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"Utter mayhem" at Law exam as staff mishandle the exam papers

Law students are outraged after mistakes by University staff at today's exam on EU law left many students without correct exam papers. There have also been claims that students with the correct papers were given an unfair advantage.

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Law students have told Nouse of their outrage after a second year exam today was mishandled by University staff.

Second year Law students were scheduled to sit their EU law exam today at 9am, but all of them were given the exam paper on public law scheduled for Friday instead. After realising the initial mistake, officials at the exam collected the public law exam papers to substitute them for the correct exam papers on EU law. On their second attempt, the officials handed out the correct paper to around half the students, but the other half were give the wrong paper again.

The invigilators requested that students in the exam check their exam papers to ensure that they were now correct. This allowed all of the students to view the questions on the papers. When the second mistake was raised, the invigilators took half an hour to collect the exam papers, but not the exam booklets, which allowed those who had been given the correct exam paper time to write answers. It is alleged that half the students, therefore, saw the correct questions whereas the other half did not.

After this point, more than an hour after the exam had been due to start and with half the students still without the correct exam paper, the officials granted an unsupervised break. This apparently allowed the students who had seen the questions to discuss and research them. "As half the room had seen the exam questions," one student alleged, "they colluded with other students by swapping answers and discussing information to include and some students used their mobile phones to research the exam question."

Another student in the exam said the same adding: "While waiting for the actual exam for another time, they asked us if we want to go to the toilet. A lot of people went, could have been half of the second year cohort, and in the bathrooms everyone was talking about the questions and potential answers. Other people took their notes and phones and were frantically finding how to answer the particular questions." This left the students who had still not received the correct exam paper feeling disadvantaged.

This version of events has been disputed by other students in the exam, however, who claim that there was no collusion. "I never saw anyone going to check their phones," one said. "I only heard rumours about it, even though people started claiming this as a proof of "cheating" after the exam ended ... I do not see how people could have checked their phones, as I do not think people had access to the room where we were required to leave our phones, and the invigilators were always present in the corridors and bathrooms when people were taking their breaks."

"This simply isn’t factual at all." another student in the exam said to us. "A lot of rumours spread in the hours after the exam from a lot of frustrated people, but as someone there, that never happened and people most certainly did not access their phones between the paper as we were still under invigilator supervision and exam conditions. The assertion that as many as half of the students took part in some kind of collusion is ridiculous." They claim that the allegation of cheating is "over-dramatised".

Then, almost two hours after the exam had been due to start, students were told that they could either remain in the exam venue to take the exam or they could leave and take the exam at a later date. Those who stayed were finally given the correct exam paper but have reported that the ordeal damaged their performance. "Being sat in a room in frustration, confusion and anxiety for almost two hours is unacceptable as this really stunted many of our performances." one said. The students who remained left almost four hours after the one and a half hour exam had been due to start.

After the exam had finished, the Head of Department Professor Caroline Hunter and the module coordinator Professor Richard Nolan told students that they have several options including: keeping their mark; the moderators providing special considerations given the circumstances; resitting the exam on 30 May; or resitting the exam in the August retake period. These options were later confirmed to students in an email seen by Nouse. In the email Hunter and Nolan gave their "very sincere apologies" concerning the events.

Despite the offers, students have told us that they remain immensely dissatisfied with the conduct of and response from the University staff. They have cited the unfair advantage the students who received the correct questions received and have questioned how they can be allowed to keep their marks considering the alleged advantage they received after viewing the questions before others. Asked to describe how they felt about their experience, one Law student said that "it was a complete and utter mayhem".

Although the accusation of cheating and collusion is disputed by the students present, it has nonetheless been conceded that those who saw the questions before others did have extra time to consider their answers before the exam officially restarted properly. Most students in the exam, however, have emphasised that the University providing the incorrect exam papers, causing the students to have to stay in the cold York Sport Centre for hours longer than scheduled, was their main source of anger.

Anger over the debacle has been primarily directed at the York Law School. "It was a massive fuck up by the Law School and being in the sports hall for over three hours when it was freezing probably didn’t help with writing the answer, especially after everything that had gone on. People were crying and felt faint so I would dread to think how this affected their potential percentage for that paper. It also ate into our revision time for our second exam on Friday and made people feel let down and confused."

Commenting on the student dissatisfaction, Academic Officer James Hare told Nouse: "It’s always disappointing to find out about a situation such as this, as students should not have to deal with additional stress caused by paper errors and chaotic organisation in the already stressful exam period. The Law Department Rep and I have picked up the issue with both the Department and the University centrally, and I encourage any students seeking further support to contact our independent Advice and Support Centre.

"I welcome the decision by the Department to offer students the opportunity to take the exam at a later date, however I do have concerns about the disproportionate impact that will have upon students who have already made plans to leave York prior to the dates offered - particularly international students - and senior status students who are set to graduate this summer.

"Any unsupervised breaks during an exam are a reason for concern. We need to ensure we fully understand the situation that occurred and review what happened to prevent the same situation occurring in future and resulting in the integrity of an exam being compromised ... I have proposed that the Department considers offering the students affected the opportunity to complete the assessment as an essay handed in online, so as to prevent anyone being disadvantaged as a result of pre-existing travel plans through no fault of their own."

The public law exam, the paper for which was given out by mistake, will still take place on Friday as planned. The exam will be altered, however, so that some of the questions will be different to the ones seen today.

In a statement, a University of York spokesperson told Nouse: “An examination paper was distributed in error to 199 students sitting an exam today from the University’s Law School.  The error was discovered within minutes of the paper being distributed and the correct paper was subsequently delivered across the exam venues.

“As a result of the error and the delayed exam starting time, students were given the option to take the exam at a later date, or to complete the exam today as planned. Of the 199 students sitting the exam, 182 decided to remain and take the exam today, with 17 students deciding not to sit the exam today, but instead to take a new paper next week.

“We appreciate that this was disruptive for students and are investigating how this error occurred. We have communicated our sincere apologies to all students impacted.” On the allegation that some students received unsupervised breaks, they added: “A small number of students took a bathroom break whilst the exam paper issue was being corrected; the exam markers have been made aware of this time away from the exam room.”

Update: In an email from the York Law School to students in the exam seen by Nouse, the department has now decided that students will be able to access their marks for the EU law exam on the morning of 30 May before deciding whether or not to opt for taking a resit of the exam later that day or during the August resit period. Students who would like to resit but cannot make the exam should contact the York Law School.

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