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What Is an Exam Deferral?

By Alan Rankin
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An exam deferral is a standard policy at most colleges, universities and higher education facilities that allows students to defer, or postpone, course examinations in case of illness or emergency. These deferred exams are commonly known as make-up tests or make-up exams. Exam deferral policies vary by the institution or system, but many specify the time and location that make-up exams can be taken. Deferrals may also be granted for religious reasons or because of military or legal requirements.

Standard educational procedure requires periodic testing to determine a student’s grasp of the course subject. Many institutions require comprehensive tests in the middle of the school semester, often called “midterms,” and again at the semester’s end. These latter tests are known as “final exams” or simply “finals.” In many courses, the results of these tests make up a significant percentage of the student’s overall grade for the semester. Exam deferral policies ensure that students do not miss these important tests because of unexpected circumstances.

At one time, an exam deferral was considered an easy alternative to a rigorous final exam. Make-up tests were sometimes not monitored as closely as exams in the original classroom. Some instructors used the same tests that other students had already taken, which created the possibility of cheating. In modern times, deferred exams are provided in such a way as to keep cheating to a minimum. They are given on a particular date or dates, in a monitored location, and are usually different from the original exam.

Most institutions have a narrow range of reasons they will accept for an exam deferral. If a student cites a medical reason, a note from a physician is usually required. A family emergency is another common reason for a student to request a deferral. This does not necessarily mean a death or illness; some educational facilities grant them for the wedding of a sibling or other important events. In any case, the administrative office may require independent verification of the reason for the deferral.

Other reasons for an exam deferral include religious holidays, military commitments such as National Guard training in the US, or court appearances and jury duty. Personal reasons, such as travel or vacation plans, are typically not valid excuses to request a deferral. Some institutions, however, will allow a deferral in cases when a student has multiple final exams scheduled for the same day. Most educational facilities have a set deferral procedure, which may include deadlines for applications. Students who think they may require an exam deferral should investigate their institution’s policies at the earliest possible date.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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