Examinations are an approach to assessment, not a type of assessment. An exam defines the conditions under which student's abilities will be tested. They usually restrict the time and place where the assessment task will be performed. Any of the methods of assessment can be taken under examination conditions.
Assignments are unsupervised pieces of work that often combine formative and summative assessment tasks. They form a major component of continuous assessment in which more than one assessment item is completed within the semester. Any of the methods of assessment below can be set as assignments although restrictions in format, such as word limits and due dates, are often put on the assessment task to increase their practicality.
Negotiated assessment involves agreements between staff and students on issues associated with learning and assessment. The most common negotiation method is to develop a written learning contract that outlines the conditions of assessment.
Different methods of assessment provide the means of ensuring that students are able to demonstrate the range of their abilities in different contexts. Stiggens (2005) groups the different methods of assessment into 4 main categories: Selected Response; Essays; Performance Assessment and Personal Communication. Each category has advantages in assessing different learning outcomes. For example, a selected response assessment task, such as a series of multiple-choice questions, is able to assess all areas of mastery of knowledge but only some kinds of reasoning.
Multiple choice questions
Select the correct answers
Short answer question
Short, usually descriptive, qualitative, answers of between one word to over a page. These questions vary in expected student response from one word or several lines to over a page, and include forms such as complete the sentence, supply the missing line, problems and exercises in science-based subjects, short descriptive or qualitative answers, essay plans, diagrams with explanation, etc.
A question can be addressed towards the testing of a specific objective. This is also true of multiple choice questions, but short answer questions have the advantage of avoiding cueing and requiring students to supply an answer, rather than selecting or guessing from options supplied. Answers are easier to mark. The form of the questions is familiar to students and they feel less anxious in examination situations.
Individual questions for individual objectives fragment the subject and reduce the likelihood that students in their studies will look for the relations between objectives or sections of the subject. Complex issues cannot always be satisfactorily addressed in short answers.
Guidelines for setting and marking
- Make the questions precise
- Direct questions are better than incomplete statements.
- If a numerical answer is required, indicate the units and degree of precision required.
- Prepare a structured marking sheet
- Allocate marks or part-marks for acceptable answer(s).
- Be prepared to accept other equally acceptable answers, some of which you may not have predicted.
- Mark anonymously.
- Have different markers for different sets of questions.
Written work in which students try out ideas and arguments, supported by evidence.
Posters can be used for assessment of parts of students' work and, at the same time, introduce the idea of academic conference posters. Posters can be a good way for individual students or groups to display designs, or the results of an investigative project.
Methodically written account of a project or investigation
Describes a scenario and asks students to respond as the scene changes
Assessment of practical skills in an authentic setting
In-depth exploration of a topic or field
Reflective journal or blog
As methods of developing an awareness of processes, reflective journals and blogs serve a very useful purpose and reveal a wealth of student knowledge and skills not detected by other methods, especially those that concentrate on outcomes. These tasks need to be carefully designed as they can be very time consuming to grade.
Oral reports on projects or other investigative activities.
Oral presentations in the form of seminars or verbal reports on projects or other activities are a key learning activity for many courses at UTS. Assessment of these activities is not an easy task. In some cases, staff use peer assessment in addition, or as a supplement, to their own assessment.
The major problem in the assessment of presentations is that generally students are given insufficient instruction or guidance on the processes of oral presentation, and often not given the criteria against which that presentation will be assessed. If students are to be assessed on aspects other than the content, they should be given the opportunity to learn about those aspects and practice them before being assessed on them.
Criteria for assessment of presentations
- Did the presentation have an effective introduction?
- Were the major points illustrated, explained and summarised?
- Was there an effective transition between the main points?
- Did it have an effective conclusion?
- Was the timing appropriate?
- Was the content accurate?
- Did the level of the content suit the audience?
- Did the presentation hold your interest?
- Were presentation media used effectively?
Verbal interaction between assessor and assessed.
Oral examinations, also called viva voce, involve a verbal exchange between the student and the assessor.
- Interaction between assessor and assessed is possible.
