SOS COVID-19: exams, predicted grades and HK, UK, US Universities

Although the outbreak of COVID-19, or the novel coronavirus has kicked people of their routines, life must go on. For many students in international schools across Hong Kong, this means an assessment like no other due to international exam bodies, particularly the International Baccalaureate (IB) has been canceled, whilst after a bit of delay The Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE) have gone ahead.

The disruption to teacher contact hours, revision and even final assessments have made this year’s school graduates in a unique and slightly chaotic situation. Questions such from Universities opening to final grades and perspectives are more pointed this year than ever before, due to the unprecedented situation linked with COVID-19. We aim to answer a number of key questions so that everyone graduating from schools this year, as the saying goes, can keep calm and carry on.

I’m an IB student who is better at doing examinations than coursework and now I’m afraid about my final grades being affected. How worried should I be?

Whilst, the IBO has canceled all examinations for this year’s cohort, they will still take how you were expected to do in an exam into consideration. They are trying to be as holistic as possible and not solely judge final grades based on coursework. It’s a difficult undertaking but they assure students the following: “We will use a calculation that is based on the relationship between coursework marks, predicted grades and subject grades to estimate the subject grades candidates would have received if the exams had gone ahead. If the relationship between these elements shows that in previous sessions candidates globally tended to achieve higher outcomes on their exams than their coursework, the calculation used this session will reflect that.” 

I didn’t get my predicted grades, can I still get into my University of choice? Will they lower expectations due to COVID-19?

Whilst Universities are generally adopting a flexible approach when it comes to admitting students in the 2020/21 academic year, predicted grades are still important and they will give leeway in some courses this year. However, it also depends on how oversubscribed the course in question is. Most faculties will not change requirements as most exam bodies are either going ahead with their assessments or calculating final grades based on a range of factors, as above. So don’t expect much flexibility if your predicted grade is significantly lower than you expected. HOWEVER, many Universities in the UK and the US have simply decided to change their offer letters from ‘conditional’ to ‘unconditional’ so you may be in luck even if you don’t hit the target. It’s best to check your latest application status and University policy moving forward.

Will my predicted grades change due to exam cancellations for IB and A levels?

No, they will remain in place and are calculated the usual way by teachers with no changes.

Can I appeal my IB results like previous cohorts have if I think a specific subject grade is off?

Yes, like previous years, the IB will allow students to do the Enquiry Upon Result (EUR) that students can inform their schools, pay and fee and send it to the IBO for them to investigate. You will also be able to re-take any assessments that you’d like in the usual manner.

Is there any way to still get into a university of choice if my grade is a lot lower than the requirement of my course?

Yes, it is. If you get rejected due to a poor result, it may be worth considering a subject change. For example, if you’re applying for a business or finance degree, why not something in the arts and humanities. The barrier to entry is lower for a BA than a BBA student, but you’ll still have a prestigious university next to your degree. It is also important to note that undergraduate degrees have become a lot less rigid for jobs as employers are looking at a diverse range of perspectives and a little bit of creativity with the advent of technology and person-based services. For example, even in banks such as HSBC you can get a cohort of employees with degrees from social sciences, the arts, mathematics, business, journalism – each of these people have something new to offer. It is also important to note that for an undergraduate degree, you get a piece of paper, whilst for specific jobs and skills-based training can be done in a Master’s course, where it’s easier to get an admission than the same subject equivalents and bachelor level. Think outside the box and strategically!

If I don’t get the results I want and don’t want to re-take any school assessments, what could I do to improve my chances of getting in at the next possible chance to apply?

For example, for accounting students should look at doing a Charted Financial Accountant (CFA) if they’re going into an accounting discipline, a certificate in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL) for anyone looking to teach or even a Google Adwords or digital marketing course for people looking to get into that sphere. So there are plenty of professional courses out there that you can do in order to maximize your chances in getting into a higher institution of choice in the future, regardless of results. 

Does the HKDSE exams results delay be problematic for my application, especially for a Hong Kong University?

No, universities across the board have said that the delay in exam results for students will not affect their placements. Hong Kong universities have also noted that they will not be reducing the amount of places compared to previous years, with that number unchanged. Specifically, Chinese University has said that they will have some flexibility when selecting who to admit, City University has said it’ll be flexible by doing later interview dates for JUPAS to facilitate the late exam result release, Lingnan University has said that there have no been any changes to regular protocol as the release will only be delayed by a week, HKUST will monitor the situation and announce any changes in due course, whilst HKU also sees no issue with the delay whilst also providing students with revision tips., whilst PolyU and Education Universities have both assured students that they will work with them to accommodate for any changes. So if you’re going into HK Universities as a JUPAS applicant you will not be given an unfair disadvantage when compared to other years.

Does this affect applications for international universities for HKDSE students?

If you’re looking to get into a university internationally with the HKDSE, there should also be no unfair disadvantage. Most universities will accept that results will be delayed and will accommodate. Remember, you as an international student are going to be paying higher fees than your local cohorts in the country of your choice, so most universities will not turn down such cash cow students. Make sure you contact any Universities you are thinking of going to, so that they are informed about your latest status and can give you the most up-to-date relevant information. 

Are SATs cancelled? When are the exams and how can I get admission to a US University with the cancelations?

SATs aren’t cancelled, but simply postponed as it is unlikely that US Universities will start their 2020/21 academic year on schedule this fall. As of today, it is still necessary to do an SAT test to get admitted to most US universities and there will be opportunities to do them if you’re part of the 2020/21 cohort. If schools do end up reopening on time or close to it this fall, then the SAT will be sending out digital exams for students to complete. For details of when they plan to conduct these internationally:

“If it’s safe to do so from a public health standpoint, we’ll provide multiple SAT administrations internationally through the end of the year, beginning in August. This includes a new administration on September 26 and the previously scheduled tests on August 29, October 3, and December 5. We’re exploring the possibility of providing an additional international administration.

In the unlikely event that schools do not reopen this fall, the College Board will provide a digital SAT for home use, much as we are delivering digital exams for 3 million AP students this spring. As we’re doing with at-home Advanced Placement Exams, we would ensure that at-home SAT testing is simple; secure and fair; accessible to all; and valid for use in college admissions.”

Stay tuned for more information and if you need to make queries, you can call the College Board, who administer the test either by email sat@info.collegeboard.org or phone +1-212-713-7789 (international number with country code).

I got an offer from a UK University, is my place still secure?

Yes, 100%. The UK government has told its universities to make sure those that have received offers to start in the 2020/21 academic year are safeguarded and that there is no pressure for students to commit to courses.

What’s happening to UCAS clearance rounds, are they still happening and is the academic year set to be delayed?

The UK government has said to assume that universities will start their academic years in 2020/21 without delay. Therefore, all initial dates for UCAS clearance rounds will remain unchanged. This means June 30 is still the deadline for regular UCAS applications for international students, UCAS Clearing opens on July 5 (same date as IB results) and absolute final Clearing applications will close on September 20. However, it’s important to keep up to date with the latest information, as things could change between now and September/ October 2020. 

Information about Universities in Australia, New Zealand and Canada will be posted in part 2 of this article, stay tuned. In the meantime, check out some courses at Causeway Education that can help bridge the gap and equip students to be well prepared for their further education.

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