6. Preparing the Examination

6.1. Examination conventions – responsibility of supervisory bodies

In approving examination conventions, supervisory bodies should ensure that consideration is given to:

  • Rubrics for individual papers

  • Marking conventions

  • Progression rules and classification conventions

  • Resits

  • Factors affecting performance

  • Details of examiners and rules on communicating with examiners

Further guidance is available in Annex I: Examination conventions.

6.2. Examination conventions – responsibility of examiners

At their first meeting, the examiners should satisfy themselves, e.g. in the light of comments from the previous year's board, that their examination conventions are comprehensive and unambiguous. If this is not the case, they may suggest amendments and formalise interpretations: any such modifications must be approved by the supervisory body responsible for the course and the examination, subject to the right of a board of examiners to make minor adjustments to the examination conventions during any particular examination, without reference to the supervisory body, if there are exceptional circumstances which so require. The examination conventions must be published to prospective candidates not less than one whole term before the examination takes place or, where assessment takes place in the first term of a course, at the beginning of that term. The examination conventions should be published on departmental/faculty websites, alongside the relevant course handbook(s). See Annex I: Examination conventions for further information on requirements for examination conventions.

If the examiners find it necessary to make major and immediate changes to established examination conventions after approval by the supervisory body, the chair should seek the approval of the faculty board and the Proctors, since the latter will need to be satisfied that such changes will not have an adverse or discriminatory effect on candidates whose preparation for the examination is far advanced.In considering any major changes, examiners should be aware of Education Committee’s policy on vested interests, as detailed in Annex I of Policy and Guidance on new courses and major changes to courses www.admin.ox.ac.uk/edc/policiesandguidance/pgnewcourses.

No changes should be made to examination conventions after marks are known (except when a particular run of marks reveals unsuspected ambiguities or omissions that have to be resolved). If, at the end of the examination process, the examiners wish to propose major changes to the examination conventions they will pass on to their successors, they should include the proposals in their examiners’ report for consideration by the supervisory body.

6.3. Setting of question papers

Principles relating to assessment are set out in Section 1. Examiners are obliged to set papers in accordance with the prevailing regulations and examination conventions for the course, and in line with any current course handbook. Any discrepancy between the formal regulations and other information given to candidates must be reported to the Proctors (who will advise what action to take). Precedent represented by past papers should also be taken into account. Any substantial changes in the rubric or format of a question paper should be notified to candidates and tutors at an early date. Material for examination papers should not be taken from the Internet. In the case of foreign language sources this is particularly important because of the transcription problems that can arise. The external examiner should have the opportunity to comment on draft examination papers.

The importance of clear and unambiguous expression cannot be overstated. Examiners should use straightforward English that is not likely to present a barrier to comprehension by non-native speakers. Question papers should be subject to careful scrutiny by the examiners. In the case of small subjects, a draft paper must be scrutinised by at least one established member of staff who is not the paper setter.

The setting of all papers for an examination should be completed according to a schedule overseen by the chair. Mishaps are far more likely to befall a paper that does not progress through the stages of setting, scrutiny, and proof-reading along with the others. Errors in the setting of papers are very difficult to rectify once the examination has begun.

Where a paper is to be shared with another school, or where a paper has shared content with another paper, this information should be notified to the Examinations and Assessments team (exam.arrangements@admin.ox.ac.uk) at an early stage in order to ensure that the timetable takes this into account, and to avoid the extended supervision of candidates.  

Chairs are asked to ensure that the rubric and the content of questions are double-checked before each paper is submitted to the Examinations and Assessments team. Examples of common problems include:

• papers not set in accordance with current syllabus;

• papers containing incorrect passages for analysis;

• papers containing text or images that are not clear;

• papers that reproduce questions from recent previous years; and

• questions containing typographical errors or errors in mathematical formulae.

When the content of all examination papers has been agreed, final versions should be prepared as camera-ready copy under secure conditions in faculty or departmental offices.  Section 6.4 below gives full details of how camera-ready copy should be prepared.

6.4. Production of question papers

The instructions which follow are particularly important. Examiners who hand in copies of question papers late or whose papers contain inaccuracies heighten the potential for error to be introduced or go undetected. The Examination and Assessments team is instructed to notify the Proctors of examiners failing to comply.

Examiners are responsible for producing camera-ready copy (CRC) of examination papers; that is, a final master which is completely ready for reproduction. Chairs of examiners should ensure that papers are set to a timetable that allows sufficient time to prepare accurate CRC which has been approved by all examiners and can be delivered to Examination Schools on time (Examination Regulations, Regulations for the Conduct of University Examinations, Part 8, cl. 8.2-8.4,). The Head of Examinations and Assessments is responsible for printing the bulk copies required for the examination, and (once the examination is complete) for the publication of papers on the OXAM website. 

