Making exams more sustainable

This summer, the University of Bristol Exams Office has made some significant changes to their policy to improve the sustainability of the exams process, including measures to reduce paper and plastic waste, and to reduce the carbon footprint of travel to exams.

Last academic year there were over 90,000 student exam sittings and as you might expect, it takes an immense amount of preparation and logistical planning to carry out this process. Inevitably a large amount of resource is required, however the Exams Office have recently had new successes in reducing their environmental impact and are continuing to make great progress. 

This year, the University of Bristol Exams Office have updated their water bottle policy to allow any unlabelled water bottle, including reusable water bottles, to be permitted within exam halls in order to reduce the number of plastic water bottles used by students. The use of plastic cups of water in exam halls is discouraged, for both environmental and practical reasons.

The Exams Office have significantly reduced paper waste by indicating students’ allocated seats in an electronic format on the student’s timetables, rather than producing several large paper-based seating plans at the entrance to every exam hall. Where possible they choose sustainable stationery products, including recycled paper and reusable cloth wipes in smaller exam venues. A stationery reuse service has been implemented to ensure that no forgotten or unused stationery goes to waste. 

Once examinations have been sat, scripts are collected and were previously stored in traditional plastic wallets. The Exams Office has since shifted to using bioplastic wallets and there is scope for reusable wallets in the future.

Additionally, students are actively encouraged to use public transport when travelling to exam locations, particularly those distant from the main campus. Information regarding public transport and relevant timetables is distributed via an email sent to students before the start of the exam period to provide a number of suggestions for travelling to and from exam venues. Public transport usage not only makes getting to exams more affordable, but also reduces the carbon footprint of students travelling to and from exam halls. A large number of students currently travel to exams using their own car or using taxis; however, the Exams Office has identified this as an issue and is keen to tackle this issue in upcoming exam periods. 

In previous years, the exams office hired several cars during exam periods, however this has been reduced to just a single vehicle for use during emergency exam scenarios.

Wherever possible, the exam venues are rationalised to hold as many exams on the University precinct as possible, thereby reducing student (and invigilator) travel to exam venues away from the main campus.

It is possible that future exams will use a paperless system, and a switch to electronics could be possible, however this will not be an imminent shift and will take time to develop.

With tens of thousands of student exam sittings every year, these changes have the potential to make a significant difference. Overall, the Exams Office have demonstrated a keen awareness and enthusiasm for reducing the environmental impact of the exams process and have already taken great strides to make a difference. Their plans for the future will no doubt continue their successes in this area and improve the sustainability of this process.

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