We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

Learning and Teaching Handbook

10.5 : Role and Responsibilities of External Examiners

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 direct involvement of the external examiner as the confirmation of the academic standards of the final award by the relevant external examiner is regarded as confirming the academic standards of the Level 1 modules that contribute to the final award.

Approval of assessment questions

2. All draft examination papers for all final honours undergraduate and taught postgraduate examinations should be sent to the external examiner(s) for comment and scrutiny prior to their submission to the board of examiners for final approval. Where external examiners have proposed amendments to draft papers, departments should ensure that external examiners receive feedback on the action taken in response to these proposals.

3. The external examiner(s) has the right, if they wish to do so, to request that they are consulted as part of the process for setting summatively assessed coursework assignments. Where a module is entirely assessed by summative coursework, the external examiner should be consulted in setting the assignments for at least a sample of the summative assessment tasks.

Assessment of examination scripts, summatively assessed coursework and other assessed work

4. An external examiner has the right to see all examination scripts, projects and other assessed work.

5. In those cases where it is agreed with the external examiner that the inviting department that a sample of scripts/assessed work should be sent to the external examiner, rather than the external examiner seeing all summatively assessed work, the principles for such selection should be agreed by the chair of the board of examiners with the external examiner in advance. The range of, and rationale for, the sample moderated by the external examiner should be recorded in the minutes of the board of examiners. Where an external examiner has asked to see a sample of assessed work rather than all assessed work, they retain the right to see any assessed work contributing to the marks for final degree classification should they wish to see work not included in the original sample.

6. 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.

7. It is the normal principle that external examiners should not act as second markers of scripts/assessed 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, in their capacity as a moderator. Exceptions to this principle must be presented in writing, in advance, for approval by the Education Committee.

8. The external examiner shall have the right to request additional marking of student assessments in the case of dispute between the original markers.

9. 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 they feel that marks are over-harsh, over-generous or inconsistent), they should make recommendations on the systematic steps to be taken to address their 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).

10. 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.

Viva voce examinations

11. 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).

Meetings with students

12. External examiners are encouraged where possible and practicable to meet with groups of students in order to obtain feedback on the student learning experience and the programme(s) as a whole. While there is no University requirement for external examiners to conduct such meetings, 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 and this must be made clear to students when they are invited to such meetings.

Role as member of board of examiners

13. An external examiner is a full member of the board of examiners and is required to attend final examiners' meetings in accordance with the expectations in sections 6.3.2 and 6.3.3 of the Learning and Teaching Handbook. If an external examiner cannot attend a meeting where his/her presence is required:

a. permission for the external examiner to be absent must be obtained from the chair of the relevant FEC, and if granted the reason for absence should be documented;
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.

14. 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.

15. 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. In such circumstances the final decision rests with the board of examiners as a whole, with the views of the respective examiners being made known to the board.

16. 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.

17. Where permission has been granted for an external examiner not to attend a meeting of a board of examiners, 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.

18. 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 FEC and subsequently if necessary to the chair of Education Committee for resolution.

Assessment irregularities

19. 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. Comments and advice

Assessement process and curriculum design

20. External examiners should be encouraged to comment on the assessment process and the assessment criteria. In some subjects participation in the devising of assessment criteria is essential.

21. External examiners may often be able to give valuable advice to internal examiners, especially the inexperienced, either direct or through the head of department.

22. External examiners should use the opportunity afforded by their visits to discuss the design, structure and content of modules and the degree programme(s); the modes of learning, teaching and assessment employed; and the assessment procedures. They may be invited to comment on proposals for new programmes (although an independent external subject specialist will also be required to comment on new programme proposals), and should be invited to comment on proposals for new modules.

23. 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.

24. 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

25. External examiners are required to make written reports annually on the University's standard Annual Report Form. At the end of their term of office they are also asked to provide an overview report covering the full period of their appointment. 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. Reports should be submitted as soon as possible after the meeting of the board of examiners and certainly within 8 weeks. Payment of the external examiner’s fee is dependent on the University receiving a report from the external examiner.

26. When completing the Annual Report Form, external examiners should not refer to specific members of staff or students.

27. A newly appointed external examiner is entitled, if he or she so desires, to see the final report of the previous external examiner.

28. 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 FEC, and to the relevant head(s) of department(s).

29. If matters of concern are raised it is the responsibility of the chair of the relevant FEC to ensure that appropriate action is taken by the department, and to provide an annual report to the relevant FEC and Quality and Standards Sub-Committee of the main matters of concern and action taken (see A6.10 to this section).

30. Education Committee is responsible for assuring itself, through Quality and Standards Sub-Committee, that points arising from the reports of external examiners for taught 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.

31. 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.

32. The head of department is responsible for informing the external examiner in writing of the actions to be taken in response to their report. If action is not to be taken, an explanation should be given of the reason for this. Departmental Reponses to external examiners should be sent to external examiners after the response has been approved by the relevant FEC chair. 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. External examiners may also make an additional and separate confidential report to the Vice-Chancellor.

33. Where matters of University policy are raised in an external examiner's report, the chair of the relevant FEC will respond to the external examiner in consultation with the chair of Education Committee.

34. 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 Concerns scheme, details of which are available at .

External moderators for combined honours degrees, natural sciences degree, joint honours degrees and the MA Research Methods

35. The duties of the external moderators for these programmes 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. External moderators also have oversight of the academic standards of any module within these programmes that does not belong to a board of studies.

36. The structure of these degrees enables students to choose a combination of modules from different departments. The external examiners for the subjects concerned carry 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 faculty level board of 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 serious adverse circumstances.

38. More specifically each external moderator is expected:

a. To attend as a full member, all meetings of the faculty-level 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 and progression decisions made.
c. To provide such comments and advice on degree programme structures and classification schemes as the external moderator deems necessary or as may be requested by the chair of the relevant FEC or the chair of Education Committee.
d. To report annually to the Vice-Chancellor (through 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 considered and responded to in the same way as those of external examiners. An additional and separate confidential report may also be sent to the Vice-Chancellor, and like external examiners external moderators may raise issues of concern through the QAA Concerns’ scheme where internal processes have been exhausted and the external moderator does not believe their concerns have been satisfactorily addressed.
e. The appointment will be for four years.