Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Exam Papers Online

Sally Rumsey on an innovative system for providing electronic access to examination papers.

The George Edwards Library at the University of Surrey is close to completing a project for providing on-line access to the University’s exam papers for members of the University. Although other institutions are already providing electronic access to their exam papers, the system designed for use at Surrey is believed to be innovative in a number of ways.

The overall achievements are:

Simple and efficient method of delivery

The system has been designed so that it is simple for all users: users include end-users (mainly students), School administrative staff who deliver the papers and Library staff who manage the system. Delivery is easy to perform: the administrator completes a web-based form, attaches the file containing the exam paper and then sends the paper to the Library. The attached electronic file is sent to the Library server using FTP (File Transfer Protocol). The administrator is then notified of receipt of the file via e-mail.

Improved access to exam Papers

The current method of access to exam papers has a number of problems which result in inconvenience for users. Problems include only having single copies of each paper, delays caused by binding, access only being available when the Library is open, incomplete sets of papers and occasional vandalism. The electronic system that has been designed allows multiple users to access the papers 24 hours per day from any site with Internet access on or off campus.

Non-Java version

Problems encountered in one of the computing labs in an Academic Department resulted in the development of a non-Java version of the exam papers on-demand. This means that the system should be accessible to users on any platform.

Use of PDF

During the feasibility study it became clear that Academic Schools were keen for the papers on-line to appear in a format as close as possible to the printed versions. It was therefore decided to make use of Adobe Acrobat PDF to display the papers. The Library will undertake conversion to PDF if it is not possible in the Schools. Adobe Acrobat has the advantage of being widely used cross-platform format and the Reader can be downloaded free of charge by users.

Ability to watermark papers if required by Schools

Watermarking is an option open to Schools should they wish it to be included in their papers. This will authenticate the paper for the user and deter copyright infringement.

Conforming to Dublin Core Metadata Standards

As far as can be ascertained no other institution’s exam papers on-demand make use of the Dublin Core metadata standard. It was decided to include such metadata so that future interoperability would be easily possible if required and to aid retrieval of documents. If the system expands to include other items in addition to exam papers, this will become more important.

Indexing Provided by the Academic Schools

In order for staff in the Academic Schools to send electronic copies of papers to the Library they have to complete a web-based form and attach the paper before dispatch. The form is designed to be simple and quick to complete. Most of the fields can be completed by use of a drop-down menu which reduces the amount of typing required. This also results in reliable standardisation of entries (ie reduces the risk of spelling or typographic errors or multiple descriptions of one element).

This also keeps the Schools in control of the description of their papers. It was felt that staff in the Schools would be better placed to provide the Library with correct identifiers for exam papers.

Each field on the web-based form forms one of the Dublin Core metadata elements. Without realising it, staff in Academic Departments are creating a Dublin Core compliant description of their exam papers.

Use of an XML Schema

An XML schema automatically creates an inputting form from the data in the schema. This means that fields on the form can be easily edited.

Designed as a Generic System

This system has been designed so that not only is it efficient and effective for use with exam papers, but that it can be used for other Learning & Teaching materials as well.

Links to Patron

Many of the Music exam papers contain extracts from printed scores. This is possible “for the purposes of an examination” without infringing copyright (see the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988). However, it is not possible to mount these extracts on the Internet without first obtaining permission from the copyright holders.

The Patron system is already in negotiation with music publishers for allowing electronic access to scores (and other items such as dance videos and choreography notes). The Patron system was a JISC funded e-Lib project completed in 1999 and was developed by the LSU (Learning Systems Unit) at the University of Surrey.

The exam papers on-line will make use of the Patron system by having the LSU team to negotiate copyright clearance for required musical extracts and by allowing links to the extracts via Patron.

Demonstration Site

For those who are not members of the University of Surrey and therefore who do not have access to the exam papers on-demand but would like to see a demonstration site in action there is a “demonstration” button on the exam papers on-line web page.

University of Surrey exam papers on-line are at:


Further details of the exam papers on-line can be found on the University of Surrey Centre for Learning Developments web page at http://www.surrey.ac.uk/ARD/

Author Details

Sally Rumsey
Research Assistant
George Edwards Library
University of Surrey
Guildford, GU2 5XH, UK
01483 873312