Home Comment University Exams: Is it time for a national exam board?

University Exams: Is it time for a national exam board?


Online Comment Editor Dave Reynolds puts forward the case for a national exam board for the country’s universities in the wake of the recent exam season.

After all the stresses and strains of exam week, we can now all relax and take it easy for a couple of weeks before we realise we haven’t done any of the compulsory reading.

Photo Credit: earthfromtheground via Compfight cc
“You wouldn’t let any old high school set their own exams and mark their own students’ work.”
Photo Credit: earthfromtheground via Compfight cc

I have an issue with the way we are examined. With all of the courses in the many different universities around the United Kingdom being slightly different, it is extremely difficult for a potential employer to compare a 2:1 from Exeter and a 2:1 from Swansea.

Based on little or no evidence at all, which all the best news stories are, I would argue that it is easier to get a 2:1 from a low ranking university than one such as Exeter. Expected standards of work are likely to be much higher at Exeter and the course content is likely to be a little bit tougher. When it comes to applying for graduate schemes, all that is normally required is a 2:1 from any university. In that case, why would you bother coming to Exeter? Simply go to a lesser University, get a first, seem intelligent and you’re in. To make it easier for all the potential employers, I would argue we need to standardise our exam system, in a similar way to that of GCSEs or A Levels.

You wouldn’t let any old high school set their own exams and mark their own students’ work. Naturally, they’d want to give them all high grades. There is no doubt that with the current system at our universities, there is an incentive to dumb down courses and give higher than deserved marks. Lecturers want people to take their modules, but nobody’s going to do them if the average mark is 52 (unless you’re foolish and are actually interested in the module. Who would do that?!)

The only option I see in order for us to get out of this problem is for a national exam board. This way, it will be a lot easier to compare students from across the country. You’d still be attracted to the better universities as the quality of teaching would be higher and you’d be more likely to get a high grade.

Some people will moan about increased bureaucracy, but then ask yourself if it makes economic sense for each university to set its own exam every year and have to mark it.

One legitimate concern I have with this idea is that it will take a lot longer to get your work back. The three month wait for those A Level results was far too long and the three week turnaround promised by the University is quite an impressive effort.

Still, I don’t see this is a major hurdle to overcome. A national exam board for all of our universities seems to tick most of the boxes.

David Reynolds

Do you think it could work? Should universities be trusted to set their own exams? Leave a comment below or write to the Comment team at the Exeposé Comment Facebook Group or on Twitter @CommentExepose.

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