Legally secure examinations: second edition
The second edition of this report is a revised edition of the first edition published in 1998. It is the intention that this report be used by higher education institutions (HEIs) to improve the legal rights of students taking examinations.
It is the view of Högskoleverket (Swedish National Agency for Higher Education) that HEIs need to devise clearer regulations for examinations. Examiners must also be aware of the stipulations of the Higher Education Ordinance and the Administrative Procedures Act.
In accordance with the Higher Education Ordinance, an examiner must grade an examination on the basis of the grounds of assessment stipulated in the course syllabus. In accordance with the Administrative Procedures Act, the matter of grading a student starts with the registration of a student on a course and can include several considerations in addition to the stipulations of the Higher Education Ordinance.
Given this background, the Swedish National Agency for Higher Education has the following remarks to make:
- If there are written grading criteria for a course, the HEI must clarify if they are binding for the examiner and the students.
- The Higher Education Ordinance does not stipulate any limits on the number of examinations or placements. The HEI must decide whether this leads to an unreasonable waste of resources.
- A lecturer employed at one Swedish HEI may act as an examiner at another HEI. However, this means he/she must be employed in some capacity at the second HEI.
- There are no formal obstacles to several examiners grading different students at the same examination session.
- In the case of anonymous examinations, the examiner must note the names of the examinees towards the end of the grading process, because of the rules regarding challenges to impartiality.
- Normally a student cannot be regarded as being in need of an interpreter when the course is held in Swedish.
- Students who speak a minority language in Sweden or another Nordic language do not have the right to use their own language during examinations.
- Grades must be written in Swedish. The Government should clarify under which circumstances other languages may be used in examinations.
- Examinations may take place on Saturdays and Sundays although consideration must be taken to students who cannot take examinations on certain religious holidays.
- HEIs are not normally obliged to offer examinations at locations other than the location of the HEI, although in accordance with the Administrative Procedures Act with regard to the obligation to offer services, there could be reasons for providing this service.
- An examiner must not only set the final grade but also make other decisions during the process of setting the grade.
- An examiner is obliged to act objectively and impartially when setting grades. If there are circumstances that could affect this impartiality, the examiner may not take part in the grading process.
- A student has the right to know who has been responsible for the grading process, e.g. the written comments a supervisor has written during a placement that are reported to the examiner of the course.
- The examination of students is not limited to topics covered by the course literature. This should be explained more clearly to students in clearly written grading criteria.
- Credit limits stated prior to an examination should be considered as guidelines that should be followed as far as possible.
- Lost examination papers or incorrect information about the date and time of an examination are examples of mistakes by HEIs that can lead to students missing the opportunity to take an examination. In such cases, the HEI´s regulations should make it clear under what conditions a student has the right to be offered another examination session and the time limits for this. An examiner may not pass a student just because an examination paper has been lost.
- In order to prevent a student missing an examination for the wrong reason, a student who, according to the notes, has not completed a compulsory module should still normally be allowed to take the examination.
- A student does not have the right to have a submitted examination returned in order to avoid having it graded.
- A spot check of the HEIs´ regulations showed that regulations exist for how long an examination may take to mark.
- A decision about a grade must be recorded on paper or electronically.
- The majority of HEIs have regulations stipulating that a student has the right to have the reasons for the awarded grade explained by the examiner.
- If a decision about a grade includes a mistake, for example a written mistake or a computation mistake, the decision may be corrected by the examiner. This should only take place in very clear cases if the correction would result in a lower grade for the student. The student should be given the opportunity to present their view on the matter before such a decision is made.
- The examiner is obliged to change obvious mistakes that are the result of new circumstances if this can happen quickly and simply without the grade being lowered.
- It is possible to change a grade if the student has cheated. There is also an opportunity to change a grade to a higher one although great care should be taken when making such changes.
- A pass grade may not be changed to a fail at the request of a student.
- There should be no regulations or procedures that means that a student who has automatically received his/her grade loses the right to have the decision reviewed. Neither is it permitted to set time limits for when a student may ask for a decision to be reviewed.
- The examiner may decide that a student who has not passed a course may carry out supplementary tasks if this is supported by the regulations of the HEI.
- HEIs are permitted to allow students who have passed a course to retake the course in order to achieve a higher grade.
- Students must be informed about the date for retaking an examination, at the time of the examination session, at the latest. There must be at least two weeks between the announcement of the examination results and the date of the re-take. In the case of changes to the course literature or discontinuation of a course, the interim regulations must be stated in the course syllabus.
- An examination paper becomes a public document once it is available to the students in an examination hall.
- In the case of oral examinations, it is extremely important with clear grading criteria.
- It is important that HEIs decide the formal role of supervisors with regard to placements.
- The course syllabus should state the consequences of the late submission of a take-home examination.
- Group examinations are permitted. However, it is important that individual student assessments are possible.
- If a supervisor has approved an essay, it should not be possible for an examiner to demand comprehensive changes for an essay to be passed.
- A student who does not complete an essay during the duration of the course, should receive supervision to a reasonable extent, until such time as the essay is finished. It should be stated in the course syllabus if this is not the normal procedure.
- For standard examinations, the examination regulations should stipulate what is assessed by the examiner and in what way the examiner can reach a decision based on student performance.