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D: Guidance on the Data Protection Act 1998 and Examinations (including guidance on the release and retention of examination materials)


These notes provide guidance to departments on the University’s regulations concerning the retention of examination scripts and how to prepare for, and respond, to students’ right, under the Data Protection Act 1998, to request copies of examiners’ comments. “Comments” in this instance includes any marks recorded on, or in relation to, examination scripts, essays etc.

The definition used in the 1998 Data Protection Act for "examination" includes "any process for determining the knowledge, intelligence, skill or ability of a candidate by reference to his performance in any test, work or other activity".

Subject Access Requests

Students have the right to make a request to obtain a copy of certain information recorded during the examination process and this is termed subject access. Information recorded by candidates during examination (e.g. their examination answers) are specifically exempted from subject access provisions. All other data associated with exams including ‘raw’ exam marks, examiners’ comments and exam board minutes are covered by ‘amended’ subject access provisions.

Examination Marks and Examiners’ Comments

In the event of a Subject Access Request (SAR) the University must provide access to all examination comments, as defined above (excepting information recorded by candidates) either within 5 months of the request or 40 days after the official release of results (whichever is sooner). In all cases subject access requests should be directed to the University’s Data Protection Officer.

Internal and external examiners are made aware that their comments are now accessible by students and should take care to ensure what they have recorded is both intelligible and appropriate. To enable the easy collection of information when a subject access request is made, departments should consider recording comments on attached marking sheets, rather than directly on examination scripts. Alternatively, where possible comments should be recorded in the margins of scripts. Where comments are hand-written and potentially illegible a word-processed copy may need to be provided.

Where examiners’ comments have been made directly onto scripts, the annotated script itself is exempt in the event of a SAR. However, if an annotated script is withheld, all comments must be reproduced on a separate form, which is available to the subject as a minimum requirement.

Exam Board Minutes

Departments should be aware that exam board minutes will also include personal data which is being processed for the purpose of determining the results of examinations and therefore will be accessible by students making a subject access request; albeit subject to the exemption in the Act which allows personal data to be witheld for up to 5 months if the official results have not yet been announced. To protect the rights of third parties, information on other candidates should be deleted from the minutes before they are released.

Retention of Examination Scripts

Rules concerning the retention of examination scripts are provided in University Regulations 10.1 (8) and (9), (below). Departments are advised to dispose of scripts promptly after the retention period has elapsed; the University will be unable to respond to subject access requests where exam scripts no longer exist.

A sample of student examination scripts and assessed work should be retained for quality assurance purposes: the latest advice from the Quality Assurance Agency suggests that for Institutional Audit purposes this should be the smallest possible sample consistent with demonstrating students’ achievement of learning outcomes and standards. Such a sample should cover all assessment methods, all award levels and provide examples of high, typical and low achievement in the areas selected. Ideally, each department should retain a copy of the most recent sample provided to external examiners on an annual basis for this purpose.

Regulation 10.1 Retention of Scripts

Regulations concerning the retention of examination scripts are set out in University Regulation 10.1 paragraphs (8) and (9)