History exam resit following series of academic complaints

 Third-year History students were forced to sit an exam paper which they expected to take next month last week, Photo: Sam Newsome

Third-year History students were forced to sit an exam paper which they expected to take next month last week, Photo: Sam Newsome

The History department has been forced to offer re-sits to third-year students who were given the wrong examination paper last week.

17 students taking Professor Stuart Carroll’s ‘French Wars of Religion, 1559-1594’ module were told ten minutes before their closed exam on 18 May that, due to an administrative mix-up, they would be sitting a Sources paper rather than the anticipated Themes and Issues paper. The Sources paper was scheduled for 2 June, leaving many students unprepared.

It was agreed that the re-sits will be staged at the end of this week during a meeting between Geoff Cubitt, the examinations officer, and affected students on Thursday morning. The department will use the higher of the two marks in degree assessments and students have been given the right of appeal should they feel their mark is an anomaly.

A short, typed message from Professor Carroll, circulated at the start of the exam, informed students: ‘There’s been a mix-up, please sit the paper as set.” Prof. Carroll went on to invite concerned students to visit his office after the exam to discuss the matter.

The University contacted all students involved by email at the conclusion of the exam and immediately placed them on the ‘special mitigating circumstances’ list, although concerns were expressed that this only affects those with borderline marks.

A Facebook group, called ‘Wrong exam paper? I’d like the right one or re-sit please!’ was set up in the aftermath of the exam and has attracted in excess of 700 members from a number of departments, as well as the YUSU Sabbatical Officers.

One student, involved in creating the Facebook group, said: “Obviously none of us are very happy about the situation, but we do accept the fact that this mistake has happened, and that it was down to simple human error on the part of the scrutinizing board (who I believe ratify the exam papers), who missed the error.”

Another student affected added: “It’s not so much the administrative error that annoys me as much as the way the University responded to it once they found out. Rather than acting pragmatically and reasonably, the department decided to make us sit the paper anyway. I don’t see how that can benefit anybody.”

It is believed a simple typing error was responsible for the mix-up, with the exam script labelled Paper I rather than Paper II. Professor Bill Shiels, Head of the History Department, said: “What went wrong here is that our processes did not spot that the preliminary headlines of the paper in question, which identifies it gives the rubric etc., got transposed between paper 1 and paper 2.

“We have robust checking procedures here involving setter, scrutineer, external examiner, and final sign off, but unfortunately even this did not prevent the mistake on this occasion.

“I can say that the department would like to record its gratitude for the constructive and understanding response of those students directly affected by the mistake,” Shiels added.

Charlie Leyland, Academic Officer, said: “Clearly this issue has caused much distress for the students involved, but I’ve been really impressed at the honest and swift response of the department.

“Students always have the right to appeal if they are still not happy at any point with the current arrangements, but there seems to be a fair and mutual agreement on a way forward now. This is a shining example of how students, course reps, YUSU and departments can work together to safeguard standards and the student experience even in difficult circumstances such as these.

“However, this cannot happen again. I had already scheduled a paper for the next meeting of the Standing Committee on Assessment to recommend that either the examiner themselves, or a designated other be present at exams so that any decisions which need to be taken can be, whether mistakes on exams, the wrong paper, or whatever, this is currently not a stipulation but clearly needs to be.” Leyland added: “Hopefully, in light of this additional situation, the proposal will pass and be ratified at the relevant committees.”

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