The on-going frustration of first year Bioscience students came to a head last Tuesday when students were interrupted three times during a one and a half hour exam due to mistakes in the paper.
Around 20 minutes into the exam students were stopped and informed that they were not to answer question 28 of the paper, which supposedly consisted of 30 multiple choice questions and 12 short answers.
Five minutes later students were interrupted again as the head invigilator announced that, although the paper instructed students to “answer 12 questions,” upon reassessment they had, “only counted 12” (by which he meant 10).
An hour in, invigilators added to the mass confusion of students by instructing them not to “fill in the circles for the multiple choice questions 26-30” but to “write the answer next to the options in the machine readable book” and to “now answer question 28”, in spite of earlier instructions. Following this, students were requested to raise their hand if they had any questions, at which around a couple of hundred students signaled their bemusement and requested assistance.
The farcical nature of the exam did not end there. One student reported having only received half of the exam paper, stating: “I had to fill out an extenuating circumstances form. All the pages were there but about halfway through the paper all the pages turned completely blank.”
At the end of the exam students were reassured that an incident form had been filled out to account for the mistakes and the disruption caused to both the exams held in the Talybont Sports Hall that afternoon. However, this was not enough to satisfy many students who feel that the department has let them down consistently over the last year. One student described the event as summing up Biosciences – ‘disorganised and full of mistakes.’
This year the department introduced a common first year, designed to give a ‘broad base of knowledge’ and to allow ‘those who are not sure which degree scheme they would like to follow the option to change at the end of the year.’ However, a number of students have reported that they were not aware of the changes to their course until they enrolled and are dissatisfied with the way in which the course has been run.
The last minute decision, which came as a result of not enough staff and lecture theatres to accommodate all the individual Bioscience subjects, has meant that the course delivered has not been the same as what was advertised to many of the students when they applied. As a result, a number of students have expressed their regret at taking the course, Joshua Cunningham, one such student, said: “The fact that it has been mis-sold and that we are all paying £9000 for it makes me really hope that there is something that can be done to make up for it.’
In response to a complaint, Dr. Woodgate, the course leader, defended the department’s decision to introduce a common first year in an email, adding that: ‘It is inevitable that there are teething problems on a new course and we are working to solve these.’
With reference to Tuesday’s exam she said: ‘Any issues that arise in relation to exam irregularities are recorded and dealt with by the exam board so that students are not disadvantaged by genuine irregularities, so that issues that arose will be addressed.’
It would appear that the department has struggled to cope with the sheer number of students taking the course. Throughout the year marking deadlines have not been met, with some assignments being returned months after they were due, an issue which has been attributed to understaffing within the department. Students have also reported that the marking of assignments has been ‘questionable and inconsistent to say the least.’
Dr. Woodgate stressed that the department carries out ‘quality control processes in respect to coursework marks and marking throughout the year, to ensure consistency,’ adding that, ‘it is often difficult for a year 1 student to appreciate the nuances in marking between their peers.’
When contacted by gair rhydd a spokesperson for the University said: ‘We regret that there have been some transitional problems in the implementation of the new Year 1 Bioscience course and apologise for any frustration this has caused our students.
‘The new curriculum has been designed to enrich the learning experience with a renewed focus on practical laboratory-based lessons and skill centred teaching, which was not available in previous years.
‘Due to the popularity of this year’s course, the School has encountered some initial problems in its handling of such a high volume of students. The School is steadfastly committed to improving the course’s delivery and procedures are now in place to ensure that any problems are quickly and sufficiently addressed.’
In reference to Tuesday’s exam they stated that the incident ‘will be taken into account by the relevant subject Exam Board as well as the Composite Exam Board. No student will be disadvantaged with respect to the multi-choice question, which is currently under scrutiny.’
Following concerns from students that their exam papers would not be marked in time for the resit period, the department confirmed that: ‘Examination scripts will be marked within normal deadlines for the May/June examination period.’
Members of staff within the department had also been linked to an error in a Medicine exam paper, which was sat by second year students in April.
In response to this a University spokesperson apologised to those involved, stating that they: ‘acknowledge that there were some inconsistencies in the Year 2 Medicine exam paper A, where 7 out of 140 questions were found to be errant and more aligned to exam paper B. The questions were therefore out of sequence.
‘No student will fail the assessment as a direct consequence of the 7 questions…There are robust processes in place to ensure that mistakes such as this are avoided in future.’