> Home Teaching & Learning Support Academic Handbook Sections 9-11

Sections 9-11

SECTION 9: FINAL EXAMINATIONS

9.1 Faculty Final Exams & the Final Examination Period
Final exams in courses, i.e. formal examinations held within the Final Examination Period after classes finish, are scheduled, conducted and invigilated by the Faculty through the OFR. (The exception is June exams, which are handled by the department and instructor. ) Instructors may not schedule their own tests or “exams” during this Final Exam Period, even take-home tests. The only exams and the few exceptional term tests (see Section 2.12) that may be scheduled into the Final Exam Period are those scheduled by the OFR. The OFR must have at its disposal the schedules of all students’ and all classrooms to make the complicated exam scheduling process work. There are no exceptions to this prohibition.

 

9.2 Specifications for Final Exams

See Section 2.7 above for the rules about which course levels are required to have final exams. The Faculty uses a standard covers sheet for final exams specifying the essential information, which is available through your UG Administrator. Note that final exams must be either 2 or 3 hours in length. You should specify what manner of “aids” are permitted in the final exam, if any (i.e. none, dictionaries, specific calculators, etc.). Consult your UG Administrator regarding any other issues or questions you may have about final exam specifications.

9.3 Final Exam Texts: Preparation & Deadlines
The OFR has a firm deadline for final exam question papers to be submitted to the UG Administrator in each unit. This deadline is approximately 3 weeks before the beginning of the December Exam Period, 1 month before the large April Exam Period, and 2 weeks before August Exam Period. The Exams Office recognizes that such an early deadline often puts a heavy burden on instructors. However, preparing the exam papers for reproduction, collation and distribution is a large and complicated project, and the consequences of error or problems during an exam sitting are very difficult to remedy. Your cooperation is appreciated in respecting these deadlines. If the deadline causes unusual pedagogical problems in your course, consult your UG Administrator about what accommodation might be possible.

Perhaps needless to say, you should proofread your exam question papers very carefully, especially for content. Typos or miscues create great anxiety in an exam hall and diminish your reputation as an instructor. If you detect an error after your final exam text has been submitted, notify the Exams Office or your UG Administrator immediately so that appropriate notice of the correction can be conveyed to the various locations where the exam is being written. Note that some students may be writing your exam away from the rest of the class.

9.4 Publication of Exams & “Restricted Exams”
As per the UofT Grading Practices Policy, normal Faculty practice is to post the final exam question papers to a UofT Library website after a suitable period, for the benefit of students in future offerings of the course. The site is available to UofT students only and not published more broadly on the web. Note that the exam question papers are not forwarded to the Library for posting until the subsequent Deferred Exam session has passed, i.e. after August deferred exams for missed April final exams, after April for December, etc.

If you do not want your exam question paper to be posted in this way – perhaps because good exam questions in this subject are especially difficult to create and you wish to re-use these in future offerings – you should contact your UG Administrator when you are asked to provide details about your exam (duration etc.), who will make the request to the OFR that your exam be “restricted.” Running a restricted exam is a complicated procedure; the texts are printed on different coloured paper, individually numbered, and then collected, accounted for and returned to you at the end of the exam. Therefore, we ask that such requests be made only when absolutely necessary.

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9.5 Supervision of Faculty Final Exams
Faculty Final Examinations are supervised by Chief Presiding Officers (CPOs), officers hired by the Faculty and trained specifically for this purpose. CPOs have final authority over logistics and process in the exam rooms, even if the course instructor is present.

Course instructors, or someone with designated authority over the content of the exam, must be in the exam hall or within contact to resolve any issues or questions for the CPO. CPOs are explicitly instructed by the Exams Office not to answer students’ questions about the content of exams.

