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Review Assessment Methods and Strategies Across Programmes

It has been widely accepted that in the last twenty years that the number of assessment tasks that students are required to undertake has increased.  At the same time, student numbers have risen significantly.  It is, therefore, perhaps not surprising that academic staff do not have much time to provide the detailed and personalised feedback that is sought by students.  The below guidance, which has been developed through the Assessment Matters Project, aims to help staff review the nature and volume of assessment to the benefit of our students.

Guidance on the Nature and Volume of Assessment in Modules on Taught Programmes of Study

For staff across the University involved in taught programmes of study.
Purpose:
  • To help schools develop a better balance between formative and summative assessment;
  • To assist schools in reducing the volume of summative assessment;
  • To help staff introduce a wider variety of suitable assessment methods within programmes of study; and
  • To improve the alignment between teaching, learning and assessment.

 

1.      Background

“A number of factors have conspired to increase the number of assessment tasks students are required to complete. …  The result is a significant increase in assessment load for students and marking load for staff.” [1]

1.1.       This guidance has been put together to help staff develop and/or revise assessment strategies within and across modular programmes of study.  It has been developed through the University’s ‘Assessment Matters’ project and has been endorsed by Senate.

1.2.       The role that assessment plays in supporting and shaping learning cannot be underestimated.  Its importance has increased, particularly at a time when more students are adopting strategic approaches to learning.  The introduction of modularisation and adoption of a learning outcomes based approach have both contributed to an increase in the volume of summative assessment that students undertake and a consequent increase in staff marking loads.

1.3.       Following the Guidance will benefit student learning and help ensure that students can develop the high level knowledge, understanding, and skills from engagement with their studies.  It will help academic staff to improve the quality of their teaching and assure staff that assessment is testing the learning that students have acquired through teaching and engagement with their studies.  It will also help the University to demonstrate the high quality and standards of our awards.

1.4.       Reducing the volume of summative assessment will give staff more time and space to provide better feedback to students on academic work and to amend the balance between formative and summative assessments.  It should result in an academic experience that places more emphasis on learning and that provides students with better and more varied learning opportunities.

2        Guidance

2.1     Overview

This guidance is not prescriptive, and aims to recognise and respect assessment systems and philosophies used in specific disciplines.  Using the guidance will help the University develop more consistent practice in assessment and enhance the ways in which assessment is managed across programmes of study.  It will further help enhance the student learning experience.

2.2     Considering assessment across programmes of study

The assessment diet within programmes of study should be considered in curriculum design and review processes.  It should be looked at holistically across individual programmes of study.  Failure to do so risks a narrow range of assessment strategies being used in all modules.  This would be unhelpful to students and would not give them the opportunity to practice and demonstrate all their skills and abilities.  Where modules are available in multiple programmes of study, schools should seek to ensure that a broad range of assessment methods are adopted across related programmes.

2.3     Ensuring alignment between learning, teaching and assessment

Schools should seek to ensure that there is alignment within programmes of study between what is taught, what students are expected to learn (the learning outcomes), and what is assessed (how students demonstrate achievement of the learning outcomes).  Clearly aligned curricula help students to adopt deep approaches to learning and ensure they better understand what is expected of them.  Staff need to recognise that the nature of alignment will change over time, as unintended learning outcomes emerge, curriculum content develops, and assessment methods change.  Alignment needs to be reviewed on an ongoing basis [2].

2.4     Introducing a mix of assessment methods

Programmes should offer a range of different summative assessment methods that are suited to the programme learning outcomes.  This will help ensure that no student groups are disadvantaged unfairly, given that different assessment methods result in variations in attainment across different student groups [3].  Staff should design alternative assessment strategies that meet the needs of different learners through curriculum design processes.  Doing so will help ensure curricula anticipate and provide for a range of student learning needs [4].

2.5     Spreading the assessment load

Programmes should offer a range of different summative assessment methods that are suited to the programme learning outcomes.  This will help ensure that no student groups are disadvantaged unfairly, given that different assessment methods result in variations in attainment across different student groups [5].  Staff should design alternative assessment strategies that meet the needs of different learners through curriculum design processes.  Doing so will help ensure curricula anticipate and provide for a range of student learning needs [6].

