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Types of assessment

Watch Orla Kennedy talk about the range of assessment types used in UK higher education, and understanding the brief and criteria of assessments
One of the big differences that I find that international students find when they come to the UK to study is the whole experience of assessment This can be a huge culture shock for a lot of international students. Many international students will come from an education system, if they’ve been in second level, where they do state exams and where they get little or no feedback. So one of the key things is when you start, when you’re looking at a course, is actually to look at what is the type of assessment and what is the rationale for that, and actually what will your strategy be for actually coping with that assessment?
In the UK, we use a lot more types of assessments other than exams. So you might have things like essays, reports, group work, presentations. And of course you might have exams, but those exams might differ in terms of style and expectations from what you would have originally done. So it’s really important to look at what the types of assessments are.
In the UK in order to get a pass, you need 40% at an undergraduate programme, whereas at a postgraduate programme that’s 50%. Whereas I often find that an awful lot of international students have been used to getting grades of 80s and 90s, and that that has been awarded for them actually demonstrating the knowledge and repeating what they’ve actually learned in class or what they’ve been taught in class. However, in the UK to actually get a grade of that level, you need to demonstrate quite a lot more. So you might have to demonstrate not only the knowledge but maybe skills, behaviours, critical evaluation.
So it’s really important for international students to actually look at what has been expected in terms of the level to be demonstrated at each of the different grade boundaries. There are also different types in terms of whether or not an assessment is formative or summative. Now the difference between the two of it is, is summative is the one that adds up– i.e. it’s a sum. It adds up towards your final grade, whereas the formative assessment doesn’t. However, what I’ve found over many years is that a lot of international students actually don’t take the opportunity to actually partake in the formative assessment.
However, formative assessment is really, really important because even though you don’t get a grade, it’s a really useful way of actually getting feedback on a particular assignment against the marking criteria or the assessment criteria that you can work on and you can feed forward into the next piece of work. So you can build on it, and that should support your learning and support you to achieve better in pieces of coursework or exams or whatever the assessment strategy might be that is counted towards your final modules.
So one of the forms of assessment that you might come across that you’re not familiar with is group work. And this is where we will put a number of different students or allocate them to a particular group to undertake an assignment. But what I’ve often found is that international students, and indeed home students, can find this very challenging because the marks can be awarded for the group as a whole as well as some elements that might be peer assessed or could be self-assessed. And this can be quite difficult when, for a number of years, all of your feedback and your grades have been given based on what you’ve actually done yourself.
My top-three tips for assessment are, number one, plan for success. Work out what you have to do. Make a schedule in terms of the different assessments that you need to do over the year and break it down into manageable chunks, and make sure that you leave plenty of time. Students often underperform because they leave things to the last minute. So whatever you do, plan. Number two, assessment criteria– make sure that you have read and understood what the assignment brief is and what the assessment criteria are. So actually look at what the criteria against what you’re being assessed are and make sure that you’re answering them. In that way you’ll be able to maximise your performance.

Universities in the UK go to great lengths to ensure that the ways students are assessed, match the educational objectives, are fair to students, and produce reliable results. They also try to ensure that the process is as transparent as possible, so students can understand;

  • what’s expected of them in assessments
  • the criteria for assessment
  • what their grades mean
  • the feedback that is provided to them.

In this video, Professor Orla Kennedy talks about the range of assessment types used in UK higher education, including not only exams, but also essays, reports, group assignments and spoken presentations. She also discusses the differences between formative and summative assessment, and the assessment of group work. Finally, she emphasises the importance of planning your time in relation to assessments, and of understanding the assessment brief and the criteria for assessment.

Professor Orla Kennedy’s top tips

  1. Plan for success. Make a schedule of all the assessed work you have to do over the year and break it down into manageable chunks.

  2. Allow for plenty of time to do things, so that you’re not producing rushed work at the last minute.

  3. Make sure you’ve read and understood the assignment brief and the criteria for assessment. Check your assignments against the criteria before submitting work.

Which of these types of assessment (where you’re graded and/or given feedback) do you have experience of:

  • spoken presentationsessays or reports written out of class
  • group assignments
  • practical work (eg in a science laboratory)

Are there any other types of assessments that you have experience of, as a student?

Post your response in the comments below.

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