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At my university (germany) recently this happend.

The first exam had a failure-rate of 58% (265 paticipants), after the bound to pass was lowered. The second exam had a failure-rate of 93% (111 paticipants).

Obviously the exam was in both cases to hard, and in my opinion this is unfair against everyone who took the exam.

I want to ask, if you can take an action against such results. I have never witnessed so far an exam where the pass-rate was below 50%, and 93% not passing is just absurd.

Can something be done?

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    No, the claims in this question are absurd. The point of the exam (hopefully combined with other assessments, though I do not know how it works in Germany) is to separate competent students from those who are not competent, and if it so happens that 93% are not competent (due to failures of teaching, or other failures on the part of the students), so be it. It may well be that the exam is too hard, but it is hardly “obvious”. Commented Mar 27, 2022 at 13:55
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    @BrianDrake: I fully agree. I would not want to fly in an airplane knowing that the engineering exam's standards were lowered just to get half of the engineers to pass. I would not want to be treated in a hospital knowing that the MD treating me only passed because the standards for competency were lowered. The point of an exam is to prove that you are competent in the field, depending on the exam proving that you are competent enough to understand next year's classes, competent enough to enter the profession, etc. The standard is the standard. Commented Mar 27, 2022 at 15:51
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    @WeatherVane: Exactly. In my country, and I assume in lots of others, too, there have been discussions about lowering the difficulty level of exams to reduce the burden on the current students who spent a significant portion of their college education with no in-person lectures, in-person colloquiums, not being allowed to meet up and study with other students, etc. But the result of that is just going to be that no employer is going to hire someone who graduated in 2022. Employers have actually told me so. Commented Mar 27, 2022 at 15:55
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    The year after I started, the exam in Analysis 1 had a 90% failure rate. Without that particular exam, you might as well go home. There was a lot of pressure from other maths professors, and the exam was repeated. Identical to the first one, with 90% success rate, and universal agreement that if you failed, you fully deserved it.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Mar 27, 2022 at 16:23
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    As already noted, the failure rates you describe are pretty normal and generally accepted in at least some fields in Germany (including at least maths and physics). I have myself organised an exam with similar rates and I will happily explain to you why. However, since this would exceed the space and purpose of a comment, the answer may be interesting to others, and I like to read my own writings, I invite you to ask about this on Academia.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Mar 27, 2022 at 19:36

1 Answer 1

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No, the result of an exam is not actionable. The court could only make a decision whether legal proceedings were met. However, the grader’s decision whether a particular answer (and thus the overall exam’s result) was correct or incorrect is not legal in nature. There is no German law saying “1 + 1 = 2”. Therefore, the court could not make a ruling on that, nor is it really their task to do so. Similarly, it is not the court’s (or the legal system’s) responsibility to ensure a certain share of students pass the exam.

[…] 93% not passing is just absurd.

Welcome to Germany. Such exams did and do exist. I refer you to the local student’s body (specifically the Fachschaft). They will advocate for (future) students, especially if there are “design flaws” with the class to be found. Unfortunately, if it’s the “examiner’s fault”, there are no other options than finding an amicable solution. Sometimes, students change universities just to pass a certain module.

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  • Thanks for your answer. I am a little bit shocked by this. How ever, where I study I have never seen an exam that had a pass-rate of lower then 50%. Also I thought that an exam has to have a pass-rate of 50% (by lowering the bound further and further), but this seems to be misinformation. As I said, I find it very much unfair, that students depend on the professor that much. While there are very gentle exams, and now a very "evil" exam. I hope that this was only for the freshman, to give them a shock early on. So they try harder next term. Commented Mar 27, 2022 at 13:37
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    Actually, in principle it is quite good that education – schools and universities – enjoy autonomy and freedom in their own matters. Teacher and educators can exercise their profession pretty much without the threat of liability or state interference. On the other hand, though, it’s certainly a terrible feeling to be “at the mercy” of a teacher. Yet different standards apply if the school is obligatory: There you could potentially sue the state if it did not appoint a competent teacher and thus ensuring students could in general pass an exam. Such a trial would need good evidence though. Commented Mar 27, 2022 at 14:42
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    It may be worth mentioning that research and teaching at universities enjoys strong constitutional protections. A court will not and cannot prescribe what or how a professor will teach or how they should hold exams. Pretty much the only thing that students can legally ensure is that an exam takes place so that they can complete their studies.
    – amon
    Commented Mar 27, 2022 at 18:47
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    @DevilsAdvocado I witnessed an exam with 90% failure rate. I was in an exam with about 75% failure rate; however you could take the exam, study the results, learn what you had missed, argue with the professor that you should have received more points, and doing that I just managed to get exactly 25 out of 60 points that you needed to pass. I think lots of people ended up with exactly 25 points :-) You just needed to be very well prepared at that discussion.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Mar 29, 2022 at 12:05
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    In Germany, law schools’ study statutes usually provide for a Remonstrationsrecht, i. e. a right to appeal an exam’s result. It’s a quite formal process: You’ll first need to attend a session, a lecture, where the examiner minutely explains “the” correct answer. Then (usually within two weeks) you can file a complaint explaining where and why the grader “incorrectly” assessed your answer. After that the examiner will reevaluate your exam and possibly adjust the grade. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen this process in STEM subjects, possibly because the acceptable answers are pretty limited. Commented Mar 29, 2022 at 13:13

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