Blog | Interfaith Church of Australia

Assessment is no fun

April 17th, 2012

Having just completed an assessment item for my current university course, I am reminded of the joys of assessment from the other side of the fence.
Assessment as a student isn’t a lot of fun.

I find I get distracted and wander off after some new piece of information which while important and interesting, is often irrelevant to the assessment. Stopping right in the middle of a well thought out train of thought to participate in the mundane (preparing or eating food, answering the door or the phone) can set me back an hour or three. I often feel I learn a lot, but I seem to miss so much because I am trying to stay on the assessment task instead of expanding my knowledge.

As a student, the real killer for me is the deadline. I feel it impedes my learning experience by restricting what I have time for. I love learning but learning to a deadline is no fun for me, and I often go back an continue my research long after the assessment is handed in.


Assessment as an educator is no fun either.

For starters, you need to have an assessment which is worded in such a way as there is no confusion as to the requirements of the assessment. This, I think, is where many educators fall down. They use double negatives, complex words and are often overly verbose when writing an assessment item, all of which can detract from the students understanding of the task. The Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS) philosophy is often ignored to the detriment of all concerned. High levels of literacy are not usually part of the assessment, however due to the often advanced literary skills of the person writing the assessment an unfair level of literacy can be needed just to understand what is required.

Giving the assessment (for in person assessment) is an opportunity to correct the errors made above. If the examiner and the assessment author are different people, this opportunity is lost. Not only does this make it hard for the student, it leaves the assessor in a case where reasonable adjustment must occur simply because they failed to get their point across to the student. To me, this is a failure of the assessor to recognise that the student (any student) may have a lesser vocabulary and grasp of the language than the assessor themselves.

Marking is the hardest part of assessment. It is the time when the assessor should be taking into account that the student may have misunderstood the requirements of the task they have been given. Sometimes this is a failing of the student and should be taken into account and thereby marked down, other times it is a failing of the assessment item and the student should not be penalised. This is a hard call for the assessor and we are prone to making mistakes given such a hard decision to make. If a good percentage of the students being assessed make the same determination, it becomes easier, however it still makes marking hard as we as assessors need to decide if the learning outcomes have been evidenced and if they haven’t how we can assist the student to provide sufficient authentic evidence to achieve a positive outcome.

Another difficulty is providing feedback within a reasonable time frame. For a student to be able to continue their learning, and for it to fully sink in, they need to know where they went right and obtain good feedback for these areas. They also need to know where they went off track, or failed to achieve, so that they can make up the shortfall prior to grading or to a second attempt at the assessment or course of study. Six weeks later, much of the assessment has been pushed from the front of the mind. The pertinent information has been stored in memory, whether it is correct or not, and may remain there. Feedback within the shortest possible time can delay this process and ensure the correct information is stored in long term memory. It is part of the assessors role to ensure this happens and delays in feedback can be neglectful of the student.
Regardless of if you are a student or an educator, assessment is no fun, however it is a requirement of the final outcome that the student should provide evidence of the learning process and retention of knowledge. Many forget or disregard the full responsibilities of the assessor in the learning process.

These are things the assessor should take responsibility for, and that the student should demand, for the learning process to work.

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