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If you’re a professor at a university, you will be well aware that for the first time in a student’s educational career, there are no formal, centrally-governed exams to be sat each term. No more GCSEs, no more A-levels, just those assessments set by the university itself. That places the power in your hands. How will you choose to assess your students? Which methods could you use to see if they understand what you’ve taught them?

One of the most common ways to assess students is using a formal exam, much like the ones they are used to at school. While these can be a useful way to assess students, there are lots of problems with them which are widely recognised. Some say that it is unfair to make students revise for so long to test them on so few aspects of the course. Others say the high-pressure situation leads to poor performance despