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Student Access to Exam Questions Denied
June 1, 2015
Author(s): Claire Marchant

The BC Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (OIPC) has sided with a university in its decision to not provide a student with a copy of an exam and answer key. The student had failed the exam and asked for access to the exam and the answer key under a freedom of information request.

Section 3(1)(d) of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) excludes “a record of a question that is to be used on an examination or test” from the scope of the Act. The university relied on this section in denying the student’s request and the student asked the OIPC to review the university’s decision.

The OIPC’s analysis turned on whether the exam was likely to be used again as the record must be of a question that is “to be used” to fit within the exemption. The student stated that the exam was pulled from very large pool of questions making it unlikely to be re-used again in the foreseeable future.

The university explained that the questions are re-used frequently. It argued there was a risk to exam integrity posed by large-scale “exam harvesters” who acquire and analyze data in an effort to reproduce questions likely to be used on future exams for profit. Ultimately, the OIPC was satisfied that the university had appropriately applied Section 3(1)(d).

Although the result of this request is not terribly surprising, it serves at an important reminder to schools, universities and colleges that they should be prepared to explain whether an exam is likely to be used again in order to justify that it falls outside the scope of requests for access under the FIPPA.

The Mediation Summary can be found here.

Questions relating to the content of the article may be directed to Fran Doyle.