1. Introduction

1.1. The purpose of this document

The University has traditionally provided a framework for examinations and assessment through a three-fold pattern: general and specific regulations set out in the Examination Regulations; policy requirements set out by Education Committee; and specific Proctorial guidance provided for examiners and chairs of examiners. This document brings together all three elements, providing links to the relevant regulations and other policy documents as appropriate.

1.2. The University’s approach to assessment

The University’s educational philosophy is that students acquire a range of critical skills in testing and judging evidence or propositions as well as a sufficient accomplishment in a particular discipline. Courses foster independent work and thought, and students learn how to think rather than being taught what to think. Accordingly examinations seek to assess what candidates have learnt and how they use it rather than merely what they have been taught. The diversified approach to teaching and learning also means that candidates in the same examination may not have been taught exactly the same knowledge of the subject. In these circumstances there is a principle that examination is to some extent independent of teaching. This principle is reflected in the arrangements for the appointment of the examination board which takes its instructions from, but is independent of, the supervisory body for the course. The principle is also reflected in other regulations and policies that seek to ensure, as far as possible, an independence of judgement by the examination board, not unduly influenced by close knowledge of students’ performance in class.

The University’s undergraduate (UG) degree courses involve a first public examination (FPE, primarily Preliminary Examinations, but in a small number of subjects Moderations or Honour Moderations) usually at the end of the first year, and a second public examination (Final Honour School (FHS)) which concludes the course. The second public examination may have more than one part, spread over years two, three, and (where applicable) four. It is designed to assess the success with which students have mastered the overall body of knowledge, and gained the skills and understanding required by their programme. Questions may be both specific and integrative.

The University’s general policy on the question of second-year UG examinations was established in 2000, when it was agreed that subjects might make a case for the introduction of second-year examinations on an individual basis, on the understanding that changes in some subject areas would not lead to wholesale change where this was not felt to be academically desirable. Education Committee recognises that in many subject areas there is a clear rationale for a pattern of examination that leaves the second year free of formal public examination (for a statement of such thinking, see Annex D: Rationale for Final Honour Schools without a second year examination).

Postgraduate taught (PGT) courses make use of a range of examination and assessment methods according to the elements within the subject to be assessed. The assessment or examination norm for a course which is completed within a year is the equivalent of two three-hour examination papers and a dissertation or thesis of 10,000 – 20,000 words.  

The University attaches great importance to both the rigour and the fairness of its public examinations. To this end examinations are designed to include a sufficient range of papers or other components to allow for a fair outcome not weighted by the opinion of too few examiners or assessors. Good practice includes the anonymity of examination scripts and submitted work, use of comment sheets by all involved in marking substantive pieces of assessment, marking to reflect criteria agreed in advance of the examination by divisional or faculty boards and made known to candidates, and careful attention to examiners’ and assessors’ marking profiles. Examination scripts for final examinations (not FPE) are double-marked, except in cases where Education Committee has agreed to an exemption.

The University does not support the principle of modularisation of courses (modularisation here being defined as a system in which degree courses are assembled by the selection of building blocks of modules with quantitative credit ratings, levels and common examination conventions within an institution-wide framework). It considers that widespread modularisation of courses would necessitate a uniformity of examining structures and practices which is neither essential nor appropriate within the University. The University awards framework (available at www.admin.ox.ac.uk/edc/policiesandguidance/awardsframework) explains how the University’s qualifications relate to the national standards agreed for higher education qualifications, and the University’s approach to credit.  

Within the University’s Examination Regulations and policy framework, and subject to approval by Education Committee and by the relevant division, Education Committee regards the nature and pattern of assessment to be a matter for the academic judgement of those responsible for designing and delivering courses, who will be best placed to relate the desired pattern and type of assessment to the intended learning outcomes of the course concerned. The Committee endorses the position that a range of assessment and examining practices may operate across the University (see Annex E: Good practice guide to assessment design).

1.3. Role of Education Committee

The role of Education Committee is to exercise overall responsibility for the definition and keeping under review of the educational philosophy, policy, and standards of the collegiate University in respect of teaching, learning, and assessment (including all aspects of the practical arrangements for examination, in consultation with the Proctors). Education Committee’s quality assurance role gives it a particular concern to oversee the robustness of arrangements to monitor, evaluate and demonstrate the fairness and consistency of the assessment methods used throughout the University (Council Regulations 15 of 2002).

