English language dictionaries may be banned from exams

Increase in cheating prompts concerns

Gina Mete
News Editor

The University of Glasgow is proposing a ban of English language dictionaries in examinations, claiming there has been an increased number of students using the dictionaries to cheat.

Currently, students whose first language is not English are permitted to use English language dictionaries in certain exams. University regulations state that the dictionaries must be checked by the School Office the day before the exam, then taken straight to the examination room, however this has proved to be difficult to organise for larger exams, which has prompted the introduction of declaration forms in certain cases.

Information on the University website, provided by The Senate Office, currently states: “It has been agreed that a declaration form may be submitted for each student requiring a dictionary, in place of prior checking. This alternative method is permitted only for examinations where 25 or more dictionaries are to be used.”

However the University is now arguing that students should have a good enough level of English to sit exams, and classify this standard as the obtainment of an IELTS (International English Language Testing System) score of 6.5 or above.

Teemu Laulainen, who graduated from the University of Glasgow in 2013, called English language dictionaries “an essential tool” for his first year exams, explaining: “While I had passed the standardised English language test, I had no prior experience in writing timed essays in a foreign language. The time in an exam situation is acutely limited and performance related stress, I feel, can have a negative effect on your language skills. My experience was that I sometimes struggled to remember even some of the basic words of the English language.”

“Analytically I did not find the dictionary to be helpful in any way. It was like a crutch you could resort to if your brain suddenly decided to revert back to the mother tongue mode.”

Laulainen does not believe the dictionaries cause a significant amount of cheating, based on his experience of staff carrying out checks prior to examinations.

He added: “The only reason I can see behind the willingness to ban dictionaries in an exam situation is that checking them takes man-hours and the University is seeking ways to cut its budget. However, given that Glasgow University boasts with its diverse student body one would expect the institution to invest in time and effort to nurture the talent and potential amongst the foreign language students.”

The University has not decided on a complete ban and may agree upon an alternative solution. The University of Leeds, also a member of the Russell Group, have a policy where students are not allowed to take their own dictionaries into exams but may request one from the Invigilator during the examination.

Caelum Davies, VP Learning and Development in the SRC stated that: “The SRC is strongly opposed to the potential banning of dictionaries in University of Glasgow exams. The SRC does not agree with the Universities claims that dictionaries have led to an increase in cheating and that their ban would increase equality for students. Additionally, the University already fails to support many students with adequate English language provision, this will take away some of the little support they have. The SRC has put a paper to University Senate to counter the idea, so please get in touch with us if you have any comments to help make the argument even stronger.”

When the Glasgow Guardian approached him for comment, Clerk of Senate and Vice Principle John Briggs replied the following. “All students are told in advance of the examination diet that the penalty for cheating can be a grade ‘H’ with no opportunity to resit. In some cases, this may mean that a student may not have sufficient marks to achieve a degree award. That is the risk such students are taking, despite all the warnings that go out about taking banned materials into the examination room.”