Show questions in advance to cut exam stress, say advisers

Paper argues that such a move will help universities conform to disability law. Melanie Newman reports

April 10, 2008

Universities should consider giving students examination questions in advance and allow them to use prompt sheets, the University Mental Health Advisors Network has said.

A policy paper adopted by the network says: "Allowing students to know what questions they are going to be asked in an examination beforehand ... significantly reduces the fear factor associated with the unknown."

The practice could help universities meet the needs of students with mental-health problems, as they are required to do by law, but it could also provide benefits for all students.

"As this method is likely to more accurately assess students' knowledge ... it is arguably a better way to assess students in general," the paper says.

The Disability Discrimination Act requires universities to make "anticipatory adjustments" where disabled students' needs can be predicted. But the paper notes that such adjustments are "fairly few and far between" in the sector.

It recommends that universities take a "portfolio approach" to assessment, allowing students to choose how they demonstrate their abilities. For example, a student may elect to undertake a piece of coursework, a presentation or an examination.

"If such an approach were adopted across a whole course, the need for reactive adjustments would become minimal," the paper says.

An argument frequently used against adopting such an approach is that it would benefit all students. The paper's author, the advisers' network chairman Philip Scarffe, a mental-health adviser at Nottingham Trent University, said: "The perception of our members was that sometimes tutors were unsure about making an adjustment for a student with mental-health difficulties, because they believed such an adjustment would be of benefit to students in general.

"This should perhaps be seen as an argument for approaching assessment in a different way more generally."

Law firm Pinsent Masons said that universities may be concerned about treating disabled students substantially more favourably than non-disabled students. But the Disability Discrimination Act requires more favourable treatment, it said.

The DDA, in contrast to other equality legislation such as the Sex Discrimination Act and the Race Relations Act, does not regard the differences between disabled people and others as irrelevant.

Quoting from a recent legal judgment, Pinsent Masons said: "(The law) expects reasonable adjustments to be made to cater for the special needs of disabled people. It necessarily entails an element of more favourable treatment."

The advisers' body also disputes the view that exams are the most robust way of testing students' ability. "Where a student is unable to demonstrate ability in this way, the tool of an examination is not serving its purpose," the policy paper notes.

The vice-chancellor of the University of Gloucestershire, Patricia Broadfoot, announced plans last year to scrap first-year exams and substantially reduce exams in other years. But her proposals were put on hold after staff and students objected.

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Daniel Mitchell illustration (29 June 2017)

Academics who think they can do the work of professional staff better than professional staff themselves are not showing the kind of respect they expect from others

As the pay of BBC on-air talent is revealed, one academic comes clean about his salary

Senior academics at Teesside University put at risk of redundancy as summer break gets under way

Thorns and butterflies

Conditions that undermine the notion of scholarly vocation – relentless work, ubiquitous bureaucracy – can cause academics acute distress and spur them to quit, says Ruth Barcan

University of Oxford

Reinstatement of professor over age discrimination must force rethink over ‘unfair’ retirement rules, say campaigners