9.6 Required Minimum Exam Mark
Although it is unusual, it is permissible to require a minimum mark on a final examination for a student to pass your course, regardless of the other marks in various term tests, etc. The highest minimum mark you may require on such a final examination is 50%. This requirement should only be used when there are relevant pedagogical principles at play, e.g. the final exam is cumulative and earlier assessments were not, and the exam is worth a substantial percentage of the course mark. If you do have such a minimum exam mark requirement, you must publish it in the syllabus and include it in your Marking Scheme.

9.7 Final Exams: Writing Conditions
Rules for the Conduct of Examinations, as they affect the students, are provided in full in the Calendar and enforced by the Chief Presiding Officers in the exam halls. Best practice suggests you run over these briefly in class prior to the exam or term test – particularly with first-year students – so they are clear about expectations.

9.8 Exam Booklets, Anomalies, etc. Please be very careful when picking up and returning completed exam booklets to the Exams Office, and when distributing them among TAs for marking. There have been instances when exam booklets have gone missing and such matters are extraordinarily difficult to resolve when procedures have not been scrupulous. Students are required to number their booklets (i.e. 1 of 3, 2 of 3, etc), but some do not. If you note any anomalies in the count of booklets, report them to the Exams Office immediately.

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9.9 Marking
Since students can request to review copies of their final examinations, and can query how examination marks were arrived at, please indicate what the mark is for each question, either on the front cover or next to each question. This can save you much time and annoyance if marks are later questioned.

9.10 Re-reading Failures
The Faculty requires that all failing exams be re-read at the time of marking, i.e., before the marks are reported. If the examination, or part of it, was marked by a TA, best practice says that the course instructor should do the re-read. The Faculty must be able to prove that this has been done, and so the examiner must write "re-read" on the cover of the answer book and sign it.

9.11 Marking Deadlines
Instructors are given 5 working days after the exam to complete their marking and submit recommended final course marks to their academic unit for approval. With our new e-Marks system for submitting marks to speed up the process, there may be more time available to instructors for marking, but it is important that instructors adhere to the marks deadlines. The OFR is working to tight timelines to collect, approve and post all the marks so we can assess students’ academic status or approve them for graduation. If you will have a problem meeting your deadline, you should contact your UG Administrator. Note: as some students may be writing with accommodations at the Test & Exam Service, some exam booklets may be delivered to you later than the rest.

9.12 Absences or “Exemptions”
Instructors and departments cannot excuse a student from writing a Final Exam nor can they offer an alternative date or form of examination, e.g. oral examination. Students requiring such things must petition through their College Registrar’s Office, or work through Accessibility Services if it is a matter of accommodation. Best practice, especially in first-year courses, suggest that instructors remind students of the rules and procedures regarding missed examinations in class prior to the Exam Period, i.e. a petition is required through the College Registrar’s Office before the deadline of one week after the end of the Final Examination Period.

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SECTION 10: FINAL COURSE MARKS

10.1 Official Grading Scale

 The Faculty uses a 4.0 grading scale with each letter grade range having a defined meaning, as follows:

Percentage Grade GPA Value
Grade Definition
90-100
A+ 4.0 Excellent
85-89
A
4.0
80-84
A- 3.7
77-79 B+ 3.3 Good
73-76   B 3.0
70-72
B- 2.7
67-69 C+ 2.3 Adequate
63-66 C 2.0
60-62 C- 1.7
57-59 D+ 1.3 Marginal
53-56 D 1.0
50-52 D- 0.7
0-49
F 0.0 Inadequate
 

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10.2 Percentages, Letters Grades & GPAs
Instructors are to submit all final marks for undergraduate courses in percentage format. If graduate students are enrolled in your course, the new E-Marks system will automatically convert their marks to letter grades.

It is worth knowing that, while instructors submit marks in percentages, the grade that is used in calculating GPA and determining the student’s academic status is the letter grade corresponding to that percentage. “Percentage averages” form no real part of our marks scheme. From an instructor’s perspective, this means that 80% and 84% are essentially the same mark, but 84% and 85% are very different marks. Truly exceptional performance, i.e. 90+%, is displayed as an A+ on the student’s record but has the same GPA weight as an A. The fact that this grade has no additional GPA value should not discourage instructors from awarding it when the student’s outstanding performance indicates it would be appropriate.

