It’s getting close to exam time and I’ve been thinking about how we do things. The mark a student receives for a module has a long history as told in the story below. Please read on if you have patience…………….
- About 4 weeks into a 12-week module (which you may not have taught before), exams plus solutions (including repeats to be held 10 months later) are prepared and sent in hardcopy to an administrator in the Faculty Office.
- Administrator sends hard copies of all exam papers and solutions by post to extern(s).
- Extern(s) reply to administrator with comments of various degrees of rigour, ranging from nothing at all to spotting trivial typos to pointing out technical errors.
- Administrator communicates comments to examiners.
- Examiners correct papers if required and send hard copies back to Faculty administrator.
- Administrator sends papers to Registry.
- Registry organises printing of papers.
- Examiners check copies of exams in the registry. (In DCU, this takes place in a tiny office run by an extremely friendly and competent woman who has to keep track of literally hundreds of papers, room locations, times and dates.)
- On exam day, examiners visit terrible exam hall(s) to make sure all is well and to answer any student queries. Examiner leaves after 15 minutes but invigilators may ring examiner if problems arise later.
- Scripts sent to Registry.
- Scripts collected by examiner.
- Scripts marked by examiner(s).
- Marks double checked and submitted via online system.
- A few days later, examiners check once more the accuracy of the online marks ensuring that all marks have been recorded and computed correctly – especially important if the module has a CA component as well.
- Preliminary exam meeting held (has an acronym, PBERC). Marks ‘moved’ for a variety of reasons ranging from the well justified to the, let’s just say, overly-compassionate.
- Formal exam meeting held (another acronym, PAB) attended in part by externs and marks finalised.
- Publication of exam results online.
- Examiners available for a set period for consultation with students.
- Scripts archived by departmental secretary.
Is there a better way? Well, one of my modules which went through this elaborate process was examined last year by continuous assessment. (Work loads made us go back to an end of year exam.) I share the module with a colleague and we examined the students using a number of in-class tests. No Externs, Faculty staff or Registry staff were involved and we just submitted the marks via the online system in the normal way. No problems arose and that was that!
My view? Delegate a lot more responsibility for exams to Schools/Departments and have meaningful quality systems in place. That should cut out some of the administration. Furthermore, if screw-ups occur, it’ll be obvious who’s at fault and no excuses based on ‘systems errors’ will wash.