2.6     Reviewing the length of written coursework assessments and examinations

The assessment requirements of modules of the same credit size vary considerably across the University.  Whilst this variation is in part discipline specific, the extent of all of the differences is difficult to justify.  The following indicates an appropriate and typical assessment load for a 20 credit module.

Assessed Coursework    
Credit value Proportion of assessment Upper limit
(for module)
20 Credit Module 100% 4,000 words or equivalent
20 Credit Module 70% 2,500 words or equivalent
20 Credit Module 50% and under 2,000 words or equivalent
Examination    
Credit value Proportion of assessment Upper limit
(for module)
20 Credit Module 100% 3 hours
20 Credit Module 70% 2 hours
20 Credit Module 50% and under 1.5 hours

NB 100% coursework might be made up of, for example, 2 x 2000 word essays rather than 1 x 4000.

The assessment load on modules greater than 20 credits will need to be adjusted accordingly.  This does not however mean that assessment of a 30 credit module would need to be 50% more than for a 20 credit module.  Programme teams should consider the breadth and depth of understanding that students need to demonstrate to ensure they meet the relevant learning outcomes, in determining the nature and length of assessments.

2.7     Assessment load and other assessment methods

A large variety of different assessment methods are employed across the University.  It would not be practical to provide guidance on the length and/or volume of these given this variation and the need for disciplines to devise assessment strategies that best suit their own needs.  Schools do however need to ensure that there is consistency in the ways in which specific assessment methods are employed within programmes and that they do not over assess students.

In reviewing assessment load, it is recommended that schools consider:

-      The percentage contribution of the assessment to the module; students are unlikely to put significant effort into assessments that contribute only a small amount.

-      The size of the module; in that the assessment load attached to a 30 credit module does not need necessarily to be 50% more than that adopted in 20 credit modules.

-      The level of the module; in that modules at level 5, 6 or 7 will be likely to require progressively greater effort and independent study that those at level 4.

-      The study hours needed to complete an assessment; this is likely to increase in assessments that require more background reading, preparation, and independent study.

-      The range of learning outcomes that are being assessed; – an assessment that covers only one of the learning outcomes should involve less effort than one that covers a majority of these.

-      The nature of the assessment method. – Schools should seek to review how different assessment methods compare with the suggested word limits above.

3        Support for Schools

3.1         While it is recognised that programme teams review assessment regularly through Boards of Studies, schools are encouraged to ensure that they take a more active approach to the management of assessment within individual programmes and utilise the opportunities for review and enhancement that exist within the University’s quality assurance procedures.

3.2         A substantial part of the new procedure for programme approval and management will soon be managed electronically through implementation of the PALET Project.  This will provide structured and unstructured guidance, support, and materials to schools to ensure the enhancement of curriculum design in programmes brought forward for approval.

3.3         Further guidance and advice for schools undertaking a review of assessment can be obtained from Andy Lloyd in Registry (LloydA@Cardiff.ac.uk), tel. ext. 6979.


[1]    Hornby W.  (2005)  Dogs, stars, Rolls Royces and old double-decker buses: efficiency and effectiveness in assessment. In Reflections on Assessment Volume 1. QAA, p. 11  [WWW] <www.enhancementthemes.ac.uk/documents/assessment/Reflections_on_Assessment_Volume_1FINAL.pdf>  [Accessed 21/02/11]

[2]    Biggs J. and Tang C.  (2007)  Teaching for Quality Learning at University (3rd ed.) Buckingham: SRHE and Open University Press

[3]    See for example Woodfield R. and Earl-Novell S. Gender and performance in HE: the impact of mode of assessment.  Higher Education Academy (2002) [WWW] <http://www.palatine.ac.uk/files/933.pdf> [Accessed 06/06/11]

[4]    See [WWW] <http://learning.cf.ac.uk/themes/inclusive-curriculum/resources/> [Accessed 06/06/11] for further advice on the design of inclusive assessments.

[5]    See for example Woodfield R. and Earl-Novell S. Gender and performance in HE: the impact of mode of assessment.  Higher Education Academy (2002) [WWW] <http://www.palatine.ac.uk/files/933.pdf> [Accessed 06/06/11]

[6]    See [WWW] <http://learning.cf.ac.uk/themes/inclusive-curriculum/resources/> [Accessed 06/06/11] for further advice on the design of inclusive assessments.

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