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  • University exams during the Covid pandemic
  • Premier Icon RAGGATIP
    Free Member

    I am wondering how UK based universities managed the grading of the modules that had exams during the recent pandemic. My university cancelled the exams with an option to take them later in the year. The other option to not take them and use the assignment marks and some other secret method to ascertain the final module grade.

    So now my qualification could be affected by the universities’ decision to reduce my module result by 11% less than my average assignment grade. The assignments being the only measure of my performance for the year. I expect other universities cancelled their exams too.

    This is different from A-levels I believe, where the students results were provided by their teachers. However, this isn’t the issue I want to discuss.

    The fairness (or not) of reducing overall grades on the basis of having cancelled an exam isn’t something I want to discuss either as I’m sure there will be differing opinions on this. I really want to try and establish whether there is any parity between how other universities managed their qualification dependent module results during this crisis.

    Premier Icon ahsat
    Full Member

    For those modules that had exams cancelled (that weren’t simply a pass-fail) the grade was calculated from the marks already awarded, which I think were re-weighted to the total number of module credits (e.g. a 60% piece of coursework would equal 100% in the absence of the exam). Whether this was universal across the Uni (I think it was as all our 2nd year exams were cancelled) I am not sure, but I think it applied across my School. You certainly couldn’t get any worse marks than you already achieved. I believe similar happened at @Shackleton’s Uni where my next-door neighbour was a finalist student.

    I should add this is my personal understanding (as I am not in the programme leadership) and should not be relied upon/quoted as truth.

    Premier Icon baboonz
    Free Member

    Rough guess. They looked at all the grades in your cohort, calculated the normal distribution, and then normalised it with typical exam results. This depends on the course, but in my experience, assignment grades were always better than exams.

    I would be very surprised if there was a fit for all method that every lecturer/university used.

    Premier Icon GolfChick
    Free Member

    Soooooo within our school no exams were cancelled. We’re a school of nursing and midwifery and as a result none of the students, nor staff, nor HEE want to delay these students from progressing and achieving their quals. It was a challenge alongside an emergency 6 month deployment for both 2nd and 3rd years into the NHS to support the staff.

    We had a few different principles applied.

    Firstly where a module had two elements and one was before COVID, so prior to March 14th, we looked at the cohort average for both element 1 and element 2, if element 1 was higher across the cohort all the students got to keep their element 1 mark ONLY and this was termed as a safety net. If this mark was lower for those individual students they benefitted from a no detriment policy and they then kept their 2 element average.

    We also then had a blanket EC policy so during covid if a module was failed or nothing submitted they got an EC which means they auto got another attempt and the mark wouldn’t have been capped. This even applied to academic misconduct, so you could cheat and copy someone else and not be penalised (I dont agree there).

    Then at the end of year the progressionary boards also had a similar safety net. Each and every students average for both semester 1 and all modules were compared. If semester 1 (pre covid for Sept students) was higher they auto got this as their mark for the whole year. If there whole year mark was higher they didnt benefit but we then had to review those marks for the modules within COVID to see if they could be offered an uncapped SIT. The mark had to be 2% different to the average in order to be even considered and then we looked at whether it would improve their classification and whether looking at their marks it was actually achievable on a student by student basis.

    Yes it’s been a busy few months for the person (me) who had to do all of that in the background and present it to the module leaders during all those boards, especially when her colleague went off sick mid board season and she had to do all the boards.

    Got a personalised thank you letter from the vice chancellor mind!

    Premier Icon wwaswas
    Full Member

    My son was set several exams to be done at home, over 48 hours with no rules on Google etc. It was Computer Science and I think they set the papers to make sure they tested you understood the answers rather than just googled them. There had been previous exams and his dissertation (although that was also disrupted due to strike action by staff early on and then lockdown). He got a first so we’re not complaining 🙂

    Premier Icon Garry_Lager
    Full Member

    Don’t understand your second paragraph – are the university reducing your actual mark for the assignment by 11% or the weighting of it? ie is it an actual assessment that has created this problem, you didn’t do as well as you had hoped on a particular module, or is the assessment fine but you are being disadvantaged by how it is being processed in the covid system they are using to calculate a final mark?

