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1st February 2013

Outrage as exam papers ask ‘unanswerable’ questions

Complaints made after series of blunders during January exams

Students sitting exams last month were given papers with multiple mistakes in them, The Mancunion has learned.

Exams in Linguistics, English Language, and Nursing were among those with errors.

“For three out of four of my exams at the University of Manchester to have mistakes is quite a big deal really,” second year English Language Tom Ingham said.

The exams, taken as part of semester one modules, included unanswerable questions, repeated questions, and confusing printing errors.

“In my Introduction to Middle English paper, there was a question that was unanswerable, so it was either from another paper or the question had been mistyped,” said Ingham. “What they asked you to look for, which was ‘can you identify these old English pronouns in this Middle English text and can you identify a relic,’ well they weren’t in there.

“So you’d spend ages and ages on the question, and panicked yourself. That was worth 20 marks in the paper and it was a question you had to do.

“Out of the four compulsory questions on the paper, one was unanswerable and the component to answer one of the other questions was missing, and we were only told 30 to 40 minutes in.”

Ingham also had mistakes in two other exams.

“In my Logic of English paper, we were asked to analyse a formula – part of the formula was missing. It you had revised it enough, you could have made an educated guess that it didn’t matter, but we had never seen formulas like this. It was very obscure to look at. And it was a compulsory question.

“The other mistake was a printing error on a diagram in my Introduction to Phonology paper. Again, if you used your intuition you could maybe have worked it out, but you couldn’t be sure.”

Ingham added, “The problem is, now they’ve said they are not going to mark those questions, so they are going to be disregarded. That isn’t fair, say if the questions that did have the mistakes were your strong points, and they’re just being completely disregarded you are being shafted in a way. Even though they will up-mark the other ones, it is a very dodgy balance.

“And then you have the re-sit system, for some courses you can only re-sit if you fail and if you re-sit you can only get 40 per cent.”
Second year Mental Health Nursing student Joe Vickery also experienced problems and said it affected his ability to do his exams.

“In both my exams questions were repeated, and a couple questions were not numbered properly,” he said. “In one exam they asked a question, and then asked a different question straight after, so people didn’t know which one to answer – there was a question about a paragraph of text and then a separate list of questions relating to the same paragraph with instructions to answer one from the list.

“There were also loads of questions that were badly worded, which made it really difficult to understand them.”
One way teachers have responded to the errors is to disregard questions with mistakes from the final mark of paper.

Ingham and Vickery were emailed by their lecturers saying they had not seen the mistakes and were amending the problem.
Wendell Kimper, a lecturer in Linguistics, emailed students who took the Introduction to Phonology paper saying their grade would not suffer because of mistakes.

“A few of you have expressed concern that disregarding the two erroneously formatted questions means that all of the other questions will carry more weight,” said Kimper. “This is true, but remember that your raw score is not the same as your mark — there is a scaling process to turn the former into the latter.

Linguistics and English Language faculty member Antonio Fortin emailed students who took the Logic of English exam saying, “It was brought to my attention afterwards that Q6 had various errors in it. I do have a copy of the final version of the exam that went to the printers, and it had no such typos on it, but they nevertheless crept in during the admin/printing stage.

“Once I receive the scripts, I will work out exactly what I need to make allowances for, but I wanted to reassure those of you who might be worried about that question that you will not be penalised if there are errors on the exam itself.”

Vickery added that the head of the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work made an appearance in his lecture on 31 January to apologise for the exam blunder.

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