Guidelines for External Examiners
In this section you will find the following information:
- Approval of Draft Examination Papers
- Assessment of Examination Scripts, Projects and Other Assessed Work
- Viva Voce Examinations
- Role as member of Board of Examiners
- Assessment Irregularities
- Comments and Advice
- External Examiners' Reports
- Payment of External Examiners
- Premature Termination of Contract
- Code of practice on external examining in respect of the External Moderators for the combined studies degrees in arts and social sciences, the natural sciences degree, joint honours degrees in the Faculty of Social Sciences and MA in Research Methods
1. All external examiners are responsible to Senate and no University qualification at Level 2 or above is awarded without participation in the examining process by at least one examiner external to the University. The award of a Certificate of Higher Education as an exit qualification at Level 1 may be made without the involvement of the external examiner because external examiners are not required to oversee assessment at Level 1. Senate understands the role and responsibilities of external examiners to be as follows:
2. All draft examination papers for final honours examinations, taught Masters, diplomas and certificates should be sent to the external examiner(s) for approval. In appropriate cases external examiners may be expected to set some questions or complete papers. In some subjects it may be essential for model answers to be prepared and scrutinised.
3. An external examiner has the right to see all examination scripts, projects and other assessed work.
4. In those cases where it is agreed with the external examiner that the inviting department should make a selection of scripts/assessed work to be sent to him or her, the principles for such selection should be agreed by the Chair of the Board of Examiners with the external examiner in advance. This should be included in the departmental policy on the quality assurance of assessment (see 6.3.17) or, if not so included, be approved by the Chair of the relevant Faculty Education Committee. Where an external examiner has asked to see a sample of assessed work rather than all assessed work, he/she retains the right to see any assessed work contributing to the marks for final degree classification should he/she wish to see work not included in the original sample.
5. The guiding principle for any selection of scripts/assessed work is that external examiners should have enough evidence to determine that internal marking and classifications are of an appropriate standard and are consistent.
6. It is the normal expectation that external examiners should not act as second markers of scripts/projects or other work but as moderators. All departments are required to have in place clear mechanisms to resolve cases of disagreement between internal markers, and these should be followed. It will only be in the exceptional cases where these mechanisms have not led to a resolution of the disagreement that an external examiner will be asked to adjudicate on the disagreement. Exceptions to this principle must be presented in writing, in advance, for approval by the Education Committee.
7. The external examiner shall have the right to request additional marking of student assessments in the case of dispute between the original markers.
8. External examiners may only change the marks for individual pieces of assessment where they have moderated the full run of that assessment task. Where external examiners have moderated a sample of work for an assessment task and are not content with the marks awarded (for example he/she feels that marks are over-harsh, over-generous or inconsistent), they should make recommendations on the systematic steps to be taken to address his/her concerns (this might include for example recommending that work be double marked in full, that work be re-marked, or increasing or reducing the marks awarded to all the candidates concerned in a systematic fashion whose rationale and procedure are recorded).
9. Where a module taken by a student is delivered and assessed by a different department the external examiner(s) for that subject area will oversee the assessment of that module and the determination of the mark. Marks so obtained will be provided to the Board of Examiners responsible for determining the student's progression or degree classification. This means that the external examiner associated with the student's degree programme will have oversight of the decision regarding progression or degree classification, but may not have been involved in the assessment of all the constituent modules. However, this will have been overseen by an appropriately-qualified external examiner, in each subject area involved.
10. The University does not permit viva voce examinations to be held within taught programmes (although departments are permitted to undertake oral assessments as part of specific modules). External examiners may if they wish to do so meet with groups of students in order to obtain feedback on the student learning experience and the programme(s) as a whole. There is no University requirement for external examiners to conduct such meetings, although the University recognises the added value such meetings can provide for external examiners and students. Where such meetings take place, the discussions at such meetings should not inform the consideration of the individual students at a board of examiners.
11. An external examiner is a full member of the Board of Examiners and is required to attend final examiners' meetings. For details see 6.2.1 on quoracy. If an external examiner cannot attend a meeting where his/her presence is formally required,
a. the reason for the absence must be documented and reported to the chair of the relevant Faculty Education Committee;
b. there must be clear evidence for the views of the external examiner on the marks awarded;
c. the external examiner should be available for consultation;
d. the external examiner should receive a copy of the minutes of the meeting and related documentation.
