Examination shambles as mistakes are made across IB NatSci courses
Students had marks changed in Ecology, Animal Biology and Materials, while wrong marks were also awarded in English.
by Felix Nugee
Friday 28th September 2012, 11:14 BST
NatSci examiners have come under fire this summer after it has been revealed that there were errors in the allocation of marks in three separate papers for second year students. The instances appear to be unrelated but have led to questions as to whether there are institutional problems in the way examinations are handled by the department as a whole. In Ecology, it was revealed that five students’ marks were transposed after they had been allocated. This led to the senior examiner writing a letter of apology to all of those involved. Some of the errors were large enough to cause students to move classes in this paper, with one moving from a third to a first, but none of the changes were large enough to impact upon overall grades.
There was a similar story in Materials where project marks were awarded wrongly, with people with the same surname initially receiving each other’s marks. Again, this impacted upon grades in that paper but there is no indication that it impacted overall classing. Varsity spoke to one student involved in the mix-up who commented that “it was just very disappointing, you really expect better from this university.”
The mistakes in Animal Biology, however, appear to have been a lot more widespread and caused students’ final classes to change. As a result of this, the Chairman of Natural Sciences Part IB Examiners wrote a very apologetic letter to all Animal Biology Part IB students. The letter signed by the heads of department stated that they “are very sorry indeed that this has occurred. We offer a full apology for the errors made and the consequences this has had for you.”
Some students, however, were still upset at the result. Varsity spoke to one student whose Ecology and Animal Biology papers were both affected. Despite being “delighted” that this caused her overall grade to move from a 2.1 to a 1st she said she is still “hugely angry with the University.”
She added that she believed “if this kind of thing continues to happen, students both current and prospective will simply lose their respect for the University.”
Despite a general feeling of resentment amongst the students affected, all the students spoken to by Varsity wished to remain anonymous, feeling that criticising their departments when they still had a year to go on their course might risk prejudicing future supervisors and staff against them. There were also reports of further isolated mistakes in previous years, which may have affected final grades for graduating students, but were not publicised at the time as the problem were not as widespread.
Speaking to Varsity, Professor Michael Akam, Head of the Department of Zoology, was apologetic for the mistakes made, saying that the Department “deeply regrets the errors in compiling marks that occurred in the NST IB Animal Biology and Ecology examinations this year. We have already apologised to all students affected and appreciate the stress this will have caused. We would like to emphasise that the marks eventually given to all the students were fair and correct.”
Professor Akam also attempted to reassure students that this would be an isolated incident saying that “a thorough review of all of our examination procedures is being carried out in the Department with a view to preventing the recurrence of errors of this nature in any future examinations.” Although mistakes in Natural Sciences have received particular attention this year, the issue of ensuring grades are correctly assigned is by no means limited to the science subjects, as there have also been problems in the English Tripos.