Manchester Met rejects exam-standards criticism

Manchester Metropolitan University has said that it will "take all means to defend itself" over allegations of low standards on an exam after appearing to agree with a student that the test was "very similar" to a practice paper taken a week before.

June 2, 2011

The student complained to the university about a foundation-year economics test taken in February.

Of 30 questions on the test, 13 are identical to questions in a practice paper - and the student claims that virtually all the remaining questions are similar. The test features 17 multiple-choice questions.

A Manchester Met spokesman said: "The university strongly refutes any claim that we have inappropriately set identical or near identical tests and takes very seriously any allegation in the media or elsewhere about our courses and their assessment, and will take any and all means to defend itself."

The university's report into the investigation of the complaint says that assessment standards were discussed at a meeting between the student and senior academics.

It continues: "The evidence indicated that one of the economics foundation test papers was very similar to the practice paper.

"Although this approach may be an accepted form of preparation in some areas of pedagogy, particularly at level three (A level or foundation), this will be under review."

Manchester Met's spokesman said that at the initial meeting the university "took (the student's) views on board, but having reviewed the test papers, staff were satisfied that they were appropriate and that there was no case to answer".

The economics test formed a small part of the mark for the foundation year, where an overall pass is needed to move on to the full degree.

An economics student, who asked to remain anonymous, said they had found the paper easy.

"The similarity in both papers contributes to the high marks that students get and the pass rate," they added.

In addition to the 13 questions identical to the practice paper, others show varying degrees of what the student who lodged the complaint describes as "similarity".

For example, one question in the actual paper, "What would you expect to happen to taxation and government spending if the government implemented an expansionary fiscal policy?", inverts a practice paper question: "What would you expect to happen to taxation and government spending if the government implemented a contractionary fiscal policy?"

Manchester Met's spokesman said the university "categorically denies any erosion of standards on our foundation year, and is satisfied that our use of past papers, multiple-choice testing and short-answer testing is wholly appropriate".

He said the "variations around a series of core questions ensure students know a baseline of facts", required to progress to degree level. The spokesman added that the university is subject to the UK's "rigorous quality assurance process", supported by external examination and representation for students on teaching and assessment.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com.

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