Exam System Crash

Affected Over 6000 Students at UvA


Cover photo: Archive photo from Roeterseiland campus. Isabel Bonnet / The Amsterdammer.


Between October 20 and 23, 2020, several exams at the University of Amsterdam suffered from malfunctions. About 6000 students from various faculties were affected, reports a spokesperson for the university. The problem, however, transcended the boundaries of the UvA, as other universities and students around the Netherlands operating on the same systems encountered the same issues.

The faculty of Economics and Business sent out an official email to students, stating that there was a malfunction with the login server used by the University of Amsterdam on October 20. Over the next two days, exams relying on the external software Proctorio were also affected due to server overload issues. According to the University of Amsterdam, there was no connection between these two failures which severely inconvenienced many students, lecturers and the university as a whole.


One of the most affected groups of students were first-year business administration students. Both of their exams were canceled and postponed due to the crashed systems. The first exam was canceled halfway during the exam, and the second exam was canceled thirty minutes before the planned starting time. Luiz Franca, an 18-year-old first-year business administration student at the UvA, described the situation –


“[…] I pressed the button to start the exam, and a little loading symbol appears on the top of the screen, and it kept going,” said Franca, “[…] everyone else was facing the same thing, which is when I realized that the test program has stopped. So for the next hour, I was just sitting in front of my computer, just waiting to see if it will come back up. And eventually, we received an email saying the test got canceled.”

As a result of the cancellation, the first exam was postponed for two weeks, and the second exam was postponed for two and a half weeks. Some students were able to log back into the first exam after the crash and got a grade from it. Maria Ampouchamar, a 19-year-old first-year business administration student, believes the situation is unfair –


“[…] there was an announcement that people who got it (completed the first exam) will not need to retake it. Plus they will be graded. Plus we will have a reschedule to an unknown date. Plus we will have a completely new exam with new questions,” explained Ampouchamar, “I don’t feel like it’s a fair situation because people that got it can retake it. So they will have two chances when I’ll have only one chance.”


While some students completed the first exam successfully, nobody was able to start the second exam. The postponement also means that the students will need to study for the follow-up block, while preparing for the delayed exams.


“It’s a little bit frustrating,” said Franca, “It accidentally increased my workload and the workload for everyone else who didn’t manage to do the test.”


According to a spokesperson from the UvA, the university made agreements with Proctorio to make sure these issues will not occur again. The university also promised that it took several steps to ensure the smooth functioning of all systems, raising the question of why the steps were not taken proactively. “Cancelling and rescheduling exams is a last resort” mentioned the UvA spokesperson in the official apology letter to the students. 


Aside from the cancellation of business administration exams, other technical issues persisted for students of other majors. Students from communication science and psychology majors also reported instances of glitches and malfunctions on Canvas and Proctorio during their exams. It was unexpected and difficult for students, teachers, assistants and professors. 


Julia Reidbord, a 24-year-old third-year communication science student, experienced a glitch in Canvas while working as the teacher’s assistant. It occurred a few hours before she was going to upload the PDFs for the exam on the system. Reidbord explained that she was trying to contact students while discussing the issue with her professor to find the best resolution. She couldn’t contact all students because they [she and her colleagues] don’t have access to all the student emails that are stored on Canvas. Although the issues were resolved in the end, it took a lot of work to get there – 


“For me, it was very overwhelming,” said Redibord, “I was trying my best to accommodate the students so that nobody felt stressed or upset or angry or sad. I want to make sure every student’s opinion was heard and it was a lot of pressure, it was a lot of work, a lot of stress […].”


Despite the stress inflicted by these issues, some students were very understanding of the situation, considering the novelty of the situation. An 18-year-old psychology student, Elif Yüksel, who was kicked out of her exam halfway, expressed her thoughts – 


“The point of proctoring is so that people don’t cheat in the exam, which I get, but […] if it’s just gonna kick us out, people could cheat during the time they’re kicked out anyways,” Yüksel added, “So if they (the university) are gonna use proctoring, then it should completely work or they should just not use it.”


Furthermore, not all students were able to receive a resit to make up for the systematic errors during the exam. According to a second-year psychology student, some people were logged out of the exam and couldn’t log back in. 20-year-old student Anna Toth believes this is unfair to them. While some of them only completed ten out of thirty questions, there were no resit exams for them and they just got graded on the questions they could answer before being logged out. As students in the Netherlands approach their second digital semester, their apprehensions about the examination systems are no longer just privacy issues. The Amsterdammer will report on any updates as they are received.

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