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The Role of the External Examiner

Important Note: The new risk-based external examining principles at Queen’s will be piloted in the following Schools:

  • Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
  • Nursing and Midwifery
  • Social Sciences, Education and Social Work

The External Examining Standard Operating Procedures will apply for these Schools in 2023-24 and should be consulted for information on the new external examiner role.

External examiners do not mark student work. They have two main functions: to act as moderators and to act as consultants. The University defines these roles as follows.

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

  1. Approving draft examination papers and other significant components of assessed work, ensuring that they are set at an appropriate standard and accurately reflect the syllabus.
  2. Ensuring that internal marking is consistent, by reviewing a selection of scripts.
  3. 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.
  4. Reviewing the final marks for the module(s).
  5. Highlighting and encouraging good practice.
  6. 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 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 normally includes:

  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. Reviewing 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.

Schools will nominate a programme external examiner from the pool of subject external examiners, ensuring that the nominee has previous external examining experience. Each programme should have a 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.

In instances where there is only one subject external examiner for a programme - for example, specialist PGT programmes - that individual should also be the programme external examiner.

Subject External Examiners or Programme External Examiners should not 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 should be available, where possible, to external examiners. In practice, the external examiner should only review a sample of this work.

    The School should agree in advance with the external examiner the nature of the sample of scripts and coursework that the external examiner needs to receive in order to determine that internal marking has been appropriate and consistent.

    The normal expectation requires external examiners to receive 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.

    Schools should ensure that the external examiner has access to student work in advance of the meetings of the Board of Examiners, in sufficient time to allow an appropriate level of scrutiny.

    Where applicable, external examiners should have sufficient access to assessed written work produced during, or following, placement learning.

    Where possible, external examiners should have the same level of involvement in 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 Examiner meetings in June, with the external examiner present. External examiner reports form part of the evidence base for the Continuous Action for Programme Enhancement process.

  • Recommendations on Marks, Classifications, Practices and Procedures

    The Education Committee (Quality and Standards) appoints external examiners to module and/or programme cohorts. As such, external examiners should not be invited to make recommendations on or change the marks of individual students or individual assessments.

    External examiners have the power to recommend to the Board of Examiners appropriate action to ensure consistency of standards and may advise the Board on changes to marks across the module.

    The Board should take the opinion of the external examiner 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 seek to overrule University regulations at Board of Examiner meetings.

  • 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, the majority decision of the members present at the Board of Examiners will be upheld.

    Further information on the role, constitution and operation of Boards of Examiners is available in the Boards of Examiners section of the Code of Practice on Examinations and Assessment.