What will the Department do if there is a mistake in an exam paper?
Your lecturers put a lot of effort into setting the exams each year and trying to ensure that they contain no errors. The process begins in Michaelmas Term and includes more than three months' worth of scrutiny by vetters, paper committees and external examiners, so when occasionally errors do occur it is despite these efforts. Members of staff are fallible human beings, after all. Whilst any error is regrettable, given the complex mathematical and scientific content of most physics exam questions the number of errors in the Department's exam papers is actually remarkably small. It is even rarer for an error to have any substantial impact on students' ability to attempt the question.
If a paper is found to contain an error then students' answers will of course be considered carefully during the marking process to ensure that no student is disadvantaged. The Board of Examiners looks carefully at all the exam marks every year, and if any papers were found to contain errors then the Board pays special attention to the marks for those papers, to ensure fair outcomes for all students. In particular, it would simply never happen that a student's degree outcome would be compromised as a result of a mistake in an exam paper. Therefore you should not submit a Serious Adverse Circumstances (SAC) form simply because you sat an exam containing an error.
Members of academic staff do not act as invigilators in exams. Your physics lecturers will, however, be in their offices throughout the course of every exam in case any queries are raised by students. If a student raises a specialist query (e.g. a suspected error) with the invigilator, this is then relayed by telephone quickly to the Department and the relevant lecturer is consulted immediately. A response is then relayed back to the invigilator as quickly as possible. If any information (e.g. a correction) needs to be issued to students then this will be done, in all the relevant exam rooms, including the concession rooms. Therefore, if a correction is issued relatively late in an exam, this will be because the query was not raised by any student until relatively late.
Our standard advice on examination techniques includes advice to try to spend a proportionate amount of time on each question, and to move on to a different question if you find that you are spending too long on one question. This is generic advice, but it also has clear relevance if there is an error in the question that has not yet been picked up and reported.
From 2018/19 there will be no choice of questions in physics exam papers. This is for good pedagogic reasons, but one positive consequence is that it should become simpler for the Department to mitigate the effects of any mistakes in exam questions, since all students will have attempted the same set of questions and therefore the impact of any mistakes is likely to be much more uniform among the cohort.
Mistakes in exams are not good, and it is understandable that they can be distracting or distressing for students. We have provided the above information to try to give you some reassurance and to reduce your anxiety should you ever find yourself in such a situation. Sometimes the impact of a mistake may feel large at the time, but we encourage you not to jump to any conclusions: things are rarely as bad as they seem. In all cases please be assured that the Board of Examiners seeks to ensure fair outcomes for all students.