The Joy of Exams

We’ve got a pretty good exams process here, though things sometimes fall through the cracks. What should happen is that (as someone running a module) you write your exam about four weeks into the semester. The exam goes to an internal moderator who looks it over, checks it for errors, and checks that it correctly assesses whether the students have met the learning outcomes for the module. The exam also goes to the leader for the degree programme (for computer science, that’s me) who checks all of the exam papers for overlaps.

The internal moderator sends their comments back to the module leader, who amends the exam paper as needed. If the paper is for a final year module (3rd or 4th year here), the paper is then sent to the external examiner. The external examiner sends their comments back, which should reach the module leader about nine weeks into the semester. The module leader makes any further changes (coordinating with the internal moderator as necessary), then sends the final exam paper to the school exams secretary for the relevant degree programme, who collates the papers and sends them all onto the central exams office. The exams office copy the papers and distribute them to examination rooms at the right time.

As I say, this is how it is supposed to work. It’s a bit of a faff, since the papers are all carried from place to place by hand (no emailing of papers here), and the secretaries are in a different building to the one I’m in.

I based the exam for my module this semester on last year’s exam; the topics being covered are roughly the same, and the style of the questions is similar. Last year’s exam was checked off without problems by both the internal moderator and the external examiner, and the internal was happy with the evolved paper this year. However, due to illness (mine, the exam secretary’s, and my group secretary’s) and the hand delivery requirement, I didn’t receive the external’s comments until yesterday – a full fortnight later than the schedule requires.

Unfortunately, the external examiner (the same person as last year) has now decided that the paper contains ‘too much bookwork for my taste’. I disagree to a point – one question from five is a bit heavy on bookwork, but the remainder require the students to show knowledge and understanding by applying various algorithms to data that they have to construct.

Regardless to say, I’ve now rewritten four out of the five questions rather than clearing my desk before I went on holiday, because the revised paper has to be with the secretary on the first day back next year. I’m not best impressed.


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