Examinations and continuous assessment

There have been some significant changes to copyright law in 2014 that define what can or cannot be done with copyright works for the purposes of examination and assessment.

Prior to 1 June 2014, an exception in copyright law allowed any use of any copyright work for the purposes of setting and answering examinations or submitting assessment assignments. Examinations and assessment is now covered via the new ‘fair dealing’ exception of ‘illustration for instruction’ and is therefore subject to the ‘fair dealing’ test.

See the 'fair dealing' page for more information.

Although the new exception limits the previously unrestricted ‘examination exception’, the new legislation does still permit the use of third party content for examination and assessment. The changes require that any use within examinations is necessary for the purposes of the exam and will not prevent a commercial opportunity.   

However, the changes mean that past exam papers and associated materials can now be uploaded to Canvas for reference, where previously this use would not be permitted as the ‘examination exception’ ceased as soon as the assessment exercise concluded.

Why is this relevant to me?

If you are a student it is important that you are aware of the copyright situation with regard to third party content used within your work submitted for assessment, particularly theses and dissertations.

Students should also see the plagiarism section for further details.

If you are a member of staff setting examination papers, it is equally important to know what can be included and what can be done with those papers once the exam has ended.

Exam papers and answers

Any copyright work can be copied for the purposes of setting an exam or answering an examination question provided that the use is permitted by the ‘fair dealing’ tests.  You would need to ensure that the use is proportionate, i.e. you only use what is necessary to set/ answer the question, it is accompanied by an acknowledgement unless it is impractical to do so, and that the use does not prevent a commercial opportunity.

Possible examples that would be permissible might include:

  • Providing photocopies of extracts from a core text instead of originals would be allowed and would not be an infringement of copyright. The students could also copy from the book or photocopy in their answers provided that their use satisfies the ‘Fair Dealing’ test.
  • Using an extract of several pages from an average-length novel and examining the students on this text, could be ‘Fair Dealing’, including if the text was not accompanied by a ‘sufficient acknowledgement’ if that acknowledgement would prejudice the exam process.

Continuous assessment, coursework, etc

A student’s use of third party material within assessed work could be covered by the ‘criticism and review’ and the ‘illustration for instruction’ exceptions provided the ‘fair dealing’ tests are satisfied. However, when the assessment process has been completed the ‘instruction’ exception will fall away as the work is no longer part of instruction or study activities, leaving only the ‘criticism and review’ exception in place. Care should be taken to ensure that this exception covers all use of third party material if the work is published in print or electronic format.

It is advisable that any student wishing to copy more than a ‘fair’ amount for the purpose of ‘criticism and review’ within a thesis should try to obtain permission to include that material from the rights holders in advance. Any permission request should also extend to the work being included in one or more electronic repositories. 

If the student subsequently produces conference papers, articles, books, etc., based on the work, then they will need to re-apply for permission to include the third party material in the new version, unless they wish to claim that its inclusion in this new context is also 'Fair Dealing'. However, it is likely to be advisable that new permission is sought given the likely commercial context.

In all cases, full citation as to author and source should always be included.

More information

Mre information about theses and dissertations specifically can be found on the theses, dissertations and copyright page.