Boards and Consultations

Back from Helsinki, I’m now in the midst of Examination Board business. That’s two Boards for me, one for the Department of Theoretical Physics and the other for the Department of Engineering (as I’ve been teaching Engineering Mathematics).  We’ve already Preliminary meetings for both and this afternoon had the `Final’ Board for Engineering in the presence of the external examiners. The Final ‘Board’ for Theoretical Physics with the external is on Thursday. But that’s not the end of it – there is an overall University Examination Board that covers all courses in the University to formally bring an end to the examination process.

That’s quite a lot of Boards.

It is not until after all the Boards have done their business that the students get their marks and not long after that we have a Consultation Day, where

Staff will be available in all Departments to discuss results with students. Students are entitled to see their examination scripts if they wish, these will be generally available on this day or at another mutually convenient time.

When I was Head of the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at Sussex University I tried to introduce such a system there, but it was met with some resistance from staff who thought this would not only cause a big increase in workload and but also lead to  difficulties with students demanding their marks be increased. That has never been my experience elsewhere: only a handful take up the opportunity and those that do are told quite clearly that the mark cannot be changed.  Last year I had only one student who asked to go through their script. I was happy to oblige and we had a friendly and (I think) productive meeting.

If I had my way we would actually give all students their marked examination scripts back as a matter of routine. The fact that we don’t is no doubt one reason for relatively poor performance in student satisfaction surveys about assessment and feedback. Obviously examination scripts have to go through a pretty strict quality assurance process involving the whole paraphernalia of examination boards (including external examiners), so the scripts can’t be given back immediately but once that process is complete there doesn’t seem to me any reason why we shouldn’t give their work, together with any feedback written on it,  back to the students in its entirety.

I have heard some people argue that under the provisions of the Data Protection Act students have a legal right to see what’s written on the scripts – as that constitutes part of their student record – but that’s not my point here. My point is purely educational, based on the benefit to the student’s learning experience.

Anyway, I don’t know how widespread the practice is of giving examination scripts back to students so let me conduct a totally unscientific poll. Obviously most of my readers are in physics and astronomy, but I invite anyone in any academic discipline to vote:

And, of course, if you have any further comments to make please feel free to make them through the box below!

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3 Responses to “Boards and Consultations”

  1. Dark Energy Says:

    Students should be returned the scripts but there should be
    a time frame within which they will have to claim any corrections
    for improving the marks. In my limited experience, what seems to
    happen is very simple. Initially there is always a reluctance, but as soon one or two students get their marks increased many others feel
    encouraged to try their luck.

    I first thought the topic is about “Beards and Consultations”.

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    Learning from one’s mistakes is a vital part of education, but academics mark worked examples (or essays, in the humanities) with feedback in mind, and mark exam scripts only with getting a number in mind. If they are to mark exam scripts with feedback in mind then marking would take considerably longer. Since exam questions are not intended to be for educational purposes and comprise only a small fraction of the questions that a student will have attempted during the year, I suggest not.

  3. “That’s quite a lot of Boards.”

    It can be tiring, at which point you might become Chairman of the Bored. 🙂

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