The case was argued at the Higher Education Appeals Court (CBHO) in The Hague on Monday and revolves around the surgery block exam, a multiple-choice exam taken by medical students who are doing the foundation programme. Student Jasper Klasen was told he failed the test by a very small margin. He wishes to inspect his exam script to check whether it was marked properly and to learn from his mistakes, so as to prevent falling even further behind in his studies.

The department is refusing to allow the student to inspect his exam script in full because it does not want the multiple-choice questions to become public knowledge. For this reason, the student has been given a list of exam subjects, with the scores he obtained for each individual subject. This should allow him to determine which parts of the exam he performed poorly on, but not whether the exam was marked correctly.

It is not customary for departments to refuse inspection of exam scripts. The student’s lawyer stated during the hearing that EUR’s Faculty of Medicine is the only medical faculty in the Netherlands to refuse inspections of its exams.

Limited number of questions

According to an Erasmus MC-affiliated professor who attended the hearing, there is ‘only a limited number of questions that can be asked’ about certain medical issues. If students were to be allowed to inspect their exam scripts, they might after a while be able to collect all the possible questions.

The lawyer who represented EUR at the hearing also argued that departments have the right to decide for themselves how to give effect to the inspection rules. Since the exam in question was a sub-test rather than a regular examination, the lawyer stated that the department should be given even greater leeway. Students are eventually allowed to inspect their scripts for such tests, but not until they have failed the exam twice. “When that happens, students are allowed to inspect their scripts thoroughly and discuss them with their lecturers. They are basically given a mini seminar, in which the lecturer will briefly touch on those aspects of the course which have proven problematic for the student.”

The student claims that this is not what actually happened. Klasen says that when he failed the exam the second time round, he was merely handed a photocopy of his exam script, and was not given the opportunity to ask questions.

The student’s lawyer argued that no harm is done if all exam questions are leaked to students, ‘because when students know the answers to all the questions you can come up with, they are familiar with the entire subject matter’. “Perhaps they are not quite as able to reflect on the matter, but that’s not something that can be assessed by means of multiple-choice questions anyway,” said the student’s lawyer.

Privacy Act

Previously, the Examinations Appeals Board (CBE) agreed with the student that exam answers are considered personal data under the Dutch Privacy Act and must therefore be able to be inspected. However, for its part, the university does not consider exam or examination answers personal data, meaning the student was only given a long list of meaningless As, Bs and Cs. He then appealed to a higher court, the CBHO.

The appeals judge will adjudicate on the case within the next six weeks.

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