10.3 Marks Distribution Guidelines
The Faculty has replaced its previous marks distribution guidelines, which spelled out specific expected percentage distributions, with some broad guidance on what might normally be expected in courses of different sizes and at different levels. This is contained in a memo from the Dean best quoted directly:


“For a larger first- or second-year course, the proportion of As in any given offering of the course might reasonably vary from 15% to 35%. Courses with marks consistently at the lower or upper end of this range should be reviewed to determine whether changes are needed to the course content, prerequisites, or assessment mechanisms. At the other end of the scale, the proportion of Fs in a first- or second-year course should generally not exceed 10%.

“These guidelines can help instructors gauge the fairness and consistency of their proposed marks in a course. Instructors proposing a percentage of As outside the range of 15-35% in first- and second-year courses should review the marks to ensure that the assessments used in the course were fair and consistent with disciplinary practice. Similarly, instructors proposing a percentage of Fs greater than 10% should consider those grades carefully. An individual instructor should reflect on whether the assessments have been scaled appropriately. A unit head seeing a consistently higher percentage of Fs in a course over time might conclude that the course has inappropriate prerequisites or requires some restructuring, or that additional student supports need to be put into place.

“Since courses with fewer than 40 students, as well as courses in upper years, show much greater variation due to individual factors, detailed expectations of distributions of grades are less useful. However, we can state some general guidelines on third- and fourth-year courses. Specifically, we expect student marks in upper year courses to shift towards the higher end of the scale (with more As and many fewer failures) as students adjust to university-level work and as they pursue courses in their chosen areas of interest. Distributions with 30-40% As (or even more) would not be unusual in 300- and 400-level courses, while even 5-10% Fs at these levels would be worthy of attention.”

(Tri-Campus Deans’ memo August 2009)


10.4 Bell Curves, Quotas, etc. Students and even instructors sometimes misconstrue the University’s policies as putting a restriction or limit on the number or percentage of students who can get any given course grade, or even enforcing a specified distribution of marks. Both University and Faculty policies explicitly prohibit such arbitrary limits. The Faculty policy is stated in the Calendar: “Grades, as an expression of the instructor’s best judgement of each student’s overall performance, will not be determined by any system of quotas.”  Students often have a sense that their marks are being artificially depressed in some way. If you are calibrating or adjusting marks (see Section 5.11), it is not helpful to refer to “belling” or “curving” marks, even if students use these terms.

10.5 Interpreting Marks: “What is an A?”
The Calendar gives official verbal equivalents for our letter grades, as in the table in Section 9.1: A = Excellent, B = Good, etc. These phrases offer helpful guidance when you are considering adjusting term assessments or recommended final marks. The University and the Faculty allow a great deal of latitude to our instructors in determining what level of performance in their particular courses corresponds to these rubrics, subject only to the official review process described in Section 10.9.

When reviewing your marks during and at the end of your course, you might keep in mind these considerations, among others:

  • Course level: Assessment of students’ demonstrated mastery of material should be calibrated to the level of the course. The relevant question is “Does this student demonstrate a command of what one might reasonably expect from a student at the introductory stage, the advanced stage, etc.?” 
  • Overall performance: Consider whether the letter grade corresponding to the calculated percentage mark appropriately reflects the student’s performance in the course as a whole. For example, it may be that the calculated numerical percentage mark falls just below 80%, but the student has performed above that level on many of the assignments and below on only a few. Does the overall performance merit being designated “Excellent”?  If so, you should feel justified in raising the final mark to indicate this. Needless to say, it is more problematic to move final marks down, especially when a strict calculation puts it at 50% or just above. If your overall assessment conflicts with the numerical calculation, you might look at the various individual elements or at the discretionary margin you have allowed in your marking scheme to see whether some adjustment is warranted.

