Jun 27

Exam Results Release

If you’re a student, it almost certainly hasn’t escaped your attention that this semesters exam results were released recently. This is one of the busiest points in the year for a couple of our services as almost all University of Southampton students try to access their results at the same time, whether it by logging in to e-mail or in to the self-service (Student Records) part of Banner. Banner is the system which contains all the information about our students, including what course and modules they are doing, and most notably (in this case) their exam results. There is also impact to our other services – most notably SUSSED, as a large portion of people use that as the route to access the other services.

Focussing on the continuing students results release on the 26th June, let’s start by taking a look at the time line of the day. Latest results were rolled in to Banner (the “roll to academic history” as it’s known) during the morning and then verified. Results were due to be available by e-mail at 2pm, and were to be released on to Self-Service Banner at 4pm. This information was e-mailed to all students and posted on SUSSED several weeks before. Despite these times being publicised, that didn’t stop people logging in much, much earlier!

The e-mail campaign to send results to students is a big one – this Thursday we sent out 12,238 e-mails, so no small task. After much work in the last six months to optimise this, we’ve got this working quite quickly:

  • The e-mail campaign to send results was started at 13:00
  • These e-mails are held on the server so that we can verify the content definitely has the right template and have the correct results in (this is the final check in a whole slew of checks all through the process!)
  • After verifying results, we removed the hold on e-mail at 13:06. At this point, e-mails started to be delivered to students’ mailboxes
  • The e-mail campaign finished just before 13:15 – less than 15 minutes to generate all the e-mails
  • These e-mails then had to pass through Exchange, our Linux edge mail servers and off to Office365. This took until 13:26, at which point all e-mails are dealt with, and we investigate any failures (which there were very few of!)

The graph below shows mails delivered over time. The “Postfix Count” is the number generated and sent out from the server generating the mails. The “Exchange Count” is the number of these messages handled by Exchange (which is the next mail server the messages go to). The “Mailgate Count” is the number of these messages handled by our Linux edge mail servers for delivery to Office365 / other off-site mailboxes. This number will always be less than the Exchange count, as some continuing students still have on-site mailboxes in Exchange.

Mails Delivered

Mails Delivered against Time

Mails Delivered per Minute

Mails Delivered per Minute

So, the entire process took less than half an hour. This is considerably better than the previous results release where mails trickled out very slowly and took the best part of ten hours, and still much better than last years continuing students e-mail campaign which took a little over two hours.

But what about Self-Service Banner? The statistics here are slightly skewed by the fact that we had presessional students starting on the same day as exam results release, so usage here is slightly elevated anyway. Over the 24 hour period from midnight on 26th June, there were 16,610 (!) logins to student records from 6,394 people – a not insignificant number. More than half of these occurred before midday – four hours prior to us releasing marks on to Self-Service Banner. Again, this may be skewed by presessional logins. At peak times (which were at 13:10 and 16:00), we were seeing 43 logins per minute, roughly one every 1.4 seconds. It’s also quite interesting from the access logs to see how desperate some people were to see their results – two students logged in 58 times each during the course of the day!

The graph below shows hits to certain pages in 10 minute intervals during the day:

Hits to Self-Service Banner

Hits to Self-Service Banner

SUSSED was naturally also busy all day. It was interesting to see how quickly news spread about results being out (as 2pm had been publicised to students and they were all available by 13:25). By 13:30 we were seeing a very noticeable increase in sessions. We peaked at about 2300 sessions during the busiest period between 13:30 and 14:30. That said, there were noticeably more sessions all day (around 1200 average, compared to about 850 the day before), but again presessional students skew the data somewhat here.

It was also interesting to see the effect on Blackboard. Yesterday saw 6,134 logins to Blackboard compared to 2,298 the day before. Yet again, these stats are skewed by presessional students starting, but we did see a similar (though not as significant) increase the week before for the finalists marks release.

Quite why we have students logging in to Blackboard (or indeed logging in to Self-Service Banner hours before release) to get results is anyone’s guess. We saw a tweet on Twitter from someone saying they couldn’t find out their exam results from SUSSED hours before we’d even started the e-mail campaign. It may well be that we need to do something more to communicate to students as to how and when they will get their results

1 comment

  1. Matthew Deeprose
    Matthew Deeprose

    Great post Clayton. Congratulations to all students both finalists and continuing.

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