Grading and exams
Will students work without grades?
Major differences exist between disciplines as to whether students will take on ungraded activities.
The greater the magnitude of a task required out of scheduled hours, the greater the likelihood that some students will not fully engage with it if they don’t see that it will “count”. Whether to “weight” any of the tasks discussed here is a local matter.
The argument needs to be made to students that ungraded tasks are substantial preparation for activities that do “count”. Ask yourself - if the task doesn’t prepare them, then why are you proposing that they do it? If the answer is that the formal assessment activities don't reflect what you consider important, then the priority is to reconsider the need for the activities.
How do the strategies used here interact with tests and examinations?
Tests and exams can distort learning when they occur exclusively at the end of a module or semester, or are weighted heavily. Students need to be actively engaged in meaningful learning activities and assessment tasks (even if they are not graded) right from the start. If the weight of assessment is at the end, it acts as an encouragement to delay getting started.
Tests and exams don't often allow for student involvement, other than compliance. This does not position students as active learners who learn to assess themselves and others.
Using exams for long term learning
There are ways to use examinations for long-term learning. As powerful drives of student behaviour, exams need to accommodate this agenda. These include:
- Paying attention to the context and nature of the tasks that are required, with a focus on processes of understanding, critical thinking, dealing with new problems, etc. rather than pieces of knowledge to be obtained.
- Having students engage actively with model answers or worked solutions through, for example, grading the work of their peers, and justifying each component of the grade. The activity of peer marking may or may not “count” as part of the grading system depending on the integrity of the process and local policy.
- Students undertaking trial tests on which they receive feedback.
- Use of questions that require 'practitioner thinking' in areas where content has not been pre-specified.
- An oral exam - defending an argument or position. Students need to explain perspective and ideas in this situation, rather than rely on other interpretations. Used in teacher education. See English 5 example in Montgomery & McDowell (2008).
Tests, exams and assignments need to be consciously designed to assess the range of learning outcomes in a course and to foster learning in the longer term.