Given that the faculty wants to prevent ‘the exam questions from ending up on the streets’, it is not providing full online review, says Bram Steijn, vice dean of education at the Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences (ESSB), which also encompasses the Psychology degree programme. “There is a lot of work involved in making new multiple-choice questions and the lecturers’ workload is already far too high,” he explains. “What’s more, the number of questions you can come up with is not endless.” Steijn adds that students can access their answers to open essay questions.
As far as Steijn is concerned, this approach meets the aim of access to exam papers, which is to provide feedback on how the exam was drawn up. “In a way, you could say that this approach is even better than providing insight in terms of questions, because at the end of the day, it is all about learning objectives and not about specific questions,” he points out. “When taking exams, you don’t want students to have learned the questions by heart, but you want them to be able to properly answer a range of questions about a particular learning objective.”
‘There is a lot of work involved in making new multiple-choice questions and the lecturers’ workload is already far too high’
Not a learning opportunity
According to a number of students, this approach to providing access does not constitute a learning opportunity. “We do not know which questions we have answered right or wrong. How can we learn from our mistakes if we don’t even know what mistakes we’ve made?” responds student S.
Together with four other fellow students, the student outlines the problems relating to the disclosure policy of their study programme when it comes to exam papers. They would like to remain anonymous, because they ‘don’t feel safe’ criticising their own study programme in public. The names of the students are known to the editors. Two of them have also submitted an official complaint to the Examination Board.
After the limited access to their exams, students can still submit their questions online to their teacher. They will then answer their questions collectively. “But this means of communication is not effective at all. After a couple of weeks, we no longer know what was in the exam, let alone our answers,” student D finds.
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Access after a resit
The Education and Examination Regulations (EER) state that the study programme should organise access to a completed exam within fifteen working days after publication of the grades. According to the students, Psychology programme has ‘failed nine times out of ten’ to do this. The students believe that the low success rate of the resits is a consequence of this. The success rate of resits is around 30% for the last four second-year subjects, as data from Osiris shows. “For instance, we only had access to the exam after the resit had already taken place for the Psychometrics course,” student A states. “So, you ended up blindly resitting your exam, since you had no idea what you did wrong on the first exam.”
‘You ended up blindly resitting your exam, since you had no idea what you did wrong on the first exam’
In addition, due to the limited access, students are not able to check whether the lecturer’s assessment was carried out correctly. “Before the corona period, we had faulty questions in six out of a total of twelve exams, which were subsequently withdrawn,” says student S. As a result of that correction, students’ grades were raised. “We are no longer able to check for faulty questions now.”
Viewing your exam in person on campus
If a student is dissatisfied with online review, he or she can make an appointment to view the exam on campus, under the supervision of a staff member. Steijn acknowledges that due to the corona crisis, it may take some time before they can schedule an appointment. “Apart from the availability of staff, we also have to take into account the availability of equipment, since access is provided on a laptop.”
Student S. made use of this option but found it almost useless because the lecturer in question was not present during the viewing. “You still cannot argue why your answer is correct.” Steijn states that the consultation is intended for feedback and review, and not for entering into a discussion with a lecturer.
Student M. also finds it unfair that only students in Rotterdam are given the opportunity to gain full access to their exams. She is currently in her home country and as a result she has not been given the chance to have full access review. “It’s true that this is difficult for students in other countries. But unfortunately, we are in the middle of a pandemic and we have to adapt,” Steijn says. “In my opinion, it goes without saying that if you are located remotely from your study, not everything goes the way you would ideally like it to.”
A number of students state that the limited access indirectly causes study delays. Because they cannot learn anything from a review of their exams, they make the same mistakes and still fail the resit. “We cannot write a thesis until we have passed all subjects in the second year. Now that I haven’t passed one subject, I’ll still have to take that subject again next year. And because the course is scheduled for the second semester, just like the thesis, I won’t be able to write my thesis for another two years,” student A exclaims. “That’s ridiculous, because I did manage to pass all the other subjects.”
No rules at university level
The faculty believes that its policy is in line with the rules. “Naturally, this procedure has been discussed with the Examination Board and agreed upon by them. It complies with the OER and the examination protocol,” Steijn asserts. “We are of the opinion that we meet students’ needs as much as possible this way, but also take into account the staff’s workload. That’s also very important.”
University Council member Jasper Klasen fully understands that coming up with exam questions adds a lot to the work pressure. “But it is the responsibility of the teaching staff and should not be at the expense of students.” The medical student himself won a lawsuit against the university in order to gain access to his exam paper earlier this year.
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One thing that Klasen believes would help is regulation at a university level. “We are one of the few universities that do not have any centralised rules for this. Most universities have a so-called EER model. In it, certain agreements are made at a central level, which are then supplemented with specific rules at a faculty level. This would create more clarity and uniformity within the EUR,” Klasen explains.
Klasen himself believes that full access should be granted under all circumstances. “At the moment, the faculties are only offering online education. And if exams are held online, then in my opinion, it is only fair if they also offer full online access to them after we have sat them.”