External Examining: Guidance Notes for Students

All UK universities appoint External Examiners for their taught programmes. It is an expectation of the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) that this should happen. QAA is a UK-wide organisation, which provides advice and support to help UK universities, colleges and other institutions provide the best possible student experience of higher education. QAA periodically reviews universities, and as part of this process, the reviewers consider the way that Examiners are involved in assuring quality. Further information on QAA is available from the QAA website.

Who can become an External Examiner?

The External Examiner for a programme is usually a member of academic staff from another Higher Education Institution (HEI). Alternatively, the Examiner may come from a professional background, for example healthcare. This is often the case for programmes with a practical or placement component. Examiners are required to be completely objective. This means that they normally have had no previous involvement with the University. For example, a recently retired QMU lecturer could not be appointed to this role. QMU has strict criteria for appointment of Examiners, as can be seen on our External Examiner nomination form

What does an External Examiner do? How do Externals report to the University?

External Examiners review a sample of student work. This is to make sure that internal marking is fair and consistent and that standards at QMU are comparable with programmes at a similar level elsewhere. Externals attend Exam Board meetings where student marks are confirmed and decisions are taken on progress. They also offer advice to teaching staff throughout the year. This includes feedback on proposed assessments. Each External Examiner is required to submit an annual report to the University.

What happens to the External Examiner’s Report?

The report is circulated to various people within QMU, including the Principal, other senior staff, and the Programme Leader. The Programme Team is required to provide a response to the report, which is then sent to the Examiner. This response should include actions that the Programme Team plans to take in response to recommendations. Each year the Student Experience Committee also considers a summary of the full set of reports submitted in the previous year. This includes the following key information:

  • Commendations and examples of innovation – Programme Leaders are encouraged to review this and learn from the work their colleagues are undertaking.
  • Possible areas for attention – Programme Leaders are encouraged to consider whether any changes to their approach might be introduced as a result of the overall feedback.

This report is shared widely with QMU staff and also sent to all Examiners.

Do students have access to External Examiner Reports? What opportunities are there for students to discuss reports with the Programme Team?

Teams are expected to publish reports on the Hub site together with the response to the Examiner and also the Annual Monitoring Report for the Programme. It is an expectation that Teams engage in discussion with students around the feedback from their Examiner, for example through the Student-Staff Consultative Committee. This allows students to feed into the response and ongoing Programme development.

External Examiner reports are normally published without edits. An important exception to this would be if an individual student could be identified from the Examiner’s comments, although this should not happen since Examiners are asked to report in general rather than specific terms.

Important note: Students must not under any circumstances seek to make contact with the External Examiner for their Programme.

What do I need to think about when reading an External Examiner’s report?

Some points to remember when reading an External Examiner’s report

  • The Examiner’s report is a useful and important source of information on the quality of a programme, but it is just one piece of evidence available to the Programme Team. Teams review their programmes taking account of a wide range of other information, such as student feedback, changes to the employment market and professional body requirements (this is especially true for healthcare programmes).
  • Examiners have different styles and preferences for presentation of their reports. Some Examiners submit a longer report with a large number of recommendations. This does not usually mean that there are serious issues with the Programme. Instead, the Examiner is often trying to be helpful by providing a lot of detail. Sometimes recommendations are also positive, for example if dissertations are of a high quality, the Examiner might recommend publishing these in academic journals. Often a short report includes just the highlights and main areas for development, as the Examiner will have had lots of discussion with staff through the year and does not feel the need to reiterate the same points in the annual submission.
  • The Examiner’s report may include some ‘jargon’, which you find it difficult to understand. You can seek guidance from your Programme Leader on this, if you are unsure. If you have any questions about the report, or you would like to discuss this, the correct approach is to speak with your Programme Leader.

Are there opportunities for students to meet the External Examiner for their Programme?

This varies. Some Programmes routinely provide opportunities for the Examiner to meet students. Often this applies where there is a practical or live performance element to the Programme (for example a clinical examination or theatre performance). Sometimes Examiners also request to meet students to develop their understanding of the Programme for which they are responsible. If you are would like to meet the Examiner for your Programme and you are unsure whether there are mechanisms in place for this, speak with your Programme Leader in the first instance.

Further Information

If you would like further information on External Examining at QMU, please refer to the External Examining pages on the Quality website. You can also contact the Division of Governance and Quality Enhancement using our generic External Examining email address. If you have any suggestions for additional information to include in these Guidance Notes, please let us know.

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