System failure

June 4, 2004

The current weaknesses in examining practice are systemic and not primarily the result of individual failings (Letters, May 21).

Externals should scrutinise a sample of scripts drawn from each examiner (spanning the mark range), rather than looking at first-class or marginal papers.

It would then be possible to moderate gradings, ensuring consistency among internal examiners. Departments make varying use of computers; it ought to be best practice for examiners to enter marks online (minimising clerical errors) and to receive tutorials on grading techniques through the same medium.

Except where the department concerned is small, whole-department committees that draw up class boundaries should be replaced by a team of internal and external examiners.

Grand, epic finals meetings are not used to classify higher degrees or school examinations; nor are they prevalent in the award of professional qualifications outside academia.

S. D. Smith
York University

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