Exam techniques worth £100,000

I am not sure what to make of the latest news that a law student Maria Abramova is suing the Oxford Institute of Legal Practice (OXILP), part of Oxford Brookes University for £100,000 claiming they did not prepare her well enough to sit her legal examination, specifically they did not teach her exam techniques. 

She claims that failing the exams left her with a ‘blind spot’ when it came to taking future exams and eventually contributed to her failing the New York bar examination in 2008. She has since decided not re-sit the American examinations, as the process of taking legal tests causes her to become psychologically distressed.

Maria Abramova was clearly academically bright; she graduated in July 2004 with a 2:1 degree in law from Oriel College, Oxford. In all her studies with OXILP she had consistently been graded “very good”, the top grade.  Of the 357 other students that studied that year more than 99% went on to pass the paper at the heart of the litigation.

Who is to blame?

So what went wrong, does she have a case, is a college or university responsible for getting the student through the exam or is their job simply to deliver knowledge in an inspiring and understandable manner. And do exam techniques make that much difference anyway?

It is perhaps not surprising that a case of this nature has finally come to court. With exam results determining the opportunities for many and the price of education on the increase, why should educators not be accountable………….What is interesting is that this case has focussed not on the content of the course – “I was not taught X and X came up in the exam and that is the reason I failed,” but on exam techniques.

Now as someone who delivers courses on exam techniques and believes they are a vital part of passing examinations, it would be hard for me to argue they are unimportant or make no difference. But I come from a world (Professional accountancy and tax qualifications) where passing an exam is considered a vital part of the success of the course. I am not sure that this is the case with OXILP.

Its about responsibility

To answer some of these points you need to clarify how much responsibility should rest with the student and how much with the tuition provider. Education has to be a partnership; students are not empty vessels simply waiting to be filled with knowledge, they do have to try hard and study independent of the class, they should talk to other students and find out what they do and perhaps most importantly, they should challenge and if they are not happy seek a remedy.

I am of course no lawyer and await the outcome of this case with interest, but I can’t deny that I am pleased that someone has managed to put a £100,000 price tag on the value of exam techniques. And should Maria ever want to reconsider her decision to give up exams and need help with exam techniques I could certainly recommend a good book…..

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