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Students fuming after law lecturer’s mistaken claim that exam cut by fire alarm would be rescheduled

Posted Nov 26, 2013 1:40 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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First there was the mid-exam fire alarm that sent some 450 law students taking a closed-book corporations test to mill around outside for a half-hour or so Nov. 12.

Then, after everyone returned to complete the exam and the clock was started again from scratch, a couple of Sydney University law lecturers announced that school protocol was probably going to require a re-examination. So, they said, this exam likely would just be good practice for the students, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

But later on, the faculty at Australia's oldest university decided it would be less disruptive simply to rely on the results of the one exam that had been completed. That led to protests by a number of students at the law school.

Among the unanswered questions is whether anyone might have used smartphones to do exam-related research or discuss the test with others during the half-hour break caused by the fire alarm. Some claim they saw such conduct, but there's no hard evidence of cheating, according to news reports.

"Most people had their notes out by five to 10 minutes in, and there were some people that I saw that were in groups all holding notes and collaborating with each other," an unidentified student tells the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Concerns were also expressed that students had taken the exam—which counts for 100 percent of their grade—less seriously after they were told it was likely to be treated as a practice test.

The school has an emergency policy (PDF) concerning evacuations, but some provisions, such as whether "the examination conditions deteriorate[d]," are open to interpretation.

The law school's dean, Joellen Riley, said the incident was good training for fledgling legal eagles about the need to be professional and objective even in trying circumstances, the Telegraph reports.

"Stuff does happen. Stuff will keep happening," she wrote in a letter to a student newspaper, Honi Soit. "This little typhoon-in-a-tea-cup could become a real tragedy if those students who have developed a grievance about this allow it to poison their experience of law school."

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