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In my country, re-examinations are a common thing. Basically, if you miss your exam for whatever reason (or, if you do not pass), then you get an extra chance, under the same circumstances, and if you miss that one as well, you get one last chance.

My question is, is such a protocol normal? Are other countries also doing this? What are the benefits/drawbacks of such a policy?

My personal experience is that I can abuse this policy really easily. If I think I am going to do really badly on an exam, I may as well fail it on purpose (basically you hand in an empty piece of paper) and try to do better on my next attempt. Or, you can take the exam just to get a taste of how it's going to be like, what kind of questions you are going to be asked, and so on, and then you can fail it, and retake it this time being well-prepared. So is it really as 'bad' of a policy as I feel it is, and if so, what are the alternatives?

  • I think the problem of that is that you only let people that fail repeat the exam. And yes, it is pretty common. In Spain you can do the exam up to six times, and in Sweden is pretty much unlimited. – Davidmh Jun 23 '16 at 19:36
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    Is this an educational system where your entire grade in the course is based on a single final exam? In my classes here in the US, I usually give 4 or 5 exams in a single one-semester course. If you multiply that by my teaching load and multiply by another factor of 3 for retries, it seems that I would have to write something like 40 new exams every semester...!?!? My perception is that in the US, retries after taking an exam are unheard of, and if a student misses an exam, it's up to the instructor's discretion whether the excuse is sufficient. A good excuse IMO would be hospitalization. – user1482 Jun 23 '16 at 19:42
  • @David in spain it dwpendepends on several facts, includig the comunidad autonoma and the university. I studied there and never had I 6 opportunities to do the exam of a subject if I don't repeat the whole lecturea and practicums. – llrs Jun 23 '16 at 21:10
  • At my university, students who failed the masters comprehensive exams could retake the exams until they passed and earn their degree. The exams were administered once a year. I would imagine that after a couple of years of failed attempts, most students would find they have better things to do with their lives. – emory Jun 24 '16 at 1:34
  • In my experience in Australia, it is common for students to be able to sit an exam they have missed with a legitimate excuse. The chance to do a make-up exam when you have failed is sometimes extended, but in that case, the resulting grade on the student's transcript will be a "conceded pass", no matter how well they do on the viva. A conceded pass means you have passed, but can't progress to more advanced courses that have the original course as a pre-requisite. – Significance Jun 24 '16 at 6:28
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Are other countries also doing this?

Yes, sure. In my country, Italy, Bachelor's and Master's exams are usually structured in that way: in theory, you can retake the exam for an unlimited number of times. I had once a student who set a kind of record in this sense, by failing one of my exams 21 times, along 4-5 years. As a student, I failed several exams 2-3 times. In practice, however, there might be other time limitations or local policies that can prevent a student to retake an exam an unlimited number of times.

If I think I am going to do really badly on an exam, I may as well fail it on purpose

For what purpose, exactly? And where's the abuse of the policy? What do you think you're going to achieve by coming unprepared? Do you want to rely on the tunnel effect to pass the exam? It's mostly your time and knowledge that you're going to waste.

Or, you can take the exam just to get a taste of how it's going to be like, what kind of questions you are going to be asked,

Maybe in your country is different, but most professors in my country, and I'm among them, distribute to the students all, or most of, the past exam papers: if you want to get the taste of an exam, you can get it already, without the need of going to an actual exam.

So is it really as 'bad' of a policy as I feel it is

No, it's not. Such a policy, like others (e.g. the level of fees), is usually deeply rooted in the attitude that a country has toward education.

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    Upvoted for your pointing out that what the OP calls "abuse" can also be considered a legitimate mode of conduct within what exam regulations allow. – O. R. Mapper Jun 29 '16 at 10:13
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My question is, is such a protocol normal? Are other countries also doing this? What are the benefits/drawbacks of such a policy?

The obvious benefit is that students do not suffer disproportional and unfair consequences because they had a bad day, were sick or totally misjudged what would be relevant for the exam. Also you give weaker students or those for whom the didactics of the course did not work the chance and time to have another take at learning the material on their own.

Unless you want to split the requirement for passing the course over several exams for everybody, the only alternative would be to make exams so easy that almost everybody passes, but this strongly diminishes the value of the degree.

My personal experience is that I can abuse this policy really easily. If I think I am going to do really badly on an exam, I may as well fail it on purpose (basically you hand in an empty piece of paper) and try to do better on my next attempt. Or, you can take the exam just to get a taste of how it's going to be like, what kind of questions you are going to be asked, and so on, and then you can fail it, and retake it this time being well-prepared. So is it really as 'bad' of a policy as I feel it is, and if so, what are the alternatives?

The problem you are describing is exactly the one experienced by many students in my department (in Germany) after switching to the bachelor/master system. Before, you only needed to pass an exam and there were no grades, while afterwards exam grades were essential to your final grade.

Now, inevitably there soon was an exam whose focus was quite different from what everybody expected and that was passed only by a few students, mostly with bad grades. When the re-exam came, everybody knew what to expect, and it was passed by a lot more students with much better grades. Due to the resulting outcry from those who passed the first exam, the general rules were changed such that now every student may take the re-exam and the best grade counts. Note that there is only one re-exam per course and if you fail both, you have to re-take the course in the next year.

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    Regarding your first point, the countries where re-examinations are allowed also tend to be countries where the entire course grade is based on one or two exams (otherwise re-examinations would be impractical). In places where grade is based on many small low-stakes assessments that are spread out over the course of the semester, then students do not suffer much from a bad day, have a chance to modify their approach to improve performance after failing once, etc. I'm not sure why you conclude that "The only alternative would be to make exams so easy that almost everybody passes". – ff524 Jun 29 '16 at 7:40
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    @ff524: I clarified that this sentence is based on the assumption that you have a single exam. By the way, in my department, there are such split courses and even here a similar rule applies. If there are, e.g., six assessments on which the grade is based, only the five best count and the last one is regarded as your opportunity to repair a previous fluke. – Wrzlprmft Jun 29 '16 at 8:04
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The answer to your question will depend on a lot of variables. Even within my department, there is a big difference between exams in particular courses and the qualifying exams taken by doctoral students. In courses, it would be very unusual to have a second for those who fail on the first try. The qualifying exams, in contrast, can be taken as often as you want provided you pass one by the end of your third semester and the other by the end of your fifth semester; the exams are given three times per year, so you have many chances to pass.

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  • Interesting. We have a limit (3 if I recall) on the number of times PhD students can take qualifying exams. Though I suspect the OP was talking non-US systems with courses with only final exams. – Kimball Jun 29 '16 at 8:25

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