    I was external examiner at another university this year, along with two other academics we look over the entire degree exam system, scrutinise borderline candidates, agree the final classifications etc – doubt we saw a single case of students directly disadvantaged by the covid exam regime (although we did see some clearly advantaged by it).
    Not that this has direct relevance to your situation as degrees and universities are very different, but to make the point that universities put a huge amount of work into ensuring as fair an assessment as possible took place, and most will have bent over backwards to not disadvantage students in their grades.

    But it is hard to say without understanding more of your situation.

    Premier Icon ahsat
    Full Member

    I was external examiner at another university this year, along with two other academics we look over the entire degree exam system, scrutinise borderline candidates, agree the final classifications etc – doubt we saw a single case of students directly disadvantaged by the covid exam regime (although we did see some clearly advantaged by it).
    Not that this has direct relevance to your situation as degrees and universities are very different, but to make the point that universities put a huge amount of work into ensuring as fair an assessment as possible took place, and most will have bent over backwards to not disadvantage students in their grades.

    100% this. So much work is put in by so many people.

    Premier Icon Shackleton
    Full Member

    We (life sciences department at major Scottish university) scrubbed exams for y1 and y2 and basically passed everyone so long as they had an acceptable attendance and coursework submission rate.

    For y3 and y4 where grades contribute to final degree grade we set open book exams that lasted 24h. This worked so well, and the students produced much better and reflective answers, that we are using this format for the future. For these modules all coursework was completed as normal, albeit remotely, and subsequent exam grades mapped perfectly onto the coursework grade, whereas normally results in the coursework have a mode in the high 2i area and exams have a bi-modal distribution (high 2i and low 2ii). The results also reflected what we would expect to see from an idealised average cohort without any moderation. We were frankly stunned and consequently have had very few complaints over grades (fewer than normal in fact) despite the awarding ratios being consistent with previous years after vivas, complaints, faffing, etc.

    We put a huge amount of work into getting this all set up and were very relieved that it worked.

    We also said in advance that no student would be awarded lower for a module than their module coursework average for the affected year. We argued for this as it wouldn’t unfairly advantage top students but would help students who suffer in a traditional exam situation. In the end this was only needed by a tiny fraction of students as the exam results worked out so well.

    It sounds like in your situation they have the same situation as we do (assignment grades are usually higher than closed book exam grades) so decided to use assessment grades and round them down to reflect real life experience, probably based on data from previous year groups performance. In all honesty it probably isn’t far off the mark for most people, but it isn’t how I would have done it and you have my sympathy as 11% sounds like a lot if that is off the whole degree.

    Premier Icon RAGGATIP
    Free Member

    Garry_Lager
    Full Member

    …are the university reducing your actual mark for the assignment by 11% or the weighting of it? ie is it an actual assessment that has created this problem, you didn’t do as well as you had hoped on a particular module, or is the assessment fine but you are being disadvantaged by how it is being processed in the covid system they are using to calculate a final mark?

    It’s a second year module which does count towards my final degree qualification and for which I completed all three assignments. Those three assignments were worth 50% of the overall module grade with the exam providing the remaining 50% of the overall grade. I averaged 94% over the three assignments. Distinctions are 85% and above. The university gave me an overall grade of 83% because I didn’t take the exam. During the peak of the pandemic and prior to submitting the final assignment the option was provided to take the exam later in the year, which I forfeited as then I would have had to go through the summer and then take it at the same time as starting the next couple of modules for that year (I’m a part time student who also works).
    I’ve read (from third parties) that the university used the results of three years of previous cohorts exam results to determine the results of those that didn’t take the exam.

    Premier Icon Shackleton
    Full Member

    If they have a course split into 2 groups (exam vs no exam) but all did the course work then they should be able to see if there was an effect on grade. You should be able to request these data in an anonymised form and check yourself. If class size is large enough it should be pretty clear how final grade correlates with coursework grade in the two groups. They should have done this as a back check on their analysis to ensure parity of outcome between the two groups.

    They should be able to tell you explicitly how it was all calculated and standardised and provide the data and assumptions used, if they won’t, contact the student union and highlight the need for transparency.

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