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These notes of guidance are intended for Examiners designated as External Examiners for the Second MB and Second Vet MB examinations and supplement the more general guidance to External Examiners issued by the General Board.

2nd MB/2nd Vet MB examinations are qualifying exams, and as such their primary purpose is to provide a pass/fail assessment of a candidate's overall knowledge and competence in the subject. Passing the 2nd MB signifies competence to progress to clinical training. The exams are not designed to, and are not intended to, rank candidates in terms of ability, and for this reason, many of the QAA/UUK recommendations about grade boundaries and classing are not applicable. Some of the 2nd MB/2nd Vet MB examinations currently use machine-marked questions (MCQs), others use short-note answers, and some a mixture. The examinations for 2nd MB Preparing for Patients A and B require students to submit a short structured written report. The following guidance attempts to take account of the various styles of assessment.

The Director of Education, Dr Holly Canuto, presently acts de facto as Chairman of Examiners for all 2nd MB/2nd Vet MB examinations, and may be consulted for advice.

Role of External Examiners

External Examiners for the 2nd MB/2nd Vet MB are appointed by the General Board on the nomination of the Faculty Board of either Clinical Medicine or Clinical Veterinary Medicine. The University's regulations provide that the Examiners for the sitting of the 2nd MB/2nd Vet MB held at the same time as the Tripos examinations shall be those Examiners appointed to examine the Tripos.

The exact duties of External Examiners and procedures followed will vary between different subjects, but the main role of an External Examiner is to ensure that the assessment is appropriate, fair and fairly operated in the classification of students, and that the standards of those who pass the 2nd MB/2nd Vet MB subjects are appropriate for progression to clinical training. In order to perform this role External Examiners should participate fully, with the Internal Examiners, in the approval of question papers, the assessment of results (for forms of assessment other then MCQs), and the adjudication of borderline and problem cases. External Examiners should also be involved in determining the pass mark.

External Examiners should be given the opportunity where appropriate, to comment on matters such as the balance, content and structure of courses, the appropriateness of the assessment procedures and the general conduct of the examinations.

In order to fulfil their function, External Examiners must be able to take an independent and critical view of the examinations with which they are concerned, and the General Board have therefore laid down criteria for their selection and appointment (these are set out in the General Board's Guidance).

Preparatory work

At an early stage the Senior Examiner should offer to discuss particular aspects of the duties required of a new External Examiner.

The Senior Examiner for the individual subjects should send the following information to External Examiners:

a) details about the course and the examination, such as, course syllabuses and synopses, bibliographies, lists of prescribed topics and texts, departmental booklets, etc.

(b) details of the examination e.g. published Form and Conduct Notices for the exam, together with information about marking schemes and classing conventions.

(c) a copy of the previous External Examiner's final report.

Participation in Assessment Procedures

External Examiners are full members of the examining body for the subject concerned and as such must be involved in the choice of questions and in the marking of scripts (where appropriate) and other assessed work; the precise nature of this involvement may vary according to the needs of the subject as outlined below.

(i) Setting and reviewing of question papers

Draft examination papers in the subject concerned, with model answers if employed, should be sent to an External Examiner for comment and suggestions.

(ii) Marking of examination scripts and other assessed work

External Examiners may be asked to mark scripts and other assessed work. They are entitled to see all scripts and any other work that contributes to the assessment, but more usually they would review a sample of scripts to ensure that standards are maintained and that marking is consistent (this is not appropriate in the case of MCQs).

In cases where an External Examiner sees only a selection of scripts and/or other assessed work the principles for such selection should be agreed with the External Examiner in advance. The guiding principles for any selection of scripts is that External Examiners should have sufficient evidence to determine that internal marking and the pass/fail boundary is appropriate and consistent. External Examiners are expected to advise on the borderlines between pass and fail and they should therefore have the opportunity to scrutinize scripts in those areas. Decisions on problem cases are taken by the body of Examiners as a whole and the External Examiner should be included in this process.

The University does not prescribe the pass mark for 2nd MB/2nd Vet MB examinations, and this is the responsibility of examiners in each subject, based on the style of examination paper and student performance. However, these examinations are intended to test basic knowledge and understanding of material in the course, which is necessary for students to progress with the course and constitute a professional qualification, and students should therefore be expected to pass at a reasonably high level.

(iii) Attendance at meetings

External Examiners have a right to be present at all Examiners' meetings at which significant decisions are to be taken (including the setting of papers), and are required to be present at the meeting when final pass list is produced, and to sign the list.

Reports of External Examiners

External Examiners are required to submit a written report annually and at the end of the term of office. These reports should be sent to the Vice-Chancellor with a copy to the Director of Education (c/o the Faculty of Biology, 17 Mill Lane, Cambridge CB2 1RX) and to the Senior Examiner. In their reports External Examiners are free to make such comments as they think fit. As a consequence, there is no University standard report form, but External Examiners are encouraged to comment in their reports on the following topics based on those listed in the QAA Code of Practice:

  • The standards demonstrated by the students, their comparability in relation to other comparable courses
  • The extent to which standards are appropriate to the award of the 2nd MB/2nd Vet MB
  • The design, structure and marking of assessment
  • The procedures for assessments and examinations
  • Whether or not the External Examiners have sufficient access to, and the power to call upon, any material needed to make the required judgements
  • The coherence of policies and procedures relating to External Examiners and their consonance with the explicit roles required of them and might additionally comment on, for example, some or all of the following:

- The curriculum, its aims, content and developmentĀ 

- The basis and rationale for any comparisons of standards made

- The quality of teaching and learning methods which may be indicated by student performance

Procedures for considering the reports of External Examiners

External Examiners reports should be sent to the Vice-Chancellor. They are then received by the Education Section of the Academic Division, where they are collated and sent to Course Organisers and to the Faculty Boards of Biology and of Clinical Medicine/Clinical Veterinary Medicine.

External Examiners can expect to receive a response to their report from the Course Organiser/Head of Department (depending on local arrangements). Reports will also received by the Faculty Board of Biology, and Faculty Board Clinical Medicine or Clinical Veterinary Medicine. Copies of responses are sent to the Education Committee.