A Law FHS paper contained different instructions than previously stated in the exam conventions, and finalists were not communicated instructions to remedy this mistake during the window throughout which the paper was taken. 

While the exam conventions, sent on Tuesday 26 May, state ‘FHS candidates taking this paper should answer 4 questions including at least one problem question’, the exam paper for land law stated that candidates must answer two problem questions. In previous years, the land law paper has required students to answer one problem question. 

Individual candidates were sent conflicting information during the exam, but no clarification was made to the full student body, even though the faculty were aware of the error. While many students followed the stated guidance on the paper itself, some reportedly deviated from the rubric. Individual replies to students from the faculty seen by Cherwell demonstrate that they were aware of the issue, but did not take any steps to inform all finalists. 

Only some candidates sitting the exam in different time zones (which, in accordance with University policy, is anything beyond GMT+7), were informed of the mistake or of the way to approach the exam.  

It remains to be seen what steps the Law faculty will take to remedy this. In an email to finalists sent early on Thursday, the faculty wrote, “The examiners will take account of the position in which this placed candidates– I can’t comment further on what steps might be taken at this point – while anyone who did not follow the rubric and answered one problem question will not be penalised for rubric violation.”

While Oxford’s guidance for closed book exams states to “Raise your hand if you suspect there is a mistake on the exam paper”, in order to communicate to invigilators, there was no advice on the exam conventions circulated to candidates about how to communicate a mistake in the current open book format. 

A Law finalist, who had taken the exam, stated: “It’s disappointing but not unprecedented that an exam should contain a typo. What is shocking is that the fact of the mistake wasn’t immediately communicated to everyone taking the exam and clear instructions given about whether to follow the conventions or the exam. That is what would have been done in an in-person, invigilated exam.  

“It is even more surprising that only some candidates were told that there would be no penalty for breaching the exam rubric. Forcing students to work out, in the middle of an exam, whether they should ‘break’ the rules to perform best, while only some are told that there will be no consequences for doing so, ironically raises some interesting jurisprudential questions about obedience to law. I would have preferred to deal with those in the jurisprudence paper, rather than in the land paper.”

A spokesperson for the University said, “We will not comment on individual papers while the exam process is on-going. However, the University has always had process in place so errors can be flagged in the conduct of exams. This process has been adjusted for this year’s Open Book exams and communicated to all students sitting these exams. Exam boards will take any errors into consideration when finalising marks.”