Exams blighted by blunders

19 June 2008

Katie Spenceley

News Editor

Cambridge examinations are known for being difficult, but for this year’s students, the test was made even harder by a series of university blunders.

For third-year students studying Engineering, a problem in the department meant that the data books, essential for answering questions, were not present in the exam hall.

A third-year Engineer, who wished to remain anonymous, told TCS:

“After the missing book was pointed out to the invigilators, we were asked to look through our exam booklets to check that nothing else was missing.

“It meant we were able to see what was on the paper before we’d sat the exam. We were then told that we would have to start reading time without the booklets, at which point students pointed out that this was ridiculous as the data books were essential to the exam.”

After deliberation between examiners, the students were made to leave the exam hall for an hour-and-a-half before returning to sit the exam again. The data books were eventually printed and handed out, allowing students to sit the exam, but this was not enough to stifle complaints being sent to the Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU).

A re-sit was planned by the examiners but later cancelled by the exam board.

Peter Coulthard, CUSU Academic Affairs Officer, told TCS that around 30 students complained about the situation, 18 explicitly expressed that the situation was unfair, and an even larger number complained about the rescheduling.

“There might well be appeals following the results,” he added.

But examination slip-ups were not confined to the Engineering faculty. During an Economics exam, there was a mistake in one of the values for the maths paper, making answering the question impossible.

Lili Wong, a second-year Economist from Robinson College, said: “It was on the maths paper. The value was supposed to be 2 but was given as 0.2. The mistake wasn’t spotted until part way through the exam, and only then were we told about the error. The examiner only give us an extra minute because of the mistake, which wasn’t great.

“I wasted quite a while on the question. I couldn’t finish the paper.”

More strangely, in the Part 1 English Shakespeare paper, students were allowed to insert an additional question into the paper. A second-year English student told TCS:

“Someone put up their hand and said that, on the faculty website, the department had said that there was going to be a question about textual problems in Troilus and Cressida – so the examiner actually let the person add a question onto the paper.

“I think it’s unfair – you can’t just add in something because what you revised didn’t turn up. Think on your feet!”

Commenting on the examination errors, a University spokesman told TCS: “Both the Proctors and the Secretary of the Board of Examinations make annual reports to the Board of Examinations about each season’s exams and that Board carefully considers those reports and take the necessary action for the future.”