It was a dream come true for the eight second-year environmental science students at Newcastle University last Friday. They shuffled into the exam room at 9.30am, grimly resigned to the two-hour test on climate and climatic change awaiting them.
As the exam papers were handed out and the candidates began reading through the questions, they made an astonishing discovery. Along with the essay questions, they realised that a guide informing markers of what to look for in their answers had been included with the paper.
Some were unable to contain their amusement as they realised they had in effect been given the answers as well as the questions. Unfortunately for them, the supervisors soon deduced that laughter in an exam room meant something was amiss.
"It was immediately obvious that something was wrong," said a Newcastle spokesman. The papers were collected and the exam was cancelled.
The university is expected to replace the exam with an "open book" test in September. "We felt that was only fair, as the students had revised for the exam and it would be unfair to expect them to do so again," the spokesman said. "We apologise for any inconvenience caused to the students."
The spokesman blamed the mistake on an "administrative error". "We know how it happened and we have taken steps to ensure it will not happen again. We regard it as a once-in-a-blue-moon freak event," he said.
Newcastle said that out of 800 papers issued during the three-week exam period, no similar mistakes had been made.
Jonathan Pile, education officer for Newcastle student union, said: "We have no doubt this was a one-off. But the faculty in question must be pretty embarrassed about it."