Notebooks spread on a table, text over: Winter Exams 2020/21 Survey Results

Winter Exams 2020/21 survey results

Deputy President (Education)
Friday 26 February 2021 16:05

Following the December and January exams some of you took, we ran a survey asking you how you found them, whether the process was smooth, and if there were any problems.  We received 190 full responses spanning all departments across the College. 

Some of the most problematic areas identified from the data were:

  • Students found remote exams stressful – significantly more stressful than on campus exams
  • Many students felt they did not know what to expect going into the exams
  • Many students were not satisfied with the integrity of their exams
  • Overall satisfaction with exams was quite low
  • Provision of mock papers for open book format: not all students provided with a practice paper; where they have been, the questions were often not representative of the open book format asked in the exam

However, there were some positives, too:

  • Timetables: very good overall satisfaction with exam timetables, as well as with each of the component (accessibility, timeliness, timetable working for people)
  • Access to technology: the majority of students reported good access to technology
  • Working environment: the majority of students reported having a good working environment to take their exams in

Other themes were apparent from the free text comments:

  • Timetables: Some students complained about exams being too close together. Some students’ timetables released too late, esp. given a module selection deadline.
  • Exam preparation: While most departments provided mock / practice papers in the lead up to the exam, students found those to be in a significantly different style than the exam
  • Communication problems during exams: Some departments send out unrelated emails during exams, which was distracting. There were some problems contacting department for questions / hearing back from department or when announcements were made

Based on this information, we came up with 8 recommendations for the College and the departments to adopt in preparation for summer exams:

  1. Exam timetables should be released at least 10 weeks before the exam period, in line with College policy. Faculty oversight should ensure this is happening.
  2. Mock papers should be released for each exam students are taking, alongside model solutions, at least 5 weeks before the exam. Students in each department should be clearly told who to contact (e.g. the DUGS) if a mock paper is not available for some of their modules. Where the exam style has changed for open book TRAs, the mock should be written in the same style, length, and difficulty (i.e. not just reused past papers).
  3. Departments should reconsider the difficulty of their open book exams. Access to notes in most cases does not make an exam significantly easier, and there has been plenty of feedback from students reporting that departments went too far with the difficulty this year. Even if the marks are scaled up later, an extremely difficult exam can have a negative effect on student wellbeing, confidence, and their performance in other exams, and should therefore be avoided.
  4. Each exam should be tested by an independent academic or a GTA, without the solutions, to ensure it is possible to solve it as a TRA, fix any mistakes, and test appropriate difficulty.
  5. Departments should allow sufficient time for exam submission where scanning and uploading of exam scripts is needed; at least 30 minutes for 2h exams.
  6. Departments should ensure their chosen platform works properly, and this should be tested prior to the exam (preferably by students themselves), especially where their own platform is used.
  7. All departmental staff should refrain from sending out emails unrelated to the exam to students while an exam is happening.
  8. Departments should investigate, in discussion with their students, the possibility to establish separate communication channels for in-exam announcements so that students don’t need to check their emails during exams.

See the full survey report here