How to learn from exam room near-misses

Did anything go wrong during your summer exams? Probably! Mistakes happen under pressure, even in the best exam teams. So you make sure you learn from mistakes, and put systems in place to stop them happening again. But what about the near-misses?

Near-misses are mistakes which could have resulted in serious problems, but didn’t? At the time, everyone sighs with relief and moves on, yet there’s much to learn from them.

We can learn as much from what nearly goes wrong, as from major incidents

Near-misses have to be taken seriously in health-care and aviation, otherwise lives are risk. Exams might not be matters of life and death, but they do affect people’s futures. Exam teams owe it to candidates to get things right. That means learning from near-misses in the exam room, so as to prevent major problems down the line.

For example, one lone invigilator starteabout time2d an exam, but was distracted by a candidate’s query before she could write up the start time. She realised her mistake within a few minutes, and fortunately as she always timed exams on her stop-watch, she could quickly write up the correct start and finish time.

Failing to time the exam correctly could have resulted in serious consequences for candidates. Since the invigilator put things right, she didn’t tell her Exam Officer. Yet the exam team could have learnt from that near miss. Perhaps to give lead invigilators a stopwatch as well as timing from the exam room clock. Perhaps to add WRITE UP START TIME!! onto the script for the starting announcement. Certainly to discuss if this has been an issue for other invigilators.

For exam teams to learn from near-misses, invigilators need to report what almost caused problems, as well as actual problems. “Near-misses” don’t have to be dealt with at the height of exam season. If they’re recorded in the exam room log-book, they can easily be picked up later.

An exam room log-book is for anything untoward, not just malpractice

Autumn is a great time to evaluate how exam season went, to look at what went right, what went wrong, and to put better systems in place. But don’t forget to ask what almost went wrong, as well. You could be preventing those near-misses from turning into major problems when the next exam season comes round.

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