Exams Information

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Exams During the second term, each student cohort receives a talk about the exam process and further information is placed on the departmental website. What follows here gives you some of the background to the process and alerts you to the main aspects of what to expect.

The College also has information on Academic and Examination regulations and exams and religious obligations.

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Before the written exams

Setting of the summer exams begins the previous November. A small group of staff, comprising the course lecturers and course associates, assembles to set each paper. This helps to guard against your being asked about something you have not been taught. They produce a draft paper which is then checked in detail to ensure the questions are unambiguous and of the right length, the syllabus is well-covered and, most importantly, that they are of the right difficulty - a level such that the best students can give complete answers and the weakest can, at least, get started.

The two Comprehensive Papers, taken in Year 3 (or Year 4 for Year in Europe students), present problems which test knowledge gained across all the core (compulsory) courses over the first two years. Students prepare for these in their third year tutorials. Because they use material from more than one course, questions are carefully prepared by a small committee.

External examiners  - The sets of questions with their sample answers are then sent to the External Examiners - lecturers at other Universities or Colleges - whose primary task is to check that the level of difficulty is appropriate and that our papers are neither too easy nor too hard by national standards. When the questions have been approved by both internal and external examiners they are printed and a very careful proof reading follows.

Exams timetable - The schedule for Year 1 students does not vary much from year to year. In the first week of Term 3 (the last week of April or first week of May) you will sit exams in Maths, Mechanics and Vibrations & Waves. These take place in the lecture theatres and elsewhere in Blackett. The Comprehensive exams (for third and fourth year students) take place at about the same time, but the majority of the exams are held in the Great Hall in the Sherfield building between mid-May and mid-June. Level 3 & 4 (FHEQ Level 6 & 7) exams are held first, so the marks can be processed in time for publication of degree results on the last day of the summer term. First and Second Year exams follow in June. The exams timetable is published on the timetables webpage. A provisional exams timetable is normally pubished in term 2.

On the day of the exam

Equipment in the exam room - In addition to the exam paper and answer books (one for each question) you will be provided with a calculator and a sheet of standard formulae. You will be allowed to take writing implements and water with you to your table, but items such as books, notes, your own calculator or a phone are not permitted. The calculators provided are Casio FX-86GT Plus.

Late arrival and early departure -  Should you be held up on your journey in, you will be allowed to enter the exam room during the first half hour. No-one may leave the exam room unescorted before the register is taken – normally well after the first half hour. If your arrival is delayed, phone the Senior Tutor in advance, if possible.

Illness and other factors - If you suffer from illness during the revision or examination period, or if any other factor affects your performance (for example, a bereavement), you must complete a Mitigating Circumstances form, preferably before the relevant exam. Don’t leave this until you receive your results and find you have done badly. Any illness which affects your exams must be confirmed by a medical certificate. Support is available from the College counsellors and the Health Centre for those experiencing exam stress.

Exams for students with disabilities - Hopefully the department is already aware if you have a physical, learning or other disability which would affect your exam performance, but the Disabilities Officer will write to all students during Term 1 to invite you to raise any such issues with her. If you have a case for extra time, she needs to present it to Registry well in advance, supported by an appropriate assessment report. In some cases where a student is allowed breaks during exams as well as extra time, invigilation may take place in a separate room, to avoid disturbance to others sitting the exam. Students with disabilities requiring special equipment will have it provided. You will find more information on http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/registry/exams/specialexamarrangements.

After the written exam

Examination script marking - Following the exam, the scripts are gathered together and all the answers to each question are marked by one member of staff. The scripts are then sorted into mark order and re-marked by a second member of staff, primarily to check that all answers with the same mark are of the same quality. The second marker also has a specific responsibility to check that marks are added correctly and that every page of the answer book has been checked. If the first and second markers differ, they meet and discuss the problem – the second marker (who has more information) usually prevails.

Pass marks - Marks for all the questions in the paper are then combined and in most first and second year exams a 15% continuous assessment component from coursework, such as the Assessed Problems, is also added. In all cases where the candidate is on, or just below, the pass mark, the papers are checked and may be re-marked. Sometimes the results will be scaled, for example to compensate for an exam which was too difficult or too easy. There is only one pass mark, 40%, which applies across the College. This applies to all examinations, to laboratory and to all other continuously assessed work. However, from 2014-15 this will be raised to 50% for all Masters level, i.e. Level 4 (FHEQ 7), elements.

Laboratory and coursework marking follows a similar pattern – your laboratory report and, in some cases, your lab book will be marked; in the second year you will have an (assessed) discussion of your work; for the final year project both a formal oral assessment and a project report are required. In every year the initial mark is checked by a second assessor to ensure uniform standards and to catch possible errors. In your final year the written part of this material is kept for review by the external examiners, who are responsible for standards in the laboratory and projects as well as in written exams. Final Year project reports and Year in Europe project reports are marked independently by two assessors. As with exams, if the two assessors differ they are required to meet and discuss the problem.

The external examiners now look at the overall marks and may mark (yet again) a sample of the answers to each question to check that the marking standard is neither too soft nor too hard. If the external examiners are content, that ends the marking process; if they are not, they have the authority to demand a complete re-mark.

Examiners meeting for non-graduating students - A meeting in July of all the internal examiners (essentially the entire academic staff) agrees final aggregate marks and identifies the first and second year prize winners. This meeting can decide, for instance, whether a student who has just missed the qualifying standard to spend a year abroad or to continue on an MSci degree may nevertheless proceed, rather than be moved to a BSc degree. Input from tutors is vital in this process. If you don’t go to tutorials and your personal tutor hardly knows who you are, you are unlikely to get an enthusiastic recommendation.