In recent years, the Faculty has been concerned that our best students, who often demonstrate by their later performance in graduate or professional schools that they are indeed excellent, may not have received undergraduate marks that gave their performance the recognition it deserved and would have allowed them to compete more appropriately with excellent students from other institutions. When reviewing the performance and the final marks of your best students, particularly in a class of some size, you may wish to keep in mind both the A and A+ designations, so that excellence is clearly signaled with an A, and the outstanding students have an outstanding mark visible to all in an A+.

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10.6 Marks Just under Grade Thresholds
On our grading scale, there are a number of percentage marks where one more percent would shift the student up to the next range. Some of the more significant ones are 49%, 59%, 69%, 79% and 84%. Another threshold may be the line your department has established for entrance into its limited enrolment programs. You may want to give special attention to marks just below these thresholds;  they are often contentious and you may expect to hear from a number of students who receive such marks.

That said, there is no Faculty policy or practice to automatically “round up” such marks, and you should not feel pressured to do so. However, you may wish to decide intentionally whether to leave a mark just under one of these thresholds or to move it up or down.

10.7 Failing Marks
As mentioned in Section 9.10 regarding re-reading exams with failing marks, instructors should give some attention to those students who receive a failing course mark, especially those in the “marginal failure” range, in order to ensure the mark is a complete and fair reflection of overall performance.

10.8 Entering Final Course Marks
When preparing your final marks, you may find that some elements of a student’s body of work remain incomplete or undone. You should put in a mark of 0% for any missing element and then calculate and submit the final mark accordingly. Do not leave the final mark blank for incomplete work or put in a final course grade of 0% (unless nothing has been assessed) or try to signal “incomplete” or some other non-percentage element. Note in the appropriate place in your records what elements are missing and whether any informal extensions were given before the end of the course (and provide it to your UG Administrator if that is the practice in your unit). This information will be valuable should the student petition later. Also, should a petition for an extension beyond the course be granted and the student still does not complete the work, a correct default final mark will be available on the record without the need for further action on your part.

If a student has an outstanding allegation of academic misconduct that is being reviewed, the same protocol applies. Put in a 0% only for the assignment being reviewed, not for the entire course mark, and calculate and submit the final mark using the remaining completed portions.

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10.9 Marks Review Process
While the University holds the academic judgement of its instructors in great respect, ultimately the Dean is responsible for all marks in the Faculty. And so the UofT Grading Practices Policy (GPP) and the Faculty’s implementation policy outline a review and approval process for all final marks. Under no circumstances may instructors release final marks to students before they have gone through this approval process and been posted on ROSI by the OFR. This means that instructors should not add in the “overall assessment” portion, “participation mark,” or the final exam mark to the Blackboard gradebook and then open it for viewing by students.

The Faculty has recently made some adjustments to its marks review process, reflected in what follows.

  • Each Fall, a committee in each academic unit reviews all the marks from the previous few years to determine whether the marking practices of the unit’s instructors are meeting the unit’s and the Faculty’s goals, and whether the marks distributions point to any problems in the design of the curriculum. Problems with curriculum or marking practices may then be addressed during the academic year.
  • At the end of each course, all instructors submit their recommended final marks to the head of the academic unit for review and approval. As a change from previous practice, instructors are no longer required to write a pre-emptive memo explaining why any given set of marks varies from any pre-established marks distribution thresholds.

The head of the unit (or an appropriate academic delegate such as the UG Chair) reviews these recommended marks in the context of the nature of the course and the unit’s marking practices (as in I above). Should the head of the unit think the recommended marks appear anomalous in some way, he or she may contact the instructor for further information and discussion. Note that the GPP specifically states that the head of the unit has the authority to adjust the recommended marks before approving them, but Faculty policy and practice mandates consultation and discussion with the instructor before any changed marks are put forward to the next stage.

  • Once the head of the unit approves a set of marks, it is sent on to the Office of the Faculty Registrar for divisional review and approval on behalf of the Dean. Again, consultation and discussion are the Faculty’s practice in dealing with apparently anomalous course marks. However, again as per the policy, the Dean’s Office does have the authority to adjust recommended marks before finally approving and posting them on ROSI as official final course grades.

