Engineering department in exam paper debacle after mistakes found

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The engineering department has launched an enquiry into why there were a series of mistakes in one of their second year exams, which some of those taking the exam have claimed gave an unfair advantage to some students over others.

The exam, for module number ENGR203, took place on Friday Week 2 in the Great Hall, and involved a series of mistakes which hindered students taking the exam. Discrepancies included printing errors, as well as discrepancies in the distribution of exam materials.

One of the discrepancies involved a formatting error on one of the questions, in which a table was printed without the numbers mentioned in the question, leaving just blank spaces. It is believed that a diagram and table of values had moved across the page during the organisation of the paper in such a way that the required information was not legible, and that this was not noticed during any of the successive checking stages the paper went through.

Once the problem had been raised with the invigilators in the exam hall, one of the members of staff went back to the Engineering department and printed off legible copies of the question before returning to the Great Hall to distribute them. The paper took between 20 and 25 minutes to be reprinted, and an extra 30 minutes was added to the length of the exam to compensate for the error. A source close to the department also emphasised the fact that there were three questions in the relevant section of the paper, of which the students had to answer two, and that the formatting error did not affect the other questions in that section of the paper.

Another mistake was apparently spotted at around 40 minutes before the end of the exam, when a student complained that the data book given to them by the department was missing some formula necessary for the exam. It was then that staff realised that the student had been given a copy of last year’s formula book, which was now out-of-date with current examination arrangements.

When invigilators asked the other students, it transpired that a majority – but not all – of those taking the exam had also been given the wrong formula book. To exacerbate matters, while some students were given a correct formula book immediately after the problem had been reported, others had to wait for extra photocopies of the relevant page to be made. A student taking the exam also told SCAN that some students were even ignored when they put their hands up to receive a book.

Another student complained that there was very little assurance during the exam that the members of staff involved were taking steps to solve the problems. “The few announcements that were made were too quiet to be heard past halfway back,” the student told SCAN.

In an email to students Professor Xi Jiang, the Engineering department’s Director of Undergraduate Studies, said that the department was treating the incident as an “exceptional matter,” and had launched an enquiry into why the discrepancies had taken place.

“As you will be aware there were some difficulties in the ENGR203 examination on Friday 2nd May 2014, associated with a formatting error in the paper and inconsistencies in some of the data books,” Professor Jiang said. “An enquiry is being carried out by the department.

“I wish to assure you that the department is treating this exceptional matter very seriously with students’ best interests at the focus of discussions.”

Since this exam was taken the Head of Engineering, Professor Malcolm Joyce, has consulted the External Examiners about how to allocate marks for the paper, with the department keen to compensate for the mistakes. Professor Joyce has also consulted the Head of the Student Registry about the appropriate action to take. At the time of writing it was unclear whether the student registry or external examiners would be taking those recommendations into account.

The department has been active in assuring students that they will not be disadvantaged by the mistakes, with second year department reps expected to meet Professor Joyce during Week 5 or Week 6. All of the staff involved, including external authorities, have also been informed about the incident. Professor Joyce is also expected to meet a member of the LUSU Full-Time Officer team to discuss the issue.

Several members of staff have given support of the Engineering department’s handling of the debacle.

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