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On my course my university provides past exam papers but does not release mark schemes and I know this is the case for other universities. I am dyslexic which makes reading hard, and for my high-school exams I used exam papers with the mark scheme as a self-study method, (meaning I attempted questions and used the answers as a source of information on that topic). Which leads to what I see as one of the main arguments against not providing mark schemes; by providing exam papers you give students an idea of what they need to study but not the information they need to know (i.e. the answers) meaning they will spend time (which could be spent on learning other things) looking in text books for answers.

So what are the reasons for not providing mark schemes to past exam papers?

Edit

Just to clarify some points:

Firstly I am from the UK hence the phrase 'mark scheme'. When a wrote the question (which was a while back know) I guess I was more tending towards the idea of a mark scheme as example solutions rather then a 'grading rubric'. I must admit 'mark scheme' was probably the wrong phrase to use in the question. Just to keep the question consistent with the answers, the interpretation of a 'mark scheme' as "any method that allows the student to work out what they are expected to write in the exam" works best.

Also a while back I did email the relevant people at my university about the situation concerning 'mark schemes', also explaining about my dyslexia and how I learn best. They replied by simply saying that the review the situation every year, but gave me no further information for the reasons behind it.

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    What is a mark scheme? It sounds like a grading rubric, but then from your question it sounds like you are asking about something different, namely example solutions. – Trevor Wilson Oct 5 '15 at 22:39
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    They don't release marking schemes for past papers because they always re-use past paper questions. – la femme cosmique Mar 5 '16 at 19:57
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    If your university is a diploma mill there will be a lot of predictability in the exams .They wont have critical thinking if the exam is predictable which might be OK or even beneficial for social workers and family court judges .At a proper university there would be very little predictability in the exam so giving answers wont allow stupid students to pass anyway .Remember that most university grads enter the workforce where the questions asked of them are totally unpredictable . – Autistic Mar 6 '16 at 3:27
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    @Autistic I wonder how many exams you've tried writing. Academics on the whole would love exams to not be predictable, but coming up with interesting questions the right length and difficulty repeatedly is hard. Also, if the questions vary a lot then students frequently complain and perform very poorly. – Jessica B Mar 6 '16 at 9:14
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    @O.R.Mapper I have tried to clarify what I mean by 'mark scheme' in the question, please let me know if there is still confusion. – Quantum spaghettification Mar 6 '16 at 10:58
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I'm not aware of any particularly compelling reason not to provide solutions for past exams, but here are two possible reasons:

  1. Providing solutions encourages students to study by learning isolated facts. If they have to look things up, then they are more likely to absorb some of the context at the same time. (Looking things up takes more time, but you typically learn more than just the one thing you were looking for.)

  2. Some students find it very difficult to resist looking at solutions when they are provided. They will think for a minute or two about a problem and then check the solutions and convince themselves that this is exactly what they would have done if they had spent more time. In some fields (such as mathematics) working out a solution oneself is usually much more educational than reading someone else's solution. Withholding solutions is inconvenient for students, but the inconvenience may push them towards better study habits.

Only your professors can tell you why they do not provide solutions; without knowing the specific situation, all we can do is guess. It can't hurt to ask them and to explain why having solutions would be valuable for you. They may not have strong reasons and might decide to start providing solutions. (And, as Dave Rose points out in his answer, you should also get any appropriate accommodations for dyslexia.)

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    If the instructor obtained a test bank from a publisher, the publisher may disallow them from disclosing anything related to the test bank incl. answers, at least as far as the U.S. goes. Garland Science comes to mind. – CKM Oct 5 '15 at 23:54
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The main point here is that you have dyslexia, and therefore the university and consequently your professors should know about it; as they can help you navigate better throughout your studies.

You need to address this through student services. They must have staff that deal with dyslexic students. they will then contact your professors and let them know about your dyslexia and the way you need to study to achieve your goals.

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I'm guessing you are from the UK, given that "mark scheme" is a phrase I heard there and not anywhere else. Anyway, I asked this same question when I was doing my undergrad. My answer will be centred on the UK university system, because this is likely different in other places. If this isn't you, disregard my answer.

They re-use exam questions. Not the same ones every year, but every few years most lecturers recycle questions as long as the content of the course has not changed. Sometimes the numbers or the wording are different, but the methods and the content are often the same. If they released the marking scheme and the solutions, it means that you could simply memorise the answers instead of actually learning the content.

The entire idea of exams is to determine how much of the material of each module you have understood, and often that means the ability to answer a question you have never seen before.

I always thought they were being very generous by giving students the past papers (without solutions), because at least that gives the student an idea which of the content to learn in the course, and which is less important. If you have access to 2 or 3 years of past papers, it's easy to see which ideas repeat and which do not. Then you can focus on your learning on the things you expect to see.

