Assessment time at university is a very stressful period, particularly for first-year students who do not know how things work yet. Many students find the process confusing, as it works so differently from exams they have sat before. However, this process does not need to be daunting, as it can be easily understood.
University exam papers are typically marked internally by your lecturer. This is because they are the most knowledgeable about the subject in most cases and have often written the exam. However, if you are taking a particularly large course or one with many students the work may be spread around the department to ensure everything is marked in a timely manner.
After exams are marked internally there is often an external process. This is where external examiners mark a sample of the exams. This is to check again that the marking is standardised and in line with other similar courses at different universities.
While this should have given you a short answer to your questions about university exams, please read on for full details, including moderation and other key parts of the exam process.
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How do university papers get marked?
University papers are a little different from in school, as they are usually marked by your main lecturer for that course. At the university level, because studies are much more in-depth it is harder for universities to share marking as they may not have knowledge of the same specific area of study.
However, if there are a particularly high number of students taking the course then the exam papers may be spread around the department to mark. This is to ensure that everyone receives a grade in a timely fashion, as well as reduce strain on lecturers who may hold more popular courses.
After things are marked by your lecturers, they are typically taken to the exam board for your university and discussed to check everything has been marked to the same standard. This ensures that they are all fairly marked, as well as flagging major errors made by the markers.
Finally, there is often an extra external process with examiners who mark the scripts that have been flagged, or a sample of them. This is to check again that the marking is standardised and in line with other similar courses at different universities.
Are university exams marked externally?
University exams are always graded internally first. This means that your lecturers and department mark the exam. This forms the most important part of the marking, and typically will determine your grade.
However, there is usually a second part to this process which is moderation. This is done by external markers, sometimes from a different department of the university, or from an exams department at your university. They may also be completely external, from an exam board.
For example, you can check out the University of Oxford’s examination marking guidelines.
This ensures that the marks are all fair and equitably marked, reviewing extenuating circumstances for individual students or group to make sure these are taken into account in the marks. They also ensure that the university is not inflating grades.
If you are taking an external exam such as the bar exam, or a medical exam, these will be marked externally similar to exams you may have taken before. This is because they are public exams and the same for all students across the county. In this case the exam will be entirely externally marked in most cases, with you lecturers having no control over the process.
What are university exams marked on?
Firstly, university exams definitely vary at different universities, so it is very important that you check with your university to find out exactly what will happen. There is generally a set criteria from which the university marks your paper, and this is set out in module information that you should have access to in an online portal or on paper.
This information is not always available however, as it can give students too much of an idea of the questions that will come up. If this is the case, try contacting your lecturers, as they should be able to give you some help if you need it.
However, unlike in your previous exams, the grade boundaries are set. There are 5 levels of degree that you can gain at a UK university, and these numbers do not change each year, or based on the university. This ensures that the degrees are as fairly marked as possible without complete standardisation.
A First is the highest grade you can get. It means getting 70% or more on an assignment, exam or course. A 2:1 is 60-69%, meaning your work was at a really good level. You need a 2:1 or higher if you want to do a masters or post-graduate qualification.
For more information about university degree classifications in the UK, check out this Think Student article.
Can you get your university exams remarked?
Most of the time you cannot get your university exams remarked. This is because they are marked anonymously and fairly based on your performance and moderated in the process. Unfortunately, the grade you receive is highly unlikely to change based on a remark.
However, in extreme circumstances such as illness you may be able to retake the exam with no penalty to your degree. Furthermore, if you suspect there has been malpractice in the marking process, such as discrimination, then you should be able to apply for remarking or moderation.
However, this is very unlikely to be the case as papers are marked anonymously, meaning that it is highly unlikely that there is any discrimination in the process.