vary depending on program and campus. In a statement to The Varsity, a U of T spokesperson noted that students wishing to petition for a deferral should ask their academic advisor or registrar and consult the faculty or division website for the respective course. 

For courses in the Faculty of Arts and Science, a student generally must submit a petition to defer an exam to their registrar within five business days of the final exam period’s end. Students who want to defer a December exam must have submitted a petition before January 6, five business days after the university reopened in January. For satellite campuses, students must put in a deferred exam petition within 72 hours of the missed exam. The university encourages students to submit a petition as soon as they know they will miss their exam.

Students can choose from three petition types, depending on their situation. If a student misses a final exam, they can petition to defer the exam. Since exam deferrals are faculty dependent, times for writing deferred exams vary. Students who deferred an exam for a fall semester course in the Faculty of Arts and Science write their deferred exam in February or April. Students can also apply for a ‘term work extension’ if they can’t hand in an essay by the deadline. 

Finally, students can apply to withdraw from a course without academic penalty after the ACORN academic drop deadline has passed if they’ve experienced “extenuating circumstances” that negatively impacted their performance or participation in a course. 

When submitting a petition, a student should include a copy of the course syllabus; a personal statement explaining the situation; and supporting documentation, including medical or death certificates, to verify claims made in the student’s personal statement. The faculty will then decide whether to grant or refuse the petition. 

For a refused petition, outcomes fall into four subcategories. The first is ‘refused with recommendations,’ which include items for the student to consider. For example, if the faculty refuses your term work extension request because you completed very little work in the course, the faculty might recommend that you consider other petition types. Faculties can also ‘refuse with advising,’ recommending that the student seek advice from academic advisors. If a petition was refused and not considered, that means the request wasn’t within the Committee on Standing’s purview. Finally, a petition may be cancelled, usually by the student.

A granted petition may fall into one of three categories: ‘absolute grant’; ‘grant with recommendations or conditions,’ which might include reducing your course load or not taking courses during a particular session; and ‘grant with advising,’ when the decision recommends academic advising.