- Video- or audio-recordings enable post interview analysis or record keeping.
- Test qualities not assessed by written tests (verbal fluency, self confidence, ability to argue a point in a discussion).
- Special skills are required of the examiners, and some training, as for professional interviewers, should be available.
- Reliability is generally low.
- Can be very subjective.
- Create stress which is counter-productive, though this stress can be reduced by letting the student have some say in the questions asked, or by revealing key questions (not follow-up or probe questions) before the examination.
A learning contract is a structured method whereby each student, in consultation with a staff advisor, designs and implements manageable learning activities. The emphasis is on making each activity relevant to those professional and personal needs of the student which are consistent with the aims of the course and/or subject.
The principal advantages of the learning contract method are: It provides a mechanism for responding to individual needs as they emerge in the course/subject. It promotes the development of the capacity to initiate and implement projects, which is an essential feature of professional practice. It fosters an understanding of the nature of learning by focusing attention on learning strategies and processes. It places students in a better position to help others learn and to plan and conduct their own lifelong learning.
A learning contract is an agreement between a student and a staff adviser that the student will undertake a specified activity and produce evidence that the activity was successfully completed.
The role of the adviser is to negotiate the contract, monitor progress and to participate in the final assessment. Normally guidelines are developed explaining how to set out the contract, the parameters within which the contract should be negotiated, and any generic assessment criteria.
Typically a "Learning Contract Proposal' is developed which comprises the following elements (see the examples at the end of the section):
What is required here is a clear statement of the purpose of the contract. This may be stated as an objective, a problem, an issue etc. The purpose will need to be appropriate to the subject or course and be sufficiently challenging to warrant inclusion in a degree level program.
Strategies and resources
Here is indicated the references students intend to consult, people they will arrange to interview, research they conduct, material they prepare to gather data (e.g. evaluation form), places they will visit etc.
What will be produced
Mostly students produce written work of some kind, e.g. a report, an essay, a journal, a book review etc. But other forms of presentation are also acceptable, e.g. video-recording, audio-recording, charts and diagrams, models, etc.
Here the adviser will make comments and suggestions on the contract proposal. The adviser will draw attention to any weaknesses in the proposal, note any special conditions, and set out the assessment criteria.
- The learning contract method may be linked to a particular subject or it can be a subject in its own right (e.g. referred to as Individualised Projects). In the latter case, students have more degrees of freedom in developing their contracts, but the expertise of advisers is stretched. Both approaches have merit and may be used concurrently in a given course, but they need to be administered differently.
- The learning contract can be thought of as an assessment device or a learning device. This has implications for staffing allocations. If it is merely an assessment device connected with a particular subject, then the lecturer will receive no additional teaching hours beyond the face-to-face hours allocated. If it is seen as a learning device, with the adviser playing a crucial and on-going role, then teaching hours need to be allocated to the activity. In this way it can be seen as an alternative to learning in a large group. Instead, there is face-to-face, one-on-one or small group contact with an adviser.
- The assessment criteria may be generic or individually negotiated. In the latter case, different criteria may be applied to the same subject, which certainly raises equity considerations. These may be overcome by having a generic standard which is applied to the criteria developed for individual contracts.
- It is necessary to ensure that learning contract work has not been submitted elsewhere for credit. Some kind of statement on the cover of the contract may be required, but there is always the marginal case where some other work has been adapted or edited. It is normal practice to keep records of contracts completed.
- The learning contract, when completed, may deviate significantly from the proposal, but is otherwise satisfactory. Ideally, contract proposals should be re-negotiated; notwithstanding this, if the final product fits within the parameters it should be assessed in the normal way.
- Some contracts may be negotiated which are not within the adviser's area of expertise. This will invariably occur with learning contracts. The problem is that the level of advice which can be given is less than would normally be the case. Also the adviser is not in a good position to assess the final product. Instances such as these can be handled by re-allocating advisers for a given contract, or using a back-up marker, or even using a panel of advisers to check on marking procedures
Reference: Stiggins, R. (2005). Student-involved assessment for learning. Upper Saddle River, N.J. : Prentice Hall