12. The following are typically regarded as good reasons for absence:
a. illness or bereavement or similar personal difficulties;
b. an unavoidable clash of commitments;
c. a very small number of students on a programme where the external examiner has seen all the assessed work and no complications have arisen.
13. The views of an external examiner must be particularly influential in the case of disagreement on the mark to be awarded for a particular unit of assessment, or on the final classification to be derived from the array of marks of a particular student at the examiners' meeting. If agreement cannot be reached by the usual means, the decision of the external examiner will be final.
14. The signature of an external examiner must be appended to the final list of degree results as evidence that he or she
a. accepts the classification/award decisions;
b. accepts that University procedures have been followed, to the best of his/her knowledge.
However, this does not prejudice any future review of the marks in the context of an appeal.
15. In the case of Level 2 undergraduate resit Boards of Examiners in September where the presence of the external examiner is not required (see 6.2.1 on quoracy), mark sheets will be accepted without the signature of the external examiner provided that the minutes of the meeting record fully how the external examiners have been consulted and what their views were.
16. If an external examiner is unwilling to sign the final list of degree results the matter should be referred to the Chair of the relevant Faculty Education Committee and subsequently if necessary to the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education) for resolution
17. The external examiner may be consulted in the course of any investigation into any suspected irregularity in examination performance or the production of assessed work.
18. External examiners should be encouraged to comment on the assessment process and the schemes for marking. In some subjects participation in the devising of marking schemes is essential.
19. External examiners may often be able to give valuable advice to internal examiners, especially the inexperienced, either direct or through the Head of Department.
20. External examiners should use the opportunity afforded by their visits to discuss the design, structure and content of the course/module and of the degree programme, the modes of learning, teaching and assessment employed and the assessment procedures. They may be invited to comment on proposals for new programmes and should be invited to comment on proposals for new modules.
21. Any comments or suggestions made by the external examiner should be discussed by the department and an explicit decision made about whether or not to introduce changes. This discussion and its outcome should be minuted.
22. Details of the role and responsibilities of the external moderators for the Combined Honours Degree in Arts and Social Sciences and the Natural Sciences Degree are outlined below.
23. In the event of serious problems in the assessment process with respect to Preliminary Honours work, the external examiner may be consulted.
External Examiners' Reports
24. External examiners are required to make written reports annually on the University's standard Annual Report Form and at the end of their term of office. These reports are submitted electronically, and the University clearly indicates that the Report Form will normally be made available for discussion widely within the University and that an additional and separate confidential report may be sent by the Examiner to the Vice-Chancellor. Reports should be submitted as soon as possible after the meeting of the Board of Examiners and certainly within 8 weeks.
25. When completing the Annual Report Form, external examiners should not refer to specific members of staff or students.
26. A newly appointed external examiner is entitled, if he or she so desires, to see the final report of the previous external examiner.
27. Following the receipt of an external examiner's report regarding a taught programme the Academic Support Office, on behalf of the Vice-Chancellor, is responsible for acknowledging receipt of and circulating a copy of the Report to the Chair of the relevant Faculty Education Committee (i.e. of the Faculty or Faculties in which the programmes for which the external(s) are appointed are administered; some subjects are offered for degrees in all three Durham Faculties), and to the relevant Head(s) of Department(s).
28. If matters of concern are raised it is the responsibility of the Chair of the relevant Faculty Education Committee to ensure that appropriate action is taken, and to provide an annual report to the relevant Faculty Education Committee and Quality and Standards Sub-Committee of the main matters of concern and action taken (see A6.10 to this section).
29. The Education Committee is responsible for assuring itself, through Quality and Standards Sub-Committee, that points arising from the reports of external examiners for Undergraduate and Postgraduate programmes have been fully considered. To support this, the Head of the Academic Support Office is responsible for reading all external examiners and providing University overviews on these reports to Quality and Standards Sub-Committee for consideration.
30. Reports from external examiners should be discussed in an appropriate forum within the department, and the discussion should be fully minuted. This forum may be the Board of Studies, or the Board of Examiners or another appropriate committee. If the forum is not the Board of Studies itself, a report should be made from the relevant committee to the Board of Studies indicating the issues raised, the actions taken and/or the reasons for taking no action. In addition all external examiner reports should be considered by the relevant Staff Student Consultative Committee, together with a draft of the departmental response to the report.
