Repeat Message..

Back in Ireland and straight away it’s the repeat examination period at Maynooth University, which started yesterday. My first one was yesterday, actually, for just one student, and I’ve been virtuous and marked the script already.

I’ll be marking quite a few more repeat exams over the next week or so, so here’s a message for any student anywhere taking any at this time:

I thought it was worth mentioning for any university teachers out there reading this that although they are held at roughly the same time of year in the two countries there’s a difference in the way resits are handled in the institutions I’ve worked at in the United Kingdom and the way repeats work here in Maynooth which is implied by the slightly different name.

In UK institutions with which I am familiar students generally take resits when, because they have failed one or more examinations the previous May they have not accumulated sufficient credits to proceed to the next year of their course. Passing the resit allows them to retrieve lost credit, but their mark is generally capped at a bare pass. That means the student gets the credit they need for their degree but their average (which determines whether they get 1st, 2nd or 3rd class Honours) is negatively affected.

This is the case unless a student has extenuating circumstances affecting the earlier examination, such as bad health or family emergency, in which case they take the resit as a `sit’, i.e. for the first time with an uncapped mark.

Here in Maynooth, repeat examinations are generally taken for the same reason as in the UK but the mark obtained is not capped. Indeed, some students – though not many – elect to take the repeat examination even if they passed earlier in the summer, in order to increase their average mark. Another difference is that all students have to pay a fee  for each repeat they take; resits in the UK do not attract additional fees.

When I told former colleagues at Cardiff in the pub last week that repeat examinations are not capped they didn’t like the idea because they felt that it would lead to many students playing games, i.e. deliberately not taking exams in May with the intention of spreading some of their examination  load into August. There’s not much sign of students actually doing that here, to be honest, for the reason that the results from the repeat examination period are not confirmed until early September so that students that deploy this strategy do not know whether they are going to be able to start their course until a couple of weeks before term. That could cause lots of problems securing accommodation, etc, so it doesn’t seem to me to be a good ploy.

Anyway, I’d welcome comments for or against whether resits/repeats should be capped/uncapped and on what practice is adopted in your institution.

6 Responses to “Repeat Message..”

  1. Interesting to hear about this practice Peter. At my own institution, resits are capped at the pass mark in most cases, unless some exceptional circumstances apply. I can imagine colleagues at my university would have the same fears about “elective resits” as those you spoke to at Cardiff.

    If exceptional circumstances do apply, then the cap is lifted and the resit is treated as a first sit. Effectively this means wiping the slate clean, so that August “resit” is uncapped. Should the student fail this, they are entitled to a subsequent, capped resit opportunity (usually in the main exam period in May/June of the following year).

    I should note that unless exceptional circumstances apply, my university does charge a fee for resit exams. Contrary to what you said in your article, I think this is not uncommon in the UK.

    • telescoper Says:

      Interestingly. Resits at Sussex were deemed to be part of the normal cycle of examinations and therefore included in the tuition fee. I’m not actually sure about Cardiff.

      In both Cardiff and Sussex a student who took an exam in the resit period as if for the first time because of extenuating circumstances would not have a capped mark.

      • If they failed that first sit in the resit period, would they get a subsequent resit opportunity?

      • telescoper Says:

        Yes, they would normally take the normal exam (in either January or May) as the resit.

  2. […] barbecue at Llandaff. It seems quite a few will be spending the next week or so marking repeat resit examinations, so let me take this opportunity to wish them all the very […]

  3. telescoper Says:

    I received a comment by email from someone who wishes to remain anonymous but who suggested I might like to post it on their behalf. So here it is:

    I feel strongly that
    – Exam marks should never be capped
    – There should not be any cost to the student specifically for taking
    an exam (In other words all exam opportunities should be included in the course fee, if there is one)

    I have a number of arguments for these views.

    First of all, I think students should be encouraged to attain the
    highest level of ability in their chosen subject which they can
    manage, even if that means that sometimes they may have to take an exam later than usual or for a second time. Fees and caps are a
    disincentive to this.

    Secondly, fees discriminate against student with fewer financial resources.

    Thirdly, it does not make much sense to me to make any sharp
    distinction between good and bad reasons to do badly at the first
    opportunity (or to miss that opportunity). Even very similar reasons
    may lead to different outcomes. For example, two students may both have a difficult situation to deal with at home. If one of them gets a doctor’s note for the emotional distress and the other does not, then a cap and fee would apply only to one of them.

    Finally, I dislike the adversarial and pessimistic image of the
    student that is linked with caps and fees. I think it is more
    productive to start from the idea that students want to learn more
    than play the system and also that they can improve and that
    improvement should be rewarded with exam results that reflect their
    eventual ability rather than the fact that they failed at the first
    try.

    Regarding some of the more practical issues:
    As you already noted there is not a great problem in Maynooth with
    students repeating over and over again to improve their marks, even though theoretically they could. I think this is due to the fact that they have to give up a large chunk of their Summer holidays to use the repeat and also, there is a risk that they will not actually improve, in which case they are stuck with a lower mark than before. I think in general it would be good policy to make the last obtained mark count, even if it is a failing mark when a pass mark was obtained before. Currently we have a system where students get their last mark, unless it was a failing mark and they passed earlier, in which case they retain their pass.

    Under our current system, postponing an exam is not a good tactic,
    because even if you already plan to take the resit, you can take the
    first exam as a free practice run and you may even secure a pass that way and potentially save money.

    Regarding the cost: clearly repeat exams cost money to run, but once the exams are set, and the rooms and invigilation etc. arranged, the marginal cost of having a few more students repeat is low, so even if removing caps and fees leads to a few more students taking repeats it is hard to see how it would be a serious financial issue

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