A Student Perspective on Assessment Diversity and Strategy – Molly Fowler
Over the last two years I have completed 21 assessments of approximately 10 different types - I am a seasoned consumer of assessments. Truly diverse assessment should use a range of valid assessment types that stimulate learning and provide opportunities for learners with varied needs and capabilities.
Assessments where I have synthesised information mined without time pressure, have resulted in the deepest learning. I overcame an irrational fear of epigenetics by writing an essay on the topic. I have been wondering whether real time information acquisition and synthesis could form an equally valuable assessment modality. My recent work experience showed me the readiness of healthcare professionals at all levels to access and deploy ambulatory online information in real time on the ward and in the clinic. As far as I can see, assessment methodologies have yet to catch up with this new reality.
It is perhaps a truism to say that assessments should be a learning methodology. Assessment can be a stimulus to learn content but can also model useful skills and behaviours. I have found that assessments with low ecological validity are less enriching, and regrettably invite purely strategic learning. The best example I have is my French GCSE in which I achieved an A grade without being able to speak a word of the language. The nature of the assessment meant that I did not need to engage with the content or the objectives of the course. I was able to prevail by memorising and regurgitating chunks of text which I promptly forgot after the exam.
Of my recent exams, the methodology that strikes me as most at fault in this respect is the MCQ. This is a highly artificial assessment construct, relying crucially on recall of memorised information, in a specific and stressful environment. I accept that there may be other skills involved such as prioritising options, but this is barely possible without the memorising and recall.
Group assessments might seem to reflect real world behaviour, but I have not always found this to be the case. With no agreed hierarchy it is very difficult to distribute responsibility or manage group members who are either overly assertive or who fail to contribute. This is particularly tricky when all those involved are required to be equal contributors with equal status. Surely this is an unusual circumstance in any working environment. The contrived dynamics of group assessments can introduce an uncontrolled variable that impacts the results of even very good students.
I feel it is of critical importance that students have the opportunity to thoroughly rehearse assessment methodologies that they will face in the high-stakes final year. For example, having done two poster presentations, previously unfamiliar to me, I feel less daunted by the prospect of doing it again for my dissertation module. I now appreciate that this is a common way of disseminating information at scientific conferences so it may be an important skill for me to have in my career.
Personal lives are complex and we are all subject to sudden or dramatic change in our circumstances. Assessments by essays can more easily accommodate and mitigate unforeseen events through flexibility, but fixed assessments such as exams or in-person presentations are much more difficult to rearrange. An advantage of continuous assessment over end-of-year assessments is the feasibility of allowances for such happenings as fewer assessments would be affected. It is also true that students with a reported disability tend to do less well than students with no reported disability (Office for Students, 2022). This raises important questions around equity, and whether the available reasonable adjustments are good enough.
Properly diverse assessment could serve many purposes. Within the mix of assessments should be opportunities for different students to demonstrate their individual proficiency at their preferred method. Diverse assessment should be inclusive of students with reasonable adjustments, but they should also allow for unpredictable adverse events. Finally, where possible, assessments should engender learning and embody activities that will be useful in later life.
Office for Students (2022) Access and Participation Data Dashboard [online] Available from: https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/data-and-analysis/access-and-participation-data-dashboard/ (Accessed 8 October 2022).
Molly is member of the Diverse Assessment Learning Circle. If you would like to join the LC please contact the co-leads: Leda Mirbahai, Warwick Medical School (WMS) (Leda.Mirbahai@warwick.ac.uk) and Isabel Fischer, Warwick Business School (WBS) (Isabel.Fischer@wbs.ac.uk)