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Pepper Grinder - Online or Sit-Down Law Exams for 2023?

Updated: Jul 17, 2023

By Callum Florance

Pepper Grinder is a Peppercorn series providing news and reporting relevant to ANU law students via Peppercorn’s Facebook Page and biannual magazine. If you have any interesting stories that you want to share with the ANU Law Community, get in touch!

The COVID-19 pandemic has proved to educators and workplaces alike that more and more of our working existence will happen online. Considering that we live in an online and technologically advanced world, is the ANU College of Law (CoL) really going to shift exams away from the online, take-home model? Is the stomach-churning, anxiety-inducing, anachronistic pen and paper exam model making a comeback for 2023? Here at Peppercorn, we have brought out the Pepper Grinder to update you on whether JD and LLB students will have online exams for 2023.

TLDR: In September 2022, the ANU CoL were waiting to confirm its examination delivery modes from the university executives for 2023 and will notify students once it has made a decision. As of February 2023, this position has not changed.

In-person teaching and learning is back

On 20 July 2022, the ANU College of Law (CoL) emailed law students that it was shifting away from a preference for hybrid (pre-recorded and live online as well as in-person) teaching and learning for 2023. The hybrid format initially came about as a response to the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic, with convenors effectively using the in-built flexibility of a hybrid model to transition between online and in-person teaching and learning modes whenever circumstances required.

This has now changed. The CoL’s preference is now clearly set on in-person teaching and learning for 2023. For LLB students, this shift already became apparent in Semester 2, 2022. Live online teaching and learning modes were no longer available for LLB students, with some pre-recorded online options still included. In the July 2022 email, LLB students who expected to study online for their degree were told that ‘it would be best to explore online delivery options at other institutions’.

For JD students, this shift from ‘all remote learning options for compulsory courses will conclude... at the end of 2022’. Electives may still have an online option, but some electives may ‘be delivered on campus only’. The email summarised: ‘[a]s per university policy, all lectures and some content in elective courses will continue to be recorded; however, the program will no longer have live online options available for any course’. Juris Doctor Online (JDO) students were provided with the same advice as LLB students, noting that ‘it would be best’ for students wanting to study online ‘to explore online delivery options at other institutions’.

How are exams impacted by a shift to in-person teaching and learning?

We have heard anecdotal arguments about student experience being impacted by studying online, with the on-campus experience being heralded as the epitome of a so-called ‘proper’ university experience (i.e., a Group of Eight university experience). That probably makes sense for high school students who finished school online and are wanting more from their education, including making friends and experiences on-campus. In this case, in-person teaching and learning may be the preferred approach for undergraduate students (at least for those whose parents can afford to put them up at a residential college, which shows a clear preference/incentive for a certain student demographic).

But what about in-person exams? Those same wistful anecdotes fail to include the sheer misery tearful students remembering to bring everything into the exam hall except a pencil, taking sips from clear and label-less drink bottles as their mind empties. I am not sure this belongs in the epitome of a so-called ‘proper’ university experience, mainly just the pity of it.

Take-home exams give students the opportunity to find and establish a calming space to conduct their exam in, the room that works for them in their shared house, their family’s house, or elsewhere. For those who need additional support or a private room, the university should always cater to their needs and provide that support and space.

If the point is to cosplay working as a lawyer, then engaging in legal analysis under pressure on your computer is at least somewhat closer than sitting in a stuffy exam hall with a pencil and paper writing at 50 (big and incomprehensible) words per page. Also, the phrase ‘open book exam’ does not quite fit the bill if you can hardly keep more than one book open on the examination desk.


Overall, the return to in-person teaching and learning should not also mean a return to in-person exams. For decision-makers, please preference reality over any anachronistic reminiscing on (pre-COVID) ideals of the so-called ‘proper’ university experience. Is the big takeaway from COVID-19 that students are crying out for an on-campus experience that includes in-person exams? Does preferencing on-campus over online teaching and learning also show a bias towards a certain demographic of students in the upper SES band who can afford to relocate interstate? In this case, maybe the pen is less mightier and equitable than the keyboard.

Response from the ANU College of Law on in-person exams for 2023

In writing this article, the ANU CoL was contacted for a position. I will include the questions and responses below:

September 2022: I understand ANU law students will be expected to move comprehensively from online to in-person from 2023. Is the ANU College of Law intending to move all final examinations from online (take-home) to in-person (sit-down) from this same period? Or is the mandatory shift from online to in-person limited to modes of learning via lectures, seminars and tutorials, rather than other course aspects like examinations?

  • For Semester Two, 2022 all examinations for the ANU College of Law will remain online. In regards to examination modes for mid semester and final examinations for 2023, this is a decision that will be made by the executive of the university and as soon as we have clarity, our student cohorts will be advised.

  • The LLB and JD programs will be delivered on campus from Semester One, 2023, noting that the LLB largely returned to on campus learning during the second half of 2022. There are a small number of LLB elective courses that will remain online again for 2023 due to Convenor location. As per university policy, all lectures and some content in elective courses will continue to be recorded; however, the program will no longer have live online options available for most courses.

  • Postgraduate online elective course options for JD students will remain available in 2023, however, some elective courses will be delivered on campus only. As per university policy, all lectures and some content in elective courses will continue to be recorded; however, the program will no longer have live online options available for any course. Of note, 2023 is also the final year of the JD Online teachout. LAWS6244 Litigation and Dispute Management will have the final option of online delivery in Semester One, 2023 with LAWS6205 and LAWS6207 having an online option for the final time in Semester Two, 2023.

  • Our postgraduate programs will continue to have online learning options in place for 2023. There will be both on campus and online options available; however, please note that some courses will only be available on campus and some will only be offered online. It is recommended to check our ANU College of Law Course Search to confirm the study mode.

September 2022: What are the policy reasons for why the ANU College of Law is shifting towards mandatory in-person learning (and/or examinations as well)?

  • The ANU College of Law has returned the LLB and JD programs back to largely on campus delivery to ensure alignment with the universities preference for the on-campus experience. Both the Vice Chancellor and the university Senior Executive Group are committed to providing students with an exceptional on campus experience and the ANU College of Law fully supports in person delivery for both the LLB and JD programs.

Update from ANU College of Law in February 2023:

  • [This is] all still current information as no decision on examinations has been made as yet. As soon as we have clarity, examination delivery mode[s] will be communicated to our students.

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