31. The Chair of the Board of Studies is responsible for informing the external examiner in writing of the actions to be taken in response to his/her report. If action is not to be taken, an explanation should be given of the reason for this. If an external examiner is not content with the response received they may raise this with the chair of Education Committee (via the Head of the Academic Support Office), who will respond in writing to the external examiner.
32. Where matters of University policy are raised in the External Examiners' Report, the Chair of the relevant Faculty Education Committee will respond to the external examiner in consultation with the Chair of Education Committee.
33. If an external examiner has serious concerns related to academic standards and has exhausted the University's internal procedures without these serious concerns being addressed to their satisfaction, they may raise these issues with the QAA through its Causes for Concern process, details of which are available at http://www.qaa.ac.uk/Complaints/concerns/Pages/default.aspx .
34. In the case of conduct likely to lead to the premature termination of the contract of an external examiner:
a. the Chair of the Board of Examiners should discuss the matter with the external examiner if possible to resolve the situation;
b. if such discussion is impossible or fails, the details must be documented by the Chair of the Board of Examiners, with other members of the department as appropriate and with advice and assistance if appropriate from the Chair of the relevant Faculty Education Committee;
c. the matter must be discussed fully between the Chair of the Board of Examiners, other relevant members of the department as appropriate and the Chair of the relevant Faculty Education Committee;
d. the Chair of the relevant Faculty Education Committee will:
i. discuss the matter with the Chair of Education Committee;
ii. correspond with the external examiner to discuss the concerns raised and attempt to reach a solution;
iii. if no solution can be found, write to the external examiner stating the decision to terminate the contract and giving reasons.
Code of practice on external examining in respect of the External Moderators for the combined honours degrees in arts and social sciences, the natural sciences degree, joint honours degrees in the Faculty of Social Sciences and MA in Research Methods
35. The duties of the external moderators for the Combined Honours degrees in Arts and Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, Joint Honours degrees and the MA in Research Methods are different in nature from those of external examiners. In essence the duties are to moderate the fairness of procedures and decisions when final degree results are considered and do not include the normal responsibilities for examination papers and marks in particular academic subjects.
36. The structure of these degrees enables students to choose a combination of courses/modules from different departments. The external examiners for the subjects concerned carry what might be termed the "subject responsibility" - i.e. in broad terms, responsibility for the content of examination papers and for marking standards in the same way as for all other students in their subject. Subject Boards of Examiners are required to submit lists of marks for students in the subject for these degrees, agreed with their external examiners, and to nominate one or two of their members (in accordance with the relevant terms of reference) to attend the relevant Examiners' meeting fully briefed on each student's performance in their subject.
37. The principal concern of the External Moderator for each of the three degrees is to ensure that each student's results are fully and fairly considered in a consistent manner. The views of the External Moderator concerned will be particularly sought in the case of disagreement on the final classification to be derived from the array of marks of a particular student at the Examiners' meeting or where work has been affected by illness or other good cause.
38. More specifically each External Moderator is expected:
a. To attend as a full member, all meetings of the Board of Examiners for the relevant degree at which marks counting towards a final degree result are considered.
b. To sign the final list of degree results as evidence that he or she accepts the classifications adopted.
c. To provide such comments and advice upon degree programme structures and classification schemes as the External Moderator deems necessary or as may be requested by the Chair of the relevant Faculty Education Committee or the Vice-Chancellor.
d. To report annually to the Vice-Chancellor (c/o External Examiners' Secretary, the Academic Support Office) and at the end of the period of office. Whilst covering only the matters referred to in paragraphs 36 and 37 above, the report will be treated in the same way as those of external examiners viz. it will normally be made available for discussion widely within the University and will be circulated to the Chair of the relevant Faculty Education Teaching Committee and the Director of Combined Honours or Natural Sciences. An additional and separate confidential report may also be sent to the Vice-Chancellor.
e. The appointment will be renewable for three or four years.
External examiners' report forms
39. External examiners'/moderators' report forms can be found as follows:
- - External examiners' report form;
- - External examiners' final overview report guidelines:6.4.7;
- - External moderator's final overview report guidelines:6.4.8.
40. The Faculty Annual Report Form is included as A6.10 to this Section.