And a bit of unsolicited advice, because I discovered my dyslexia during undergrad and I feel your pain here. I echo what the poster above says about contacting Student Support, because you can at least get extra exam time and study skills, which is very helpful. I was even given a note-taker, so I could relax and pay attention in lectures instead of spending all my effort un-dyslexiing my notes. If you're dyslexic, you may need to study a lot 'more' (in terms of hours) than the average student, to make up for our brains being wired differently.

You should not be wasting time checking textbooks for answers, because what is important are the methods. If you learn the background [insert field name here], you will be able to solve most questions. If you only learn answers, you can only answer those specific questions and you'll be overly reliant on the material from the past papers.

Edited to add: Here's what worked for us. See if your lecturers are willing to release a 'sample exam' along with solutions, or at least if they're willing to go over the solutions for it in your revision lectures (the ones right before exams). Granted this isn't a lot of time, but it's still helpful, and it's the closest my lecturers ever were to releasing the marking scheme or exam solutions.

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by providing exam papers you give students an idea of what they need to study but not the information they need to know (i.e. the answers) meaning they will spend time (which could be spent on learning other things) looking in text books for answers.

This line suggests that you might have misunderstood the scope of exam papers. You should not treat the past exams as "these are the subjects I need to learn and I can ignore the rest" [i.e. information they need to know], but as a way of testing your knowledge against the past year exams.

Now, if you need to look in the textbook for the answers this is typically a sign that you don't know how to answer that particular question, and that you should probably spend some extra time with that topic.

Releasing the answers leads to the following simple issue: often students will read the answers instead of solving the problem. And many times the answers will seem simple, and the students will get a false impression that they know the material; but understanding an answer is not the same thing as being able to answer the question in the first place...

  • I agree with this. There is a huge difference between learning how to answer exam questions and a rigorous understanding of the methods behind those answers. In the first case, you get a slightly different exam question and you're screwed. And it misses the point of an exam in the first place. – la femme cosmique Mar 6 '16 at 10:37
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Thinking about my own choices:

I don't like giving out solutions mainly for the reason already given: students will tend to look at the solutions over working them out themselves, which means they do not learn as much. Or worse, they never actually get round to looking at the solutions at all, in practice assuming that having the answers filed is good enough (although I doubt they realise this what they are doing).

Not giving out the mark scheme (which in my case comes on the same page as the solutions for exams) is for a different reason: marking is not as deterministic as students like to think. No matter how carefully I try and write down what the correct answer should be and what the marks are allocated for, I almost invariably find that the solutions produced by students do not match what I've written. To give marks that fairly correspond to the work a student has produced, you have to look at the range of answers given and fit them as best possible to the marks available. Sometimes you realise that your mark distribution doesn't quite match where the students had difficulty, so you slightly re-distribute the marks over the parts of the solution. Whatever you do, there will be answers that are hard to classify as one mark or another. The key point is that you end up with something accurate enough, given how large an effect the marks will have in the end and given time constraints (eg it is not worth me spending an extra 5 minutes on a script over a mark that will count for 0.1% of the module).

But, while some students recongnise this, many don't. They insist on arguing over every mark, which takes up time and energy for the marker and is potentially unfair on other students who have the grace to accept their mark. (I'm not saying here it is wrong to challenge marks that seem a long way out - everyone makes mistakes, so I have not problem with students pointing out sections of work unmarked or marks added up wrong. I'm talking about the students who try an argue that their answer should be just on the other side of the boundary for getting a particular mark.)

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There is no firm policy here, but most colleagues post the solutions to exams, and I post relatively detailed grade breakdown too (sometimes with several solutions, and occasionally even with solutions from the students, when someone comes up with a different solution).

Having the solutions and grading is relevant to allow students to complain about grading mistakes (yes, they do happen). And it cuts down on complaints, not all outlandish "solutions" with low grade land on my desk for regrading (and later explaining why the grade is low).

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Perhaps not very relevant for first year exams, but certainly later in the course is that there is no well-defined marking scheme. In the UK system the level of marking (the degree classes) is generally based on rather esoteric concepts such as depth of (conceptual) understanding or reflectiveness of the approach.

Especially in open-ended essay style questions it is not too hard to provide a guide to the answer that is clear for expert markers as to the expected points that students make. The actual answers by students are generally very diverse and require expert assessment (no dumb application of marking scheme) and counting "points" may be counterproductive, especially where students have learned to overload an answer with "possibly relevant" information.

While it is certainly true that reusing exam questions happens and can be beneficial (you can improve the questions over time), providing a marking scheme that students can not use to self-mark or answer guidance that needs expert understanding is not helpful at best. It is more likely to be counterproductive. An approach I may experiment with instead is to discuss in class format the answers given by actual students and the reasons for marks (multiple answers for the same question).

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