More proctoring and possible testing on Saturdays due to ban on large exams

Photo: DUB

The University’s schedulers have been busy in recent weeks. After the cabinet announced a partial lockdown during a press conference on October 13, the UU Executive Board decided to ban all 'physical' exams with more than a hundred students. The exams for which halls had been reserved in the Jaarbeurs convention centre and at the Olympos sports centre had to be either split up or offered online.

A solution is needed for about 70 exams, mainly from the Faculties of Geosciences and the Faculty of Science. A large proportion of these exams can take place online, but some require an alternative. Rooms’ capacity -- which was already limited due to all the other Corona related measures -- is under pressure now that even fewer students are allowed per room.

The University decided to broaden the timeslots for exams in block 1, allowing them to take place after 8:00 PM (as long as students are dismissed at 10:00 PM) and on Saturdays. In the end, this option was only necessary in very few cases. Five written exams ran until 8:30 PM, mainly because of students who, due to individual circumstances, were given extra time to do their exams. It wasn’t necessary to schedule exams on Saturdays in block 1.

The University is assuming that no large-scale exams will be possible throughout block 2, which runs until the end of January. Given the large number of applications for physical exams, the University will still need to rent spaces in the Jaarbeurs and the Olympos. Even so, it’s possible that exams will be applied until 10:00 PM or on Saturdays, although this is once again not expected to happen very often.

"In this way we hope that all requested exams can still be planned, but it will be a great challenge", says Humanities Director Miranda Jansen, head of the University's scheduling working group, by e-mail. "The coming week should show whether all exams requested 'on campus' can actually be scheduled within the existing possibilities.”

Preference for physical examinations
For the Information Science programme, UU’s decision meant that four exams with more than one hundred students had to be divided over several halls. "Fortunately, three of the four exams had already been scheduled in this way,” says programme director Frans Wiering.

For two large courses in block 2, there will now be one physical test and one online test instead of two physical tests. Wiering hopes that there won’t be a stricter lockdown that makes physical testing completely impossible. According to him, most lecturers and students have a strong preference for this type of examination.

"There is no need to revise the questions and there is no need to think about surveillance. Last but not least, many students find online tests uncomfortable because the environment doesn’t have the tranquillity of an examination room, and also because adjustments to the form of testing can increase stress.”

Home exams
The rush could have been even more difficult for the room schedulers. Major programmes such as Veterinary Medicine, Law, and Psychology had already decided to cancel their physical exams some time before the UU Board itself decided to do so. They opted for online exams instead.

For Psychology, for example, there were still two large exams planned for this first block, with some six hundred students in the Jaarbeurs. Those exams were cancelled a few weeks ago."Our lecturers didn’t have a good feeling about this," says programme director Maarten van der Smagt. "Maybe we could keep a distance of a metre and a half inside, but what about the elevators or outside? We didn't want to take that responsibility.”

Offering two different exams is out of the question
Before the summer, the Faculty of Law had already made the decision to do all freshmen’s exams online. "That worked out well," according to education director Bald de Vries, who saw the influx of new students increase sharply this year.

Three large exams for older Law students were planned for Block 1, "but we saw early on that, because of corona, there would be a significant amount students who would not or could not come. At that time, we were faced with the choice of offering the exam both on location and online, but that is very difficult logistically and you have to draw up two different exams. That's why we said: ‘everything will be online now’.”

In the end, the University had to cancel five of the eleven exams booked in the Jaarbeurs. The University is negotiating with the convention centre about the financial consequences. As for the Olympos sports centre, there were originally 31 exams planned, of which 12 were cancelled.

A total of 368 physical exams were scheduled at the end of block 1, both digitally and in writing, which now would require 656 rooms. Some 240 more exams were made online.

More proctoring
In addition, it looks like proctoring is going to be used more and more because of the ban on large-scale exams. Until now, this controversial surveillance software was scarcely used in the university, mainly in the Medicine programme. But this week, for the first time, the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine applied proctoring to a Bachelor's exam that 244 students had to take at home. Students will also be digitally observed at other first-year tests in the coming weeks. The measure aims to reduce the risk of fraud as much as possible.

The Psychology programme foresees that tests with large groups of students will take place online in the near future. They are now considering using surveillance software from block 2 on.

Van der Smagt thinks the software is necessary even though tactics like varying the order of the questions or giving students less time to complete the test are already making it difficult for them to consult their peers. "[Proctoring] is also useful to keep the work pressure under control. It costs lectures a lot more time to develop completely new questions over and over again, and then check them.”

“Furthermore, we think that proctoring is suitable for the admission tests for prospective students, to be held in February. Those 1,300 students will probably not be able to come to Utrecht, and we don’t want Mum and Dad taking the test.”