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Durham University

Learning and Teaching Handbook

6.3.5: The Approval and Monitoring of Examination Papers

1. The main subject Board of Examiners (properly quorate) is responsible for the form and content of all examination papers, and approval must be obtained at a meeting of the board.

2. Boards of Examiners should put robust procedures in place to ensure that exam papers are accurate and free from error. These may include establishing sub-groups to check the correctness and balance of questions, reviewing questions against the learning outcomes of the module, producing model answers and ensuring that detail such as formulae, facts and figures are correct and consistent with question text (see the guidance on common exam paper errors at the end of this section). The procedures and the composition of any sub-group should ensure that individual questions are checked by staff other than the setter(s).3. External examiners, while they are not required to be present at the meeting of the board where approval takes place, must approve all examination papers for which they are expected to act as external examiners.

4. Boards of Examiners should write to external examiners to inform them of action being taken, with regard to proposals for changes which they make to examination papers, and external examiners should receive minutes of the board.

5. There must be a minuted record of the meetings at which approval of examination papers is given. Following this meeting, camera ready copies of approved papers should be signed by the Chair of the Board (or their delegate) and submitted to Student Registry by the examination paper deadline detailed in Appendix A6.01, A6.02, A6.03 and A6.04

6. A designated member of the academic staff should be available, by telephone, for the duration of each examination to deal with any query which arises on the content of the examination paper.

Common errors and what to look out for when checking papers for approval

This section aims to give some guidance to academic staff with responsibility for setting exam questions and ensuring the accuracy of exam papers. It highlights common problems with the structure and content of exam papers that can impact the students’ understanding of what is being required of them, including errors that have been found both during the process of preparation for printing by Student Registry staff and during the exam itself.

Paper Structure

Ensure that:

  • page numbers flow correctly and that each page states “continued” at the bottom until the last page, which should have “End” printed at the end of the questions.
  • section names/numbers flow correctly (e.g. Section A, Section B)
  • question numbers flow correctly (e.g. 1a,1b, 1c, 2a, 2b etc) and are consistent in style throughout the paper (e.g. not 1a, 1b, 2i 2ii)
  • if the paper states the number of marks for each question, make sure these are correct, and add up to the right total for the paper.


Ensure that:

  • the instructions on the rubric make sense, for example, in the case of “Answer 2 questions from Section A and 3 questions from Section B” making sure that there is a Section A and a Section B with enough questions to make this possible
  • if students are permitted to bring materials with them to the exam, that the rubric is unambiguous, particularly in relation to annotation, highlighting and postit notes in published materials
  • if Erasmus students are allowed to use a dictionary, that this is stated in the rubric including information on the type of dictionary permitted (normally a dictionary to translate into English).
  • clear instructions are given on the use of calculators and which models are allowed
  • if material is included in the paper, that this is clear in the rubric, and the reference matches the title of the material
  • the exam duration stated is correct, and in line with the published module outline

Question Content

Check that:

  • if material is required to answer questions, that the correct material is included in the paper
  • questions make sense and it is clear what is required from the student
  • formulae are correct and that it is possible to answer the questions containing them
  • where a formula, or part of a formula is referred to in the text of the question, that the reference is consistent with the formula. An example of a question with an error of this kind might be,

“using the formula b + 42 = p2, calculate p where a = 72”

  • positive and negative signs are correct
  • where powers are used, these are correct, particularly positive and negative values
  • make sure < and > symbols are the right way round
  • where a diagram is used, that the labels on it are consistent with information given in the question