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When to Allow Makeup Exams

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Sophia Chang


( 6 months ago )

I have a classroom (as opposed to online) course for which I set the date of the first exam about a week before the last date a student can withdraw without penalty, such that I can have grades returned before the withdrawal date. The date was in the syllabus, released on the first day of classes. A student has asked to take a makeup exam at a later date or to take the exam remotely. I generally allow makeup exams when there exigent reasons, and in the United States some conditions, such as military deployment, impose a legal obligation to accommodate the student. So, I asked why.

The student replied that he would be "on vacation" in connection with a later work-related trip. In other words, his job is sending him someplace nice and he wants to go early to allow some play time with the travel paid by the job.

My students, who think I am Darth Vader, would never believe it, but I am torn about this request. The university's rules tell me when I must allow a make-up exam, not when I may. I have decided that if I do allow such an exam, it will be before, not after the scheduled time. Allowing a makeup exam will, as usual I think, be modestly inconvenient for me. I believe I need to consider the appearance of fairness to the other students, and a precedent I may set that would affect other faculty.

Are there general rules or best practices about when professors should/would allow makeup exams? What should one do in the case where a student's absence is clearly voluntary, but which is a "nice" opportunity for the student?

Dipti Singh


( 6 months ago )

One good way to approach this kind of thing is to state a policy in your syllabus. For instance, you could have:

Make-up exams will be given only in case of an emergency or unavoidable problems such as an illness requiring hospitalization. You must communicate with me as early as possible about the problem.

Under this policy, you would just tell the student no in this situation. Or you could craft a policy that does allow a make-up exam in this situation.

The advantage of having it spelled out in your syllabus is that it's communicated clearly, it's clear why you're making the decision you're making, and administrators will support you in your decision.

Personally, I just say no in the kind of situation you're describing. The student is making a commitment by taking the course, and the nature of the commitment was made clear from the start in the syllabus. It's quite a bit of extra work for me to write a different exam for one student and make arrangements for it to be proctored. When you're a college student, it's simply not reasonable to expect to have a week off from school with no consequences. Lots of other students would like to have a week off with no consequences.

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