Education Committee attaches importance to the observance by all examiners of the obligations placed on examiners by the Examination Regulations and set out in detail in this document. Education Committee is acutely conscious of the extent of the burdens placed on examiners and their administrators, but must reiterate the critical importance of examiners following the regulations, policy and guidance provided for their task.

1.4. Role of supervisory bodies

Under the University’s arrangements, boards of examiners operate under the authority of the body or bodies responsible for the subject or subjects concerned (‘supervisory bodies’).

These bodies set the general parameters within which boards of examiners operate, and approve the examination conventions. Where they exist, faculty boards are the supervisory bodies for examinations, under the divisional board; where there is no faculty board, divisional boards will be the supervisory bodies for particular subjects. Divisional boards have a general responsibility for various aspects of examinations and assessment arising out of their overall responsibility for the maintenance of educational quality and standards within the respective division. They have a specific responsibility for the consideration of the reports of examiners, including external examiners.

The content of examinations is under the oversight of supervisory bodies, subject always to the framework and guidelines laid down for the University as a whole by Education Committee. Content is defined by the special regulations published in the Examination Regulations as well as being circumscribed by the examination conventions adopted by the board of examiners and approved by the appropriate supervisory body. Formal structures for the conduct of examinations are also approved by Education Committee to ensure fairness to all candidates.

Supervisory bodies, in addition to following the regulations, are normally required to observe the policy requirements in framing their own policy and practice (including any special regulations). Where they wish to vary that policy or practice significantly from the policy requirements set out by Education Committee, they are required to present a reasoned case, and to receive approval from or on behalf of Education Committee.

Supervisory bodies should keep the nature and methods of assessment for each course under review. In reviewing the assessment procedures used, supervisory bodies should pay attention to:

  • the extent to which the assessment methods used

    • remain a valid, fair and reliable means of assessing student achievement;

    • provide appropriate evidence of the academic standards of the course being met by the majority of candidates;

    • are appropriate to the teaching methods employed and the intended learning outcomes of the course;

  • any evidence that the amount of assessment or its timing is having a detrimental impact on the work of candidates;

  • the evidence of the teaching quality and methods as revealed through the examination process and the reports of examiners.

1.5. Role of the Proctors

The Proctors are required to ensure that examinations are properly conducted and in accordance with the statutes and regulations governing them; and they may make such regulations concerning the conduct of examinations as they consider necessary (Statute IX, www.admin.ox.ac.uk/statutes/785-121.shtml). The Proctors are concerned with ensuring that regulations are applied justly and equally in all cases. In the course of these responsibilities, they may consider aspects of policy and draw points of concern or areas for clarification to Education Committee’s attention. They may also bring concerns about the conduct of examinations directly to the attention of supervisory bodies.

Additional administrative and disciplinary regulations have been promulgated by the Proctors (Proctors’ Administrative Regulations for Candidates in Examinations (Proctors’ Regulations 1 of 2005) and Disciplinary Regulations for Candidates in Examinations (Proctors’ Regulations 1 of 2003)) under their responsibility for overseeing the conduct of examinations.

The Examination Regulations reserve to the Proctors certain powers such as allowing a candidate who presents written work late to remain in the examination. Day-to-day oversight of examining is exercised by the Proctors independently of Education Committee and of all supervisory bodies. Fairness is thereby enhanced because candidates in all examinations are treated by the Proctors on the same terms. For the same reason colleges must make any special application concerning a candidate through the Proctors (or through the Examinations and Assessments team working under delegated authority, or in the case of major adjustments to the format or timing of an examination to Council's Education Committee) and not directly to the examiners. This ensures equality of access irrespective of any acquaintance between examiners and those acting on behalf of the college. The Proctors serve also to protect the examiners from solicitations on behalf of candidates from colleges or from individual tutors; examiners should immediately and firmly redirect such approaches to the Proctors.

Any queries or complaints during or after the examining process must also be made through the Proctors. In the first instance the Proctors' Office will act as intermediary, normally transmitting a complaint to the chair of examiners for a response. At a second stage the Proctors, using powers granted under Statute IX, may investigate matters that are the subject of complaint, and achieve a resolution (see section 14 below).

