As previously advised on Teche, a new assessment policy is set to launch on 1 July 2021. A number of policies have been merged to a new assessment policy and accompanying procedures. The new policy will apply to assessments offered in Session 2 2021.

The first post covered changes to group marking limits while this second post in the series provides guidance on limits to the duration of final examinations.

Policy changes

This change introduces a limit of 2 hours on a final exam duration, anything longer needs approval by faculty board.

The intention of the new Assessment procedure (clauses 92 and 93) is to standardise on no greater than two hours of ‘working time’ for final examinations (excluding reading time, time added for IEAP purposes or time added to online exams allowing for technical overheads). Exams greater than two hours will require approval from Faculty Board. As per assessment procedure clause (152) the approved exception can last up to 3 years and will need to be published in the approved exceptions document. Subsequent applications can be made to extend the approval further.

What staff need to do to get ready

If the exam is greater than two hours:

a) If it is deemed necessary that an exam is greater than two hours then approval by the faculty board will be required. A rationale will need to be provided that can include a sound pedagogical argument or accreditation requirements. Given the tight timelines the UC will need to submit the exception application ASAP to their facility board. See also dates for faculty board meetings. If the timelines are unsuited then consult your faculty.


b) Change the exam duration and amend the unit information regarding the exam duration before the MQCMS deadline. Advice from Curriculum and Planning indicates the MQCMS deadline for this type of change (changing *only the duration* of the exam) is two weeks prior to the commencement of Session 2, 2021. However – faculties will have earlier internal deadlines as part of CMS change approval process. It would be best to get moving on this change ASAP.

Note! If changing an exam from 3 to 2 hours then the volume of work expected from students must also be reduced by a commensurate amount. Some guidance on exam design and establishing a reasonable time limit for examinations follows below.

Advice on preparing exams

Revising the exam coverage

This is a good opportunity to revisit the constructive alignment of the exam to ensure that appropriate learning outcomes of the unit are covered by the exam. This is especially so if you need to shorten the duration in the final assessment. This could mean removing a topic area from the exam if that area has been covered by other assessment tasks during the session. Alternatively, the exam could be split into two parts. A first portion covering material taught earlier in the session can be examined during the session, while the final exam period hosts the exam covering the later topics.

Estimating a realistic exam duration

Where routine tasks and problems typically found in examinations are concerned, an examiner as a topic expert is likely to be able to arrive at a high quality solution much faster than a novice student (Persky and Robinson, 2017). It must be noted that experts can take longer than novices where complex and unique problems are involved, however novices generally produce lower quality solutions in that time. See Bransford (2000) Chapter 2, for a review of literature on expert versus novice problem solving. To estimate the working time for exam questions that allows students to provide quality responses, Carnegie Mellon University recommends that you measure how long it takes for you to do the examination yourself, including the time it takes to read everything twice and then to write a response. As a rule of thumb you can multiply the time by three to arrive at a suitable duration that allows an accomplished novice time for thinking, back-tracking and correcting mistakes.

Building flexible exams

Given the demands of the COVID world exams are no longer on-campus, pen-on-paper only affairs. Increased flexibility is required to cater for students in a range of contexts. This means that a digital version of the exam is increasingly necessary or that exams need to be delivered entirely online. This raises challenges, particularly for exams involving maths and diagramming, but it also offers opportunities to rethink the exam design. Macquarie has developed an online exam preparation guide, advice how you can leverage iLearn (Moodle) tools for examinations and practical examples in iLearn to help you prepare exams.

Specifying the exam correctly in the CMS

Check the exam assessment task is correctly specified in the CMS as ‘individual’, the correct weighting has been applied and task time has been updated.

Additional Resources

Designing final assessment

Teche Post: In the time of COVID-19: What about the exam? (Exploring some exam alternatives to traditional paper exams) (Macquarie University)

Alternatives to traditional testing (UC Berkeley)

Supporting students in preparing for exams

Technical guides

Exam activities can be done using iLearn Quiz,  Assignment or Turnitin (do not to use the latter for scanned handwritten responses).


Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., Cocking, R. R., Donovan, M. S., Bransford, J. D., Pellegrino, J. W., & Bransford, J. (Eds.). (2000). Chapter 2: How Experts Differ from Novices. In How people learn brain, mind, experience, and school (Expanded Edition, pp. 31–50). National Academy Press.

Eberly Center. (2021). Creating Exams. Carnegie Mellon University.

Persky, A. M., & Robinson, J. D. (2017). Moving from Novice to Expertise and Its Implications for Instruction. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 81(9), 6065.

Posted by Mathew Hillier

Mathew has been engaged by Macquarie University as an e-Assessment Academic in residence and is available to answer questions by MQ staff. Mathew specialises in Digital Assessment (e-Assessment) in Higher Education. Has held positions as an advisor and academic developer at University of New South Wales, University of Queensland, Monash University and University of Adelaide. He has also held academic teaching roles in areas such as business information systems, multimedia arts and engineering project management. Mathew recently led a half million dollar Federal government funded grant on e-Exams across ten university partners and is co-chair of the international 'Transforming Assessment' webinar series as the e-Assessment special interest group under the Australasian society for computers in learning in tertiary education. He is an honorary academic University of Queensland, Monash University and an adjunct academic at University of Tasmania.

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