Norwegian exams: an impression

Unfortunately, this isn’t a post about taking exams for Norwegian. Rather, I just sat my first examination in Norway. One day, perhaps.

The process of sitting down in a quiet room and answering a set number of questions within a set deadline is no alien process to me. Prior to moving here, I studied two combined degrees so examinations have always been a part of my education in Melbourne. However, it is always interesting to contrast differences and shed light on how examinations are conducted at different institutions, let alone countries.

And this post sets out just to do that. The University of Melbourne vs. The University of Bergen!

The venue
I have to give credit for my former University for holding exams in such an amazing venue. There, exams are most often held in the Royal Exhibition Building, a world heritage site which holds over two thousand students at a time. It freezes in winter and boils in the summer.

In Bergen, there is no equivalent venue to house that many students at any one time. As a consequence, smaller school halls, churches, student centres are used. Today I went to a hall near Bergenhallen (an indoor ice skating rink) which held a couple of hundred students.

Inside the Royal Exhibtion Building, Melbourne
(Author: Andrew Hutton)

Allowed items
Bergen prevails here. I was initially bewildered to see all the items people brought in, from buffet lunches consisting of fruit, packed food or energy drinks, to snuff (will come back to this in a later post). I brought two apples with me but was too nervous to eat them lest my crunching would annoy a nearby student.

Meanwhile at Melbourne, you’re rather limited in what you can bring it. Pencil cases need to be transparent, any drink bottles need to have any labels removed and be placed on the floor, watches must rest on the table, and food is a rare sight. On the other hand, you can bring your valuables like wallet and mobile phone (switched off, of course) and let it sit on the floor next to your table. In Bergen, you have to leave it all in your bag which sits by the wall of the room (only a few metres away).

Seating arrangements
The night before the exam, I began to wonder if I would have an allocated seating spot. At Melbourne, you are seated in order according to your student number and are grouped accordingly based on the course you’re taking. A week or so before exams begin, you log online to find your seat number. If you forget to check, there’s a billboard by the entrance of the examination hall that lists student and seat numbers for exams running that day.

In Bergen I had to pause for a second and ask the lady exactly what to do. She pointed to a row and said I could pick a seat. I just sat near the front. I unzipped my bag (at this stage, I started looking around to see what other students were doing) and put all the items I needed on the table. I then placed my bag by the wall and returned to the table where I sat. The table was much bigger and meant I had more room to place things where I wanted. Tables back home were much tinier.

Script paper
Now here’s where things kick in. At today’s exam, I started off with two pages of script paper, which contained two carbon copy sheets. Every time I needed a new page, I’d simply raise my hand and an invigilator would come over holding either script or scrap paper, and let me decide which I needed.

The disadvantage of this was that I had to ask about 5 times during the examination for more script paper. Back home, script books of 20 or so pages were supplied. Depending on the exam, multiple script books were supplied for different questions and you could always ask for more, but the books tended to last you a long time.

The advantage of carbon copies meant that by the end of the exam, you had three copies—two for the examiners, and one for yourself! That’s right—you get to keep a copy of your answers at Bergen! I think this is a fantastic system as it lets you keep a record of what you have written, and if you think you have incorrectly graded by the end of the semester, you have a hard copy to reference against. The only downside is that when you finish your exam, you’re busy tearing bits of paper which might be distracting to other students. Bergen accommodates for this and gives students 15 minutes after the allotted writing time to compile all the appropriate documents together (although no writing is permitted from this period onwards).

Exam length
For today’s exam, I was given 4 hours to answer all questions. Apparently this is a normal time. To me however, this feels quite long given that I’m used to 1, 2 or 3 hour exams. Some exams in Norway even go for 8 hours in length, which sounds a little excessive. I completed today’s exam less than 3 hours and I must say that I felt more relaxed and less pressed for time than I had previously been used to.


Finishing up
After separating the different copies of my script paper, I was given tags to tie each section together. The Norwegian invigilator was lovely and overly enthusiastic in helping me out. I then took my exam and student ID to the front of the hall, where a couple of people were sitting by a large table littered with various papers. I handed my exam to a man and showed him my ID. He then counted the pages of both copies then placed it in a large envelope. He searched for my name on the attendance list and ticked it to show that I had finished. I returned to my table, grabbed my items, went to the wall to pick up my bag then headed outside to sing freedom. I was allowed to keep the questions, a copy of my answers and a scrap paper of my workings.

At Melbourne, you raise your hand up when you finished and a person will come to make sure you have all the script books and papers in the correct order (and that each book has been appropriately labelled). Depending on the subject, you are not even allowed to take the question booklet with you, since some subjects don’t release past exams. The invigilator will stand and watch you beside the table as you grab your items, and exit the hall.

Exam format at both Melbourne and Bergen are relatively similar. There were some new things from today which I thought were better and others less so. Next time I think I might just bring a whole fruit platter to feast on!

The other major difference which I haven’t really discussed is that in Norway, you can resit an exam more than once if you are dissatisfied with your grade or you fail. This can be done up to a maximum of three times. This means you can resit exams to try and get an A if you weren’t happy with a B and only the best exam mark will be displayed on your final academic transcript. As a result of this three strike process, some students will sit the exam on the day and leave after one hour (at which point you’re allowed to leave) if they feel they are not ready. Some will not even sit the exam altogether. Today at about two and half hours in, I saw one girl, with all her exam papers, approach the head invigilators at the front table. She turned around at the last second and cast down all her papers in a bin next to the table. She continued to walk as if nothing had happened and left the exam hall. The invigilators were aghast and so was I. Why wouldn’t you hand in your exam anyway? If this was your first attempt, better to try and get a grade than none at all! At Melbourne, exams can be resat, but require a bit more legwork to do so. Normally students avoid resitting exams or subjects due to the stress or costs involved. In Norway, public education is currently a free right.

How do exams differ for you? Are there some things that you think are better or worse than what I have just described?

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