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, on the advice of their constituent subjects.

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) and not directly to the examiners (or in the case of major adjustments to the format or timing of an examination to Council’s Education Committee). 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 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 2016

This section lists the main changes to the regulations, policy and guidance for 2016.

1.8.1. New policies and guidance

1.    Standing orders for the composition of boards of examiners no longer need to be submitted to the Proctors; they should be submitted only to the Head of Examinations and Assessments. See 2.1.

2.    Medical certificates for cases of acute illness can now be provided by a college nurse without the need for a doctor’s note at a later date. College nurses can also provide signed certificates in cases where the initial letter came from the Dean or Senior Tutor. This should still be within 7 days of the initial request. See 8.8.

3.    There is new guidance on students sitting examinations under previous sets of regulations. Within set time limits (see 8.9) students are entitled to sit their examination in accordance with the regulations in force at the time they were taught.

4.    Departments wishing to move to online submission of work do not need to contact the Proctor’s Office for guidance on the procedure. A new framework is available that provides information on how to manage the submission of assessments using WebLearn. Departments wishing to change to electronic submission where no provision was previously made for it must use WebLearn and cannot also request hard copies of the same piece of work. See 9.2 and Annex M.    

5.    The Chair of examiners should determine whether instances of poor academic practice and plagiarism should be dealt with by deduction of marks or by referral to the Proctors (see 9.5.3). The full procedure for dealing with cases of poor academic practice and plagiarism has been added to Annex G, including criteria for referral to the Proctors and guidance on deducting marks. A template for creating a pre-determined scale of mark deductions is given in Annex I: Template for examination conventions. Information on the interpretation of Turnitin reports is available in Annex L.  

6.    The guidance on considering factors affecting performance applications has been substantially revised and expanded. It provides more detailed information on:

  • the actions examiners may wish to take;

  • the consideration of candidates with alternative arrangements where a factors affecting performance application in relation to the alternative arrangements has not been received;

  • the circumstances when a factors affecting performance application should be forwarded to the Proctors for consideration as a complaint;

  • retention of records.

In addition, candidates will now be given a brief summary of the impact that their application for factors affecting performance has had on their results. See 11.7, 11.13 and Annex C: Consideration of medical and other special circumstances in examination and assessment.

7.    Examiners should state whether qualitative checks were used where scaling has been employed. See Annex F.

1.8.2. Clarification of existing policies and guidance

1.    Examiners are reminded that all members of the board must be present at any ‘final’ meetings (whether these are end-of-year or interim). A meeting is considered to be ‘final’ if the marks and/or classification/final result of one or more candidates are finalised, regardless of the time of year the meeting takes place. External examiners may participate in a meeting via video conference or teleconference where marks/grades for individual assessment items are finalised without the need for prior permission from the Proctors but must attend in person meetings at which the overall classification/result of any candidate is agreed. See 4.2.

2.    Examination boards (in particular, Chairs of Examiners) should note that they are responsible for facilitating comfortable visits of external examiners. See 4.5.

3.    Further guidance has been given on making major changes to established examination conventions after they have been approved by the supervisory body. Examiners should be aware of the Education Committee’s policy on vested interests when considering these changes. See 6.2.

4.    Examiners are reminded that all resit examinations must cover the same material as the original examination. If the examination regulations have changed between the date of the original examination and the resit, the resit should reflect that which the candidate was originally taught. See 13.3.

5.    Clarification that resits are not permitted if a candidate has passed a paper and has not failed the whole Examination/qualification. See 13.3.

6.    Further guidance on resit requirements for postgraduate taught course. This gives guidance on which assessment items the candidate is required to resit if they have failed only some parts of papers. See 13.4.

7.    The form of report on examinations has been amended to clarify that both the current and the previous year’s breakdown by gender should be included. An exception is permitted for small cohorts where the breakdown by gender would impact on confidentiality. See Annex F: Form of report on examinations.

1.9. Areas requiring particular attention

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

1. Prompt setting of board of examiners’ meeting dates. Meetings of boards of examiners, particularly final meetings, should be set at an early date so that all examiners are able to attend. Student Administration should be informed of final meeting (and pre-meeting) dates in a timely manner to facilitate release of results and correspondence with examiners about individual candidates. See Section 4.

2. Nominations of examiners and assessors must be made and approved before individuals can act in this capacity. See Section 2.

3. Standing orders must be maintained for each board of examiners, with a copy sent to the Proctors and the Head of Examinations and Assessments before the start of each academic year. See Section 2.

4. As urgent issues, including examination complaints, can arise following final meetings of boards of examiners, chairs of boards should ensure that they have left clear contact details, or have appointed a deputy, if they are to be away from Oxford during the period following the final meeting (i.e. at any time during the Long Vacation, for Trinity term examinations). See 2.4 below.

5. Accurate information on all assessment elements must be provided at the start of the academic year. 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.

6. 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. 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.

7. Applications for alternative examination arrangements should be made at the earliest opportunity to allow sufficient time for appropriate arrangements to be put in place. See Section 8. For applications for major adjustments to examination and assessment, which will involve dispensation by Education Committee from the Examination Regulations (e.g. altering the mode of assessment), see Annex A: Major adjustments to examinations and assessment.

8. Applications under Part 13 of the Regulations for the Conduct of University Examinations allow for information about medical or other circumstances affecting a candidate’s performance to be submitted by a candidate through their college. This process should not be used to make complaints about the conduct of examinations, and any such complaints should be referred to the Proctors for consideration (see section 14).

9. If a candidate for whom an application under Part 13 has been received has missed any papers, the chair of the board of examiners should ensure either that authorisation to consider the candidate for an estimated classification (see sections 11.7 and 11.8) has been received from the Proctors, or that notification has been received that no such authorisation will be given.

10. Where external examiners are asked to reach a final decision on significantly discrepant marks from the first and second markers, it is essential that they are provided with sufficient comments to understand the rationale for each of the initial marks awarded. See section 11.5.

11. When students intermit or are granted permission to carry forward marks, it is important that the department makes arrangements for the retrieval and storage of any scripts that need to be retained separately from those of the main cohort. See sections 11.13 - 11.15.