Detailed guidance is provided in Annex L: Production of Camera Ready Copy of Examination Papers

The production of CRC (typing, layout, etc.) should be done either by examiners themselves or by departmental and faculty staff in normal working time. In exceptional circumstances the Proctors may authorise payments for overtime worked by departmental and faculty staff in the production of CRC, provided approval is sought well in advance from the Proctors. Where prior approval has been given by the Proctors, claims to cover the cost of production of papers must be made on a form supplied by the Head of Examinations and Assessments. The claim must include details of the number of hours worked and the number of pages prepared. All such claims must be submitted via the chair to the Head of Examinations and Assessments as early as possible.

6.5. Proof-reading of CRC

The accuracy of papers is the responsibility of the chair and the examiners, and CRC must be carefully checked before submission to the Examination Schools, as there will be no proofs.  Exam boards may wish to consider appointing additional assessors to help with proof-reading of exam papers. Departments will be required by the Proctors to provide a statement on how they intend to reduce the numbers of errors in cases where there are serious or large numbers of errors on papers.

6.6. Security

Persons preparing examination papers should ensure that no-one can enter their room and observe examination material on a screen or in paper form on a desk or printer. Staff should take particular care when processing examination material outside the workplace e.g. in public places, or on public transport.  Any electronic device containing or linking to examination material should have properly implemented security measures that are proportionate to the anticipated risks. These may include passwords, password-protected screensavers, biometric security mechanisms and encryption.  Advice on the encryption and decryption of examination papers may be obtained from IT Services.  Printed copies of draft examination papers should be securely destroyed (shredded) immediately after use. If they must be kept in paper form, for example between examiners’ meetings, they should be stored in locked filing cabinets.

The Proctors should be notified at once if any breach of security is suspected. It is essential that back-ups are maintained and that there is good control over versions of draft papers. Any media storing backed-up papers must be kept secure.

Paper drafts should be transported between examiners by hand, or sent by Special Delivery. Questions, and question papers, should not be sent electronically unless encrypted.  No electronic transmissions should be made without previously informing the Proctors. WebLearn is available to aid boards of examiners in sharing draft examination papers during paper preparation, using authorised additional verification sites only, and the chair should contact the Head of Examinations and Assessments to request inclusion and discuss the practicalities of implementation.

Any exception to these rules must be agreed in advance by the Proctors, who will need to be convinced (taking technical advice if necessary) that it will cause no breach in security.

The attention of all examiners is drawn to their obligation to keep all question papers strictly confidential. In no circumstances should details of the questions or the discussion of papers at examiners’ meetings be disclosed to anyone other than examiners, properly appointed assessors, and, if required, the PVC (Education) and Proctors.

Under no circumstance should examination questions be substantially the same as sample questions made available to candidates before the examination. If tutors have been asked to suggest questions for an examination, it should be made clear that such questions must not be used in tutorials or classes, nor should sample solutions be provided to candidates in advance of the exam. Special care should be taken where an examiner or assessor runs revision classes. Evidence of such similarities will be brought to the Proctors’ attention and may result in the striking out of the compromised paper from the examination.

6.7. Special requirements

Question papers which have special requirements, whether in timetabling (e.g. reading time; duration other than 3 hours) or the provision of materials (e.g. tables, reference books, tracing paper) should be agreed by the examiners (including those in joint schools with which papers may be shared), at their initial meeting. A schedule of materials previously used by the examination will be provided by the Head of Examinations and Assessments when the draft timetable is issued; this schedule, amended if necessary, and any other information should then be returned to the Head of Examinations and Assessments as soon as possible.  Each question paper should specify in the rubric on the cover details of any special provisions or materials that relate to it. Question papers that contain pages printed in colour may also need special consideration by the Head of Examinations and Assessments and should be highlighted to the Examinations and Assessments team when the CRC is submitted.  See Annex L: Production of Camera Ready Copy of Examination Papers for further information.

6.8. Printing of examination papers

Examiners are responsible for setting the question papers, the accuracy of the contents, and for the production of the camera-ready copy (CRC) in paper or pdf format (details in 6.4 above and Annex L: Production of Camera Ready Copy of Examination Papers). Staff within the Examinations and Assessments team are responsible for the printing of the bulk quantities required in the examination room but they will not carry out any checking of the accuracy of the CRC.