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Case Study: Queen Mary University London

Looking to improve accuracy and save time in their exam processing for the Post Graduate Diploma in Dermatology, The Centre for Cell Biology and Cutaneous Research at Queen Mary University London, turned to Speedwell’s Exam Bureau Services to help.

Forming part of the prestigious Queen Mary University London, the Centre for Cell Biology and Cutaneous research is located in the Blizzard institute. Named after Sir William Blizzard, the man credited for founding the first Medical School attached to a hospital in 1785.

The Centre, alongside the department of dermatology at Bart’s Health, organise the Post Graduate Diploma in Dermatology, with Dr Louise Russell being responsible for overseeing the exam processes for the course.

The diploma is popular, with student numbers growing year after year. In 2020 there are 180 students enrolled. Around 100 of these students are based in the UK, with the rest of the students coming from all around the world.

The exam is held in May each year and consists of two papers, a two-hour multiple-choice paper and a short answer paper. The UK students take the exam at the University, with overseas students sitting it at the British Council wherever they may be in the world. For it to all run smoothly there is a lot of coordination involved.

A manual process

Historically the marking and analysis of the exam was a cumbersome task. Dr Russell explains that after each exam the papers would be collected and sent back to the university for marking. This was a manual process with Dr Russell marking the MCQ paper by hand;

“It was absolutely wretched, I used a spreadsheet, it was very time consuming and difficult, it would take about 3 days to mark all 180 papers”

As well as the time involved, the process was also open to error, so accuracy also became a concern. It was clear that the process needed to be reviewed.

Finding the right solution

Moving to online exams has been considered multiple times as a potential solution, but presently it’s been ruled out. Dr Russell explains it’s very important that each and every student has the same exam experience:

“With online exams, you’re relying on the technology in the country where the students are, and that could be anywhere in the world. They all have to have the same exam experience. We couldn’t have the UK students doing an online exam and overseas students taking a paper version. If you consider images, for example, there would be differences in image quality, the ability to zoom in and so on, so it wouldn’t be fair”

However, with the existing hand-marked method being time-consuming, plus the concerns over accuracy, Dr Russell felt that there must be a better way of processing the exam. When a colleague mentioned that they had used Speedwell software previously and had a good experience with it, Dr Russell was interested:

“When we looked into it further and realised that using the Speedwell Exam Bureau Service would offer us everything we were looking for in terms of time-saving and accuracy, it was a really simple decision to make”

By using Speedwell’s Exam Bureau Service for their exam processing there was no need to make any investment in an OMR scanner or software, but they still benefit from all of the advantages the software offers. Dr Russell also feels that using the pre-printed exam answer sheets makes the exam feel more professional for the students.

Exam Bureau Service – A seamless experience

Using Speedwell’s Bureau Service for the processing of the diploma’s MCQ exam has been straightforward. Once all of the papers are back at the university, they are sent to Speedwell via secure courier. After receiving the papers, the team at Speedwell ensure that all of the sheets are scanned into the OMR Scanner and marked. When this is completed, the statistical analysis reports are generated and sent back to Dr Russell via a secure portal. The design and printing of the answer sheets prior to the exam is also handled by Speedwell’s specialist print team.

Dr Russell says “The whole process is really seamless. I’ve had to work to some very tight deadlines and the Speedwell team always deliver on time”

She was also keen to highlight the support offered as being another bonus;

“The support at Speedwell is fabulous, everyone we have dealt with is great. Any issues or queries and the team are straight on to it”

Prior to using Speedwell, the statistical reports were also generated manually. This together with the automated marking means that Dr Russell has seen a huge time-saving benefit;

“I’ve gained a whole week back time-wise – it’s brilliant”

Alongside this, there is now increased confidence in the accuracy of the results. Dr Russell also feels that using the pre-printed exam answer sheets gives the exam more professionalism and enhances the student experience.

And in terms of cost, Dr Russell feels that it’s totally justified by the benefits gained. She explains; “The cost is not even mentioned, it’s just a factor of what we need to do, and it allows us to focus our time elsewhere rather than on exam administration which is another plus”

Exam Bureau Services – A vital service

In the past, there was more time to turn around the exam, but recently it’s been necessary for the team to bring the exam forward to fit into the university framework. This has made the window for the exam processing and statistics incredibly narrow. Dr Russell explains that this change has made the bureau service offered by Speedwell a necessity;

“The whole process is really tight, we absolutely need this automated system to help us out, we just couldn’t do without it now”

For Dr Russell, there’s no going back, Speedwell’s Exam Bureau Service has saved time, increased confidence in the exam accuracy and reduced stress for all involved.

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