Mitigating circumstances -  A small advisory committee looks at individual cases where the student has submitted a mitigating circumstances form and the student’s performance has been affected by some disadvantage outside their control. This advisory committee then makes recommendations to the main examiners meeting.

Degree classification - A weighted sum of all your marks over all three or four years is accumulated, from which your degree classification is decided. Full details are set out in Appendix 3. Minimum requirements are 70% for a First Class degree, 60% for an Upper Second, 50% for a Lower Second and 40% for a Third. If you have a mark on or above one of these thresholds, you have got into the upper division.

Internal examiners meeting - At this meeting in the last week of the year, attention is focused on candidates just below these thresholds. Each case is looked at and opinion sought from tutors, project supervisors and others with a good knowledge of the candidate. The result of this process is advice to the external examiners, which may range from “This candidate’s project work was of such quality that it is to be published” to “This candidate was strongly advised not to do the theory option, he persisted and has, as expected, done badly”, and “I never saw this student at tutorials”.

As with Years 1 and 2, a small advisory committee looks at the mitigating circumstances forms submitted and makes recommendations to the main examiners committee.

Borderline cases - All candidates just below the borderlines and other “exceptional” cases are discussed individually. External examiners will be consulted and it is their primary task is to assess the quality of students we consider to be borderline cases and compare them with students at their own institutions.  If our students are much better than their supposedly equal contemporaries the external examiners will recommend that many of those below the borderline be promoted to the higher class.

At the final examiners meeting of all the internal and external examiners, which takes place on the last day of the summer term, a definitive list of results is agreed and the prizewinners for Years 3 and 4 decided.

Notification of results - A list of degree classifications of graduating students is posted in the evening of the last day of the year. Continuing third year students are able to access to their marks in mid-July. First and second year students can access their marks in late July. All marks can be accessed on the Registry’s ‘Student e-Service’ website [www.imperial.ac.uk/studenteservice]. Also in July, the Senior Tutor contacts all non-final students who have failed exams, or whose performance is short of the required standard, to advise about resit opportunities and about required transfers to other degree programmes.

Year in Europe students abroad -  Students who have spent their third year abroad as part of the MSci Year in Europe programme have their results decided at a special examiners meeting in September. Lecture courses, examined locally, contribute 24 ECTS, whilst the other 36 ECTS come from their major project. The project report is marked separately by two markers at Imperial College and these marks are combined with marks provided by the local supervisor for an oral presentation in the host language and a general assessment. More information about this process is provided to students at the relevant time.


For students who fail to satisfy the examiners in one or more exams at the end of the first and second years, a second set of exams - “the resits” - are held in September. Two categories of student can attempt these papers:

  • Students who, for good and sufficient reason, were unable to sit the summer exams or whose performance was seriously affected by mitigating circumstances will be credited with the full marks achieved.
  • Students who have simply failed the summer exams must take the resit exam in September (after, it is assumed, taking the opportunity to put in some extra study). Candidates who pass the resit exam are then awarded the ECTS credits for the element concerned and credited with the pass mark (40% or 50%) for the paper.

Students not qualified to proceed

Students are required to pass every element in the current year to qualify to proceed into the next year or to graduate

Students who do not achieve the requisite ECTS credits (usually 60) after the September resit exams are required to withdraw and return a year later to take the summer exam on the missing subject(s). Only these two resit opportunities are allowed for each element required.

Students unable to attend examinations for good and sufficient reason will be treated on a case by case basis, but under no circumstances will they be permitted to progress to the next year or to graduate without gaining the requisite ECTS credits.

Final Year Students with Mitigating Circumstances who have missed one or two exams will be considered by the Board of Examiners, which has authority to award a degree based on the exams actually completed. Note that this provision does not apply to third year MSci students.

Where no resits are available

Resits are not available for laboratory and other elements where marks are awarded during the year rather than after an end of year examination. It is therefore particularly important that you tell the Undergraduate Education Manager or the Senior Tutor if you are away during term time and provide supporting evidence, such as a medical certificate, if you are away for more than a week. If there is a good reason for your absence you will then be given marks in the continuously assessed elements that allow for your absence. This cannot be done if we don’t know why you are absent. [See Mitigating Circumstances]

There is a very strong correlation between doing the work (going to lectures, tutorials, classworks, doing the problem sheets, checking your notes) and success.

Help is available

Detailed guidance on how to work is set out in the Imperial Study Guide. If life is seriously stressful, advice is available from the College Counsellors and the Health Centre, as well as from Departmental sources. [See Special needs, disabilities, other difficulties and the College and Departmental websites.]

Continuous Assessment

Find out about continuous assessment and the Christmas Test in the Learning pages of the Student Handbook.


All assessed work, whether it counts towards the final degree classification or not, tells the student and the department not only how well they are doing, but also provides information on how the student’s work could be improved. This is referred to as feedback.

Feedback comes in several forms, not just as a mark. In Laboratories, Computing and Tutorial Classes you will be told not only what mark you have achieved but also how you could have improved on that mark. Sometimes students do not fully understand what is expected of them on a particular piece of work. Feedback on earlier work, such as lab experiments, should help to clarify this for later work.

In order to make sure this information is available to you before you have to submit later work on the same course, the College has a strict rule that such feedback must be provided within two weeks of the work being submitted.

Sometimes, for example with the Christmas test, the lecturer may give general information to the whole class on what aspects were done well and which badly. In the case of the end of year exams this general feedback is provided through Blackboard.

If you are not satisfied with the assessment of your work, or the feedback received, you should first ask the person who marked the work for clarification. If you are still not satisfied, the person in charge of the exercise, such as the head of the laboratory, etc. should be consulted.

Tutors are another very important source of feedback. If there is anything about the assessment of your work which you don’t understand or on which you need clarification, he/she may well be able to clarify the issues.