As per the policy, where marks have been adjusted before approval, the students and the instructor shall be notified of the change and provided upon request with the reason for the adjustment, the methodology used, and a description of the divisional grades review process.

Given this review process and the fact that marks are not official until approved and posted on ROSI, instructors may not release “recommended” or provisional final marks to students. Again, this means instructors should not display all elements of the recommended final mark including the final exam mark for viewing by students on Blackboard. You may think releasing recommended marks inappropriately early is helpful to students, but you may simply be creating unnecessary problems for both the students and yourself by doing this. Students should be told to check ROSI for their official final marks.

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10.10   Instructors’ Course Records
If you use an electronic marks record, e.g. the Blackboard grade centre, you should regularly back up this information off-line and also save it at the end of the course, since Blackboard does not archive this information automatically or indefinitely.

At the end of the course, you should also retain a complete copy of your records for the course. Later appeals, petitions or disciplinary proceedings may require specific information about a student’s participation or performance in a course. Records should be as complete as possible and contain at least the number and type of required assignments, in addition to the weighting and the actual marks given for them. Class records must not be destroyed at the end of the year but kept by you or your UG Administrator for at least one year, and preferably two years.

SECTION 11: TYPES OF STUDENT APPEALS

11.1 Formal Appeals: Definitions
In addition to the various types of informal requests and pleas you may get from students in the normal course of teaching, the Faculty has two types of formal appeals (as noted above in Section 5.14):

  • A “Petition”: A petition is a formal request from a student for an exception to a Faculty rule or regulation. The most common ones are about deferred exams, extensions beyond the end of a course, withdrawal from a course after Drop Date, relief from Academic Suspensions, and exemptions from Degree Requirements. Students submit a petition through their College Registrar and the OFR administers the responses given by the OFR Petitions Section, the Committee on Standing, the Academic Appeals Board, etc.
  • An “Academic Appeal”: These appeals pertain to matters of academic judgement, i.e. matters touching on academic conduct or assessment. These include but are not limited to marking, fair or reasonable treatment, admission to programs, an instructor’s conduct in the classroom, arbitrary application of rules, etc. Such matters are not petitionable; they are the subject of academic appeals and such appeals are to be reviewed by academics rather than administrative staff. They go up through the instructor, to the academic unit (UG Coordinator and Chair), to the Dean’s Office, with the Dean’s Office being the final level of appeal.

The normal protocol in dealing with a complaint or appeal is for the complainant to provide the person who made the initial decision with an opportunity to review it. If students is not satisfied, you should not tell them “to petition” about an academic matter. You should refer them to your UG Coordinator, as the next level of appeal, after you have considered the matter and given your final decision.

The full procedure as it relates to marking appeals is outlined above in Section 5.14. Best and prudent practice is for instructors to request that students put such appeals in writing, such as an email, and then retain the written copies for further reference. Appeals are most easily dealt with when there is a clear trail of written documentation.

11.2 UofT Appeals Culture
The culture of this University allows students a wide range of appeals. This may be time-consuming but it is a firmly-held part of our culture. There are some limits placed on student appeals designed to prevent frivolous re-marking requests, outlined in Section 5.14, but you should not be surprised if students think it appropriate to appeal something you have done. It is the responsibility of Chairs, Program Directors, etc. and the Dean’s Office to consider both sides of all formal appeals they receive and to respond.

The default assumption with such appeals is that the instructor knows the subject material of the course, (although heads of units are also responsible for addressing any problems in that regard). Those reviewing student appeals recognize that a wide range of pedagogical practice can fall into what might be called the “acceptable” or “normal” range   The test usually applied to appeals is “reasonableness”:  whether the treatment or assessment was fair, whether it was applied equitably, whether a rule was clear and announced in advance, whether a penalty was appropriate, etc.

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