The Role of the External Examiner

External examiners do not mark student work. They have two main functions: to act as moderators and to act as consultants. The roles can be broadly divided as follows.

The primary role of a subject external examiner is as a moderator. In this role, external examiners should ensure that the assessment system is equitable and is fairly operated in the classification of students. This work should include:

  1. Approving draft examination papers and other significant components of assessed work, ensuring that they accurately reflect the syllabus.
  2. Considering all other forms of assessment to be used for the module(s).
  3. Ensuring that the content of a module accurately reflects the module description/outline.
  4. Ensuring that internal marking is consistent, by seeing a selection of scripts.
  5. Highlighting examples of major concentration on one or two questions.
  6. Contributing to the ratification of marks by the Subject Board of Examiners meeting; this will include, in exceptional circumstances, advising on any proposed scaling of marks at a cohort level.
  7. Approving the final mark sheets for the module(s).
  8. Highlighting and encouraging good practice.
  9. Delivering an oral report to the Subject Board of Examiners meeting, and an annual written report to the Head of Academic Affairs

The primary role of a programme external examiner is as a consultant, In this role, external examiners should ensure that the degrees awarded by Queen’s are comparable in standard with those awarded in other UK or Irish universities, and are consistent with the requirements of the  UK Quality Code for Higher Education.. This work should include:

  1. Reviewing the degree programmes (the sequence and nature of the modules necessary to complete a degree), commenting on their alignment with the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications and any relevant Subject Benchmark Statements
  2. Contributing to progression and award decisions taken by the Programme Board of Examiners meeting.
  3. Approving the classifications or unclassified results for the cohort.
  4. Highlighting and encouraging good practice.
  5. Acting as a critical friend to the department.
  6. Delivering an oral report to the Programme Board of Examiners meeting, and an annual written report to the Head of Academic Affairs.

Normally a programme external examiner will be drawn from the pool of subject external examiners, and will have previous external examining experience. Each programme should have a single programme external examiner, although the total number of subject external examiners should be sufficient to cover the range of topics and number of students.

External examiners may serve as programme external examiner for more than one cognate programme, where this is appropriate and does not place an unreasonable burden on the external examiner.

For PGT programmes, the programme external examiner should also undertake the moderation of dissertations. If there is only one subject external examiner for a programme - for example, specialist PGT programmes - that individual should normally also be the programme external examiner.

Neither subject nor programme external examiners should seek to, or be permitted to, change individual marks.

Availability of Student Work

All examination scripts and other work including coursework, practical and tutorial work which contributes to the final classification should be available, where possible, to external examiners. In practice, the external examiner will normally view a sample of this work.

The School should agree in advance with the external examiner the nature of the scripts and coursework which he or she needs to receive in order to determine that internal marking has been appropriate and consistent. The normal expectation would require external examiners to be sent a sample of scripts drawn from the top, middle and bottom of the mark range including all scripts of borderline candidates and of all candidates assessed internally as first classes/distinctions or as fails.

Appropriate scripts and other coursework should be sent to the external examiner in advance of the meetings of the Board of Examiners, in sufficient time to allow the external examiner to undertake an appropriate level of scrutiny of the work received.

External examiners should (where applicable) have sufficient access to assessed written work produced during, or as a result of, placement learning.

External examiners should, where possible, have the same level of involvement in both the content and the moderation of practical and clinical examinations as they have for written papers.

Module and Programme Review

As part of their role as consultants, external examiners should be given the opportunity to contribute to module and programme review. The Quality Assurance Agency has commended the practice in some areas of carrying out elements of programme review at Boards of Examiners’ meetings in June, with the external examiner present.

Recommendations on Marks, Classifications, Practices and Procedures

External examiners are appointed to module/programme cohorts. As such, external examiners should not normally be required or invited to make recommendations on or change the marks of individual students or individual assessments except in the exceptional circumstances where there is an unresolvable difference between internal examiners. External examiners have the power to recommend to the Board of Examiners appropriate action to ensure consistency of standards and may advise the Board of Examiners on changes to marks across the module as a whole.

The opinion of the external examiner will be taken very seriously. However, the final decision on marks and classifications must be a majority decision of the Board of Examiners.

Should an external examiner hold a view that the practices/procedures in Queen’s are contrary to, or out of step with, standard practice in other UK/Irish universities or the UK Quality Code for Higher Education, they should communicate these views in their reports.The University will then consider the views expressed, through its procedure for dealing with external examiner feedback. External examiners should not, however, seek to overrule such University regulations at Board of Examiners meetings.


Where an external examiner has a serious concern relating to systemic failings with the academic standards of a programme or programmes and has exhausted all published applicable internal procedures, including the submission of a confidential report to the Vice-Chancellor, they may invoke HEFCE’s Investigating Quality Issues scheme or inform the relevant professional, statutory or regulatory body.


Membership of Boards of Examiners

External examiners are full members of the relevant Board(s) of Examiners. If the opinion of the Board is equally divided, the Chair of the Board shall have the final casting vote (in addition to the Chair’s original vote as a member of the Board of Examiners). In all other cases, it will be the majority decision of the members present at the Board of Examiners that will be upheld.

Further information on the role, constitution and operation of Boards of Examiners can be found in the Boards of Examiners section of the Code of Practice on Examinations and Assessment.