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Specimen Exam Papers: Do students benefit, and if so, how?

Project leader(s): 
James Bowen and Stephen Jones

Question: Does undertaking the Specimen Exam Paper (SEP) correlate with improved End-of-Module Assessment (EMA) result?

Hypothesis: Those students who undertake the SEP benefit from (i) practicing examination questions, and (ii) feedback on performance given by tutors.

Background: Oliver and Williams (J. Behav. Edu. 2005, 14, 141-152) reported a study of undergraduate students who were encouraged to undertake practice exam questions. Some sections received credit based on the number of items completed, whereas other sections received credit based on the number of items answered accurately. Students performed better under the accuracy than the completion contingency. 

However, there appears to be an absence of information regarding whether undertaking practice exam questions improves performance in the associated final examination.

There is also some literature regarding open book exams (e.g. Weber; McBee; Krebs; Res. Higher Edu. 1983, 18, 473-483) but this does not appear to be particularly relevant to the issues we wish to consider in this Project.


  1. Is the SEP an effective use of assessment-based learning?
  2. Do students benefit from the feedback they receive from tutors?
  3. Preparing and marking the SEP involves tutor time and cost to the OU. Is this an effective use of resources?
  4. Past exam papers are available from OU Students Association. How does the number of downloads correlate with the number of students undertaking the SEP?


  1. Identify those modules which offer a SEP, across the STEM Faculty.
  2. Categorise modules according to when the SEP appears (i) in the module, and (ii) in the qualification pathway.
  3. Review rates of students undertaking the SEP, on STEM Faculty modules, over the last 5 years.
  4. Compare EMA scores for students on STEM Faculty modules who did and did not undertake the SEP.
  5. Construct and disseminate an online survey regarding SEP and past exam papers use; target audience includes Central Academic Staff, Staff Tutors, and Associate Lecturers (ALs).
  6. Explore the possibility of obtaining the number of past exam paper purchases per year from OUSA. If this information is available, consider module presentation results vs number of downloads during that presentation.


  1. Should we place greater emphasis on encouraging students to engage with the SEP? If so, should a small amount of marks be awarded for undertaking the SEP? e.g. 3% of OCAS.
  2. Should we motivate ALs to encourage students to engage with the SEP?
  3. Should we include SEP in new modules? And if so, when should it be introduced in the module timeline?
  4. How might we better liaise with OUSA to explore the positive impact of past exam papers on student performance?


  1. Improved understanding of SEP benefit to students.
  2. Module teams will have an improved ability to decide on SEP placement within a module timeline.
  3. Information regarding the importance of SEP feedback.
  4. Greater justification for the use of resources, or not, for modules which include a SEP.