Blog post – Working with UQ’s description of an examination

When we transitioned online through 2020, on-campus invigilated examinations were not possible and UQ had to reconsider our description of an examination. Non-invigilated exams created opportunities for new forms of misconduct, with cases of students colluding in exams and sharing materials online identified at institutions across Australia and internationally. Many staff responded to this challenge with non-exam assessment tasks, with some of these assessments being more authentic options than the examinations conducted previously. 

New options for assessment have also been made possible with new technology such as Inspera. This re-evaluation of examinations has had implications for assessment across UQ, as we have reconsidered what tasks should be examinations, resulting in changes to how these tasks are managed. 

What is UQ’s description of an examination? 

From Semester 2 2021, a new description for examinations has been included in the UQ Examinations Policy (PPL 3.10.11)

  1. Typically, an examination is any assessment item worth more than 10% that occurs for a student at a specified time, with a working time of less than or equal to three hours. Assessment items that do not meet this description but are to be treated as an examination will be identified in the Electronic Course Profile (ECP). 

There are three key aspects to this description: 

  • Weighting – an examination generally has a weighting of more than 10%
  • Specified time – occurs at a specific time for a student
  • Working time – less than or equal to three hours.

Specified time could be for the cohort or individual students. For example, an exam could be set to start on Monday 10 October at 9.30am for all students in a course. Alternatively, an oral or practical exam could have different times for different students. For example, although they are in the same course, Jo’s oral exam could be 10–10.15am and Sam’s could be 10.30–10.45am. If an assessment task was set to happen any time in Week 8 of the semester and students could complete the task anytime during this week, it wouldn’t generally be an examination. However, tasks that don’t fit this description can be set as an examination if identified as such in the Course Profile. 

Working time isn’t defined in the PPL. I think a fair interpretation is that this is the time students have to work on the task when they have all the information required. Students may know some information before an examination, but not enough to be able to complete the task before seeing the questions when they start the task. However, a presentation or performance, while less than three hours long, would not be an examination if students have more than three hours to prepare and rehearse.  

Many assessment tasks are complex mixes of different types of activities which may cause confusion. For example, unknown questions are asked during/after a presentation, which is a great way to increase integrity, however, this makes presentations exam-like based on the ‘working time’ reference in the exam description. In these cases, course coordinators, chief examiners and staff involved in approving ECPs need to make sensible decisions about what counts as an examination. Where possible, we want to make these decisions in ways that have the fairest outcomes for our students. 

Why does it matter if an assessment item is an examination? 

Examinations have a range of special rules. Some of the issues that I’ve heard of influencing assessment design decisions are: 

  • Deferred examination rather than extensions
  • Penalties for late submission of an examination are counted in minutes, while late submissions of assessments are counted in days
  • Examinations cannot be held in the last two weeks of teaching
  • The release of past examinations in the Library
  • Modifying examinations every semester.

Deferred examinations 

A student who is unable to undertake their original scheduled examination for circumstances beyond their control may apply for a deferred examination under specified grounds. End-of-semester deferred examinations are held during the University’s designated deferred and supplementary examination periods. Schools are responsible for arranging the time and location for mid-semester examinations. One of the challenges of deferred examinations is that they have to be equivalent but substantially different to the original examination. The consequence of this can be more work for the course coordinator. 

Penalties for late submission

Penalties for late submission of examinations depend on how many minutes late a submission is, while the standard penalties for assessment depend on days late. 

When examinations can be held

The UQ Examinations Policy (PPL 3.10.11) states: A mid-semester examination must not be held during classes in the final two teaching weeks of a semester unless the examination — 

  1. is weighted 5% or less of the overall assessment for the course; or 
  2. forms part of practical in a series conducted regularly during the semester; or 
  3. is approved by the President of the Academic Board in exceptional circumstances for a period of up to three years; or 
  4. is arranged by individual appointment between the Head of School and the student. 

Release of examinations

End-of-semester examinations are released, that is made available in the library for students in future semesters to access. This is one of the more contentious parts of the examination procedure. I am often surprised at the range of disciplines where students share assessments across cohorts, this can create inequity between students who have access to past assessment tasks and those who don’t. Releasing our examinations is the best way to ensure students have equitable access to these resources.

Modifying examinations

At UQ, the PPL states all assessment items must be substantially different at each offering. The PPL 3.10.02 provides the example ’in a multiple-choice examination, 80% of the questions would differ at each offering’ but this broader clause applies to all repeated assessments, not just examinations. This implies that every previous assessment task, examination or otherwise, needs to be substantially different in the new offering.  

Why are exam requirements necessary?

These requirements for examinations are designed to improve the experience of our students and the implications of these requirements need to be carefully considered in the design of assessment in the context of each course. When making these decisions, we also need to ensure that ‘Assessment is sustainable and workable: Assessment is achievable for teachers and students with reasonable effort’ (PPL 3.10.02). 

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Last updated:
12 July 2021