The good exam process

The exam process

It is the external examiner's (censor) job to ensure that the examinee's proficiencies are properly tested and documented according to the objectives of the programme. This includes ensuring that

  • Tests and content requirements are in line with qualification descriptions and other requirements
  • Examinees get fair and equal treatment and that their performance is evaluated in a consistent way
  • Examinations are carried out in accordance with the rules in force

Furthermore the external examiner's duties at exams are to

  • Act as the representative of the authorities
  • Ensure the examinees' civil rights

Cf. Best practice for external examiners


  1. Inquiry. Censor IT sends external examiners an inquiry concerning a given test. Inquiries are sent out depending on external examiners' professional expertise, geographical proximity, workload and whether they have lately acted as external examiner for the teacher in question.
  2. Am I the right external examiner. The external examiner checks whether the date is acceptable, whether the topic or course is within his/her expertise and whether there might be any impartiality issues. The external examiner also considers whether time consumption, travel time and other costs will be fair. If everything is ok, the external examiner clicks the accept button.
  3. Designation. Censor IT takes a stand on the incoming acceptances and chooses a external examiner.
  4. Allocation mail. The external examiner receives an allocation mail and is thus appointed for the exam in question.
  5. Assignments and qualification descriptions. The commissioning university sends the external examiner the assignment(s) by post or a link to the assignment. Also the external examiner is informed about time and place for the exam, qualification descriptions and other information about formalities as necessary.
    The commissioning university MUST send the external examiner the qualification description or a link to the description. The external examiner must see to it that the qualification description provides the basis for the exam; the exam cannot take place without the qualification description. Also, the external examiner must take action if assignment(s) and formalities have not been received in due time before the exam.
  6. Cheating and plagiarism. An assignment may cause a external examiner to suspect cheating or plagiarism. A typical sign may be that the quality of the text varies. By googling extracts the suspicion may perhaps be substantiated. If so, the external examiner must contact the teacher – preferably well in advance of the exam.
    Teachers, and at some universities also external examiners, have access to checking tools at the university. If the suspicion arises during the exam itself, the exam must be completed and the teacher and the external examiner decide on the grade despite their suspicion.
    The grade is withheld from the student until the suspicion is substantiated or refuted by means of the checking tool. The university is in charge of the plagiarism check and of making the final evaluation.
  7. Be on time for oral exams. A external examiner must arrive in time to check the room and to say hello to the internal examiner. The university has stipulated the duration of each examination. The duration includes opening discussion, the examination itself, post-exam deliberation and announcing the grade to the student.
  8. Opening discussion. Before the exam the external examiner and the teacher discuss the assignment, its ambiguities, strengths and weaknesses in relation to the qualification description, including grade level and clarification of relevant issues, process and role distribution.
    There are no rules as to who should take the lead. The external examiner has been chosen for having a relevant, general comprehension of the area, the teacher has a deep and extensive knowledge in the area. If the external examiner is uncertain about elements of the assignment or the quality of certain passages, it is perfectly acceptable to discuss this with the teacher.
  9. Pleasant atmosphere. When the student enters the room, it is important that the external examiner is friendly and obliging. The student must be given the chance to perform as well as possible. There is bound to be some amount of jittery nerves in an exam situation and the external examiner can minimize these by creating a safe and pleasant ambiance. One way of starting the examination is by inquiring into the student's course through university.
  10. Audience. Basically exams are public. Sometimes a student will want to include an audience. It is a good idea that the external examiner and the teacher discuss this with the student out of earshot of the audience to ensure that the student does indeed accept having an audience at the exam.
    The grade deliberation is not public and only the external examiner and the assessor may be present – and in exceptional cases a coming assessor if the university decides it.
  11. The exam. If the exam includes a large number of students, the external examiner must ascertain the identity of the examinees as the teacher cannot be expected to know them all. Often the examinee will start the exam by giving a brief presentation.
    The teacher is in charge of the examination. The external examiner may contribute questions when something is unclear, when the examinee does answer the question, when the external examiner feels that the teacher does not give the student adequate time to answer, when the external examiner senses that the teacher needs a break or when relevant questions need clarification in terms of fulfilling the qualification description.
    It is important that the assessors have an eye to probing into weaknesses in the project, the oral presentation or an answer to allow the examinee to demonstrate his/her capabilities thus making up for weaknesses, errors or shortcomings. If the examinee is unable to answer, the assessors proceed.
    It is important that the assessors are aware of aligning expectations so that the student will also notice errors and shortcomings in the process. Once an exam has started, a grade must be given unless the exam is suspended due to expulsion or illness, which entitles the student to do a retake.
  12. Equipment. Some students like to show PowerPoint presentations, video clips or have handouts. This is perfectly alright as long as equipment and technical problems do not cause a time problem or impair attention.
  13. Time management. Often the external examiner manages the time so that neither too much nor too little time is spent on the exam.
  14. Note-taking. The external examiner is required to take notes. Throughout the exam and deliberation the external examiner must take notes in such a way that s/he will be able to respond to a complaint even several months later and be able to comment on errors and shortcomings in relation to the qualification description in question.
  15. Clearing the room. When students leave the room, they much take all their belongings with them. Students have been known to record the exam as well as the deliberation, which is illegal.
  16. Deliberation. Based on the examination and with clear reference to the qualification description and the Grading Scale Order, the grade is decided on and the student is given feedback. The external examiner must be forthcoming in reaching an agreement with the teacher on the grade.
    Should an insoluble dissent arise, the grades are added and divided by two. The grade is rounded off to the closest grade in the grade scale. If the average is exactly between two grades, the grade will be the higher of the two if the external examiner has given the highest grade and otherwise the lower of the two.
  17. Grading and feedback. When the external examiner and the teacher announce the grade to the student, it is important that the student clearly understands the grade both in relation to the qualification description and the Grade Scale Order, i.e. what are the errors and shortcomings in the assignment and the exam, and how are they reflected in the grade.
    It is equally important that the external examiner and the teacher think of the feedback as part of a pedagogical learning process. If there is reason to do so, the student should be offered advice on future solutions, assignment compilation and exams.
  18. Grade recording. Following the feedback, the external examiner and the teacher record the grade either digitally or on a grade sheet, depending on the university's present system. At the same time the external examiner can fill in the salary sheet and travel expense form. These forms should be handed in to the exams office or the teacher can send them by internal mail, or the external examiner can send them by post later.
  19. External examiner report. Once the external examiner has access to a computer after the exam, s/he must fill in the external examiner report in Censor IT. If there is nothing significant to report, it is only a matter of clicking some boxes. If there were sticky issues during the exam, these should be mentioned in the report. The external examiner committee addresses all issues and will take them up with the individual universities.
  20. Complaints. From time to time students will complain about grades or the exam. The external examiner and the teacher must respond to the complaint together. In the response it is decisive that there are clear references to the qualification description, the Grade Scale Order and the exam in question.
  21. Supervision and sparring. The Censorsekretariatet is always at your disposal for sparring and discussion of questions in connection with exam formalities.