Things go wrong, its the nature of life, so when they do one of two things can happen. For those events which we know will happen we take steps to prevent them form occurring in the first place, and everyones a winner. For those events which are so general in nature and so rare, preventing them from occurring would be neither practical or cost effective, therefore we must embrace the fact that things in life just happen, and instead have a contingency plan in place should they occur.
Arguably there is no more important event in the student calendar than that of exams. Like many reading this blog, I have sat more than I care to remember, starting from the ones in primary school, GCSE’s, A-levels and finally the exams taken for my undergraduate degree at The University of Salford.
Whilst the contents of the papers themselves may have caused problems, the problems were confined to my lack of preparation, and therefore any issue with the outcome would result in the blame landing squarely at my feet.
This year was not the case.
Following on from my undergraduate days, I took the Graduate Diploma in Law degree at Manchester Metropolitan University. Their wisdom to have seven, three hour papers spanned over 2 weeks is neither ideal and will most likely form the subject of a different post, however this year unlike any other I felt prepared for the exams. I walked into the exam with confidence knowing that shortly the several months of hard graft would be over, and that for once in my life, I would truly get the grade I deserved.
Criminal Law, the fourth exam, that marked the halfway point took place on the 25th May 2012, and not unlike the others started promptly at 10:00am. Upon turning over the paper I held my breath as I scoured the questions for the topic I had revised. I was in luck not only were the questions what I had prepared for, but were similar to several past ones I had attempted to the run up to entering the exam room.
Just over 2 hours into the paper we were plunged into darkness, no it wasn’t divine intervention, it was a power cut. A few moments later the fire alarm sounded and we were told to evacuate the building. The notice on every answer booklet we had received stated ‘in the event of a fire alarm, wait until instructions are given by the examiners’, this lead us to believe that things were in control, oh how they weren’t.
Exiting the building we were surrounded by students, staff and examiners alike bemused as to why such an event happened during this time of year. Our group of five didn’t worry too much, the examiners stated that it would most likely be a fault, and if the need be, simply relocate to another room to finish the paper.
45 minutes later, and a tan shade darker from standing in the sun, we had received several messages, all contradictory. Firstly the exam would continue in the original building, then it would continue but in a different venue, and finally to complete the set of mixed signals, that we would be allowed to enter the building for 15 minutes only to collect our belongings and the exam would not continue.
Lets pause for a moment there, was the power cut and fire alarm totally unforeseeable? Well judging by the statement on the front of the exam booklets it wasn’t, and whilst it was undesirable, MMU gave the impression that should this once in a lifetime event occur, plans would be in place to relocate. After all there were only five of us sitting that paper, we could have easily relocated.
From then on it was a communication meltdown by staff at MMU, people didn’t know what was happening as, unsurprisingly, this event had never occurred before. The one message which was however communicated was that whatever happens, we would not be at a disadvantage to the others who sat the exam.
We therefore deduced a number of possible outcomes. The first, and the most preferable one was that they would mark what we did, taking into account the time we had spent, and the time we had remaining. This had the benefit of no new exam having to be sat, and that the questions attempted would have been uniformed in difficulty across the whole year. The second was one which the whole year (not just those who received extra time and whom were subject to the power cut / alarm) would have to retake the paper. This would have the benefit of everyone seeing the same questions and such same level of difficulty, not to mention the same level of inconvenience of having to re-sit the paper. However this option was soon discounted as it would most likely be too costly. The final option would be that we would be asked to re-sit a new exam at a later date. The downside of course is that there was no guarantee that the difficulty of the paper was uniformed across the whole year, as well as inconveniencing us for an issue that was not our fault, instead MMU’s.
Today, a full 4 days after the event, we have received confirmation that the choice the examiners have gone with was the latter, with rescheduling taking place on Thursday 31st. The day after our 3 hour EU Law paper, and the day before our last exam Equity & Trusts; the day which we had all set aside for preparation of this exam.
This decision was reached without consultation, and it is apparent that by placing this exam at this time will disadvantage us considerably, in two respects. Firstly that the Criminal Law exam will take place after revision on this topic has ceased. Secondly as the time taken to prepare and take this exam will prevent us from revising for the two remaining exams, EU and Equity & Trusts. It further transpires that other exams in that same building continued in a different venue, so why couldn’t our exam, with 5 students have continued?
Manchester Metropolitan University claims its the university for ‘World Class Professionals’, the professionals I’ve come into contact with plan for the worst, and when things go wrong consult with those effected. After this debark, and shocking display of communication and leadership from the top, MMU may churn out world class professionals, but from this, is clearly not down to their doing so.