1.6. Feedback to students on their performance

While it is supervisory bodies which are responsible for the methods of assessment used to decide the final outcome and level of the student’s performance on a course (summative assessment), the responsibility for the routine and regular informal assessment provided in tutorials and supervisions is shared by academic staff teaching in colleges, faculties and departments. Within the collegiate University, this form of assessment (formative assessment) is an important element in providing personal and immediate feedback on a student’s work, so as to indicate to students how they are progressing with academic work and in which direction their work should develop.

It is recognised that types of feedback may legitimately vary from individual to individual, college to college, or subject to subject (within the bounds of guidance laid down by colleges or subjects). Students recognise that this is the case while putting a high premium on clear and regular feedback which both informs the work which they are undertaking and gives some indication of the standards which they are achieving. Where more formal methods of formative assessment are involved, e.g. trial papers for college ‘collections’, then particular weight is placed on clear and speedy feedback.

Further information can be found in section 13 (Feedback and resits).

1.7. Essential information

This section lists the parts of the Policy and Guidance for Examiners and others involved in University Examinations that are essential reading for different parts of the collegiate university.

1.7.1. Essential information for supervisory bodies

Supervisory bodies should pay particular attention to Sections 1, 2 and 3 which deal with the University framework for assessment, the duties of supervisory bodies and the appointment of examiners including external examiners, Section 5 which deals with information provided to candidates, Section 6 which deals with preparing examination papers, and Section 11 which deals with marking and adjudication.

1.7.2. Essential information for chairs of examiners

Chairs of examiners will find much of this document of importance at varying points in the examining cycle. Particular attention should be paid to:

Section 4 (Meetings of examiners)

Section 5 (Information for and communication with candidates)

Section 6 (Preparing the examination, including requirements for question papers)

Section 8 (Special arrangements for individual candidates)

Section 9 (Submission of written work)

Sections 10.1 and 10.11 (Examiners’ responsibilities on the day of the examination)

Section 11 (Scripts, marking and adjudication)

Section 12 (Results)

Section 13 (Feedback and resits)

Section 14 (Queries and complaints from candidates)

Annex C: Consideration of medical and other special circumstances in examination and assessment is also likely to be of particular importance.

1.7.3. Essential information for examiners and assessors

Information of particular relevance to examiners and assessors is contained within the following sections:

Section 4 (Meetings of examiners)

Section 5 (Information for and communication with candidates)

Section 6 (Preparing the examination, including requirements for question papers)

Section 9 (Submission of written work)

Section 10.1 (Examiners’ responsibilities on the day of the examination)

Section 11 (Scripts, marking and adjudication)

Section 12 (Results)

Section 13 (Feedback and resits)

1.7.4. Essential information for examination administrators

Examinations administrators will find much of this document of importance at varying points in the examining cycle but the critical sections will depend on the level and type of support that they provide to boards of examiners. Particular attention should be paid to:

Section 4 (Meetings of examiners)

Section 5 (Information for and communication with candidates)

Section 6 (Preparing the examination, including requirements for question papers)

Section 7 (Examination entry, timetables and withdrawals)

Section 8 (Special arrangements for individual candidates)

Section 9 (Submission of written work)

Section 10 (Arrangements on the day of timed examinations)

Section 11 (Scripts, marking and adjudication)

Section 12 (Results)

Section 13 (Feedback and resits)

Section 14 (Queries and complaints from candidates)

1.7.5. Essential information for colleges

Information of particular relevance to colleges is contained within the following sections:

Section 5 (Information for and communication with candidates)

Section 7 (Examination entry, timetables and withdrawals)

Section 8 (Special arrangements for individual candidates)

Section 9.4 (Late submission of written work)

Section 10.5 (Unauthorised absence from a timed examination)

Section 12 (Results)

Section 13 (Feedback and resits)

Section 14 (Queries and complaints from candidates)

Annex A: Major adjustments to examinations and assessment is also likely to be of relevance.

1.8. Overview of changes to policy and guidance for 2017

The main changes to the regulations, policy and guidance for 2017 are as follows:

1.8.1. New policies and guidance

  1. Major changes have been made to the nomination and appointment of examiners, chairs of examiners, external examiners, and assessors. These changes include provisions for the appointment of certain examiners and assessors by supervisory bodies/nominating committees. The approval of chairs of examiners and external examiners for their first year of office remains the responsibility of the Proctors. Requests for the approval of examiners and assessors who do not meet the established criteria are also the responsibility of the Proctors. All appointments of examiners, including chairs of examiners and external examiners, should be made by 1 October. See sections 2 and 3, and Annex H: Appointment of assessors.

  2. Recommendations have been added on enhancing the role of examiners’ reports in providing feedback and aiding examination preparation. See 4.4.

  3. Candidates now receive electronic (rather than paper) timetables. See 7.6 and 7.7.

  4. Candidates are now permitted to suspend the examination process, within certain limits, if they suspend their studies after undertaking some summative assessment. See section 7.8.

  5. The penalties for unauthorised absence and non-submission of assessment have been revised for FPE and PGT candidates. See sections 9.4 and 10.5

  6. The protocols for the use of VoIP in examiner meetings (where permitted) have been added as Annex K: Protocols for VoIP use in examiners’ meetings.

  7. The WebLearn online submission tool has been enhanced to allow for anonymous submission. Departments wishing to transfer to online submission who do not currently have online submission must use this facility. Departments who already use WebLearn for submissions may use this facility. See Annex M: Framework for the use of WebLearn to manage submission of assessment.

1.8.2. Clarification of existing policies and guidance

  1. External examiners should not be routinely asked to act as arbiters or third markers in the reconciliation of marks in cases of divergence between the first and second markers as their primary role is to provide oversight of the examination process. See 3.2 and 11.5.

  2. The attendance requirements of examiners and external examiners at exam boards where marks and/or overall outcomes are confirmed has been clarified. See Section 4.2.

  3. Section 4.5 has been revised to make clear that claims for expenses, e.g. cost of taxis for transporting scripts, should be made on a different form than that for payment of examiners’ fees.

  4. Exam boards may appoint assessors to help in ensuring that exam papers are accurate and do not contain errors. See section 6.5.

  5. Where no list of permitted calculators has been provided to the Head of Examinations and Assessment it will be the department’s responsibility to check that any calculator brought into the examination by the candidate is authorised for that examination. See section 8.1.

  6. Additional guidance has been included on the treatment of factors affecting performance applications where there has been a significant impact but the board of examiners does not consider it appropriate for the candidate to be excused from, or be deemed to have passed, the assessment. See Annex C: Consideration of medical and other special circumstances in examination and assessment.

  7. Annexes H and K from the 2016 edition have been combined to provide a single annex on the processes and requirements for appointing assessors. See Annex H: Appointment of assessors.

  8. Annexes G and L from the 2016 edition on the role of departments and faculties in preventing and dealing with plagiarism and the use of Turnitin have been combined. More detailed information has been provided on the documentation that the Proctors expect when cases are referred to an Academic Conduct Panel. See Annex G:  The role of faculties and departments in preventing and dealing with plagiarism.

  9. Practical information on preparing camera ready copy of examination papers has been moved to Annex L: Production of Camera Ready Copy of Examination Paper.

1.9. Areas requiring particular attention

The following areas require particular attention from boards of examiners and supervisory bodies.

1. Errors in papers are not acceptable.  The entire board of examiners is responsible for the accuracy of papers and sufficient time should be allocated for the production of camera-ready copies of papers and for checking papers before and after they have been printed. Chairs are reminded that it is permissible to appoint assessors to aid in setting and checking papers. Departments will be required to provide a statement to the Proctors (and on occasion to the PVC (Education)) on how they intend to reduce the numbers of errors in cases where there are serious or large numbers of errors on papers. See 6.4 - 6.6.

2. Prompt setting of board of examiners’ meeting dates. Meetings of boards of examiners, particularly final meetings and meetings considering resit results, should be set at an early date and all examiners notified so that all examiners are able to attend. Student Registry should be informed of the dates of any meetings where results are to be confirmed in a timely manner to facilitate release of results and correspondence with examiners about individual candidates. See Section 4.

3. Examiners and assessors must not work in this capacity until their appointment has been approved and confirmed.  Retrospective nomination is not allowed, and the use of unconfirmed examiners and assessors runs the risk of voiding the examination.  All confirmed appointments will be listed on the Examiner Appointments and Payments WebLearn site.  See Section 2.

4. Accurate information on all assessment elements must be provided at the start of the academic year to the Academic Records Office. This is particularly important where papers or content are shared with another school. Errors and changes cause distress to candidates and significant extra work for examiners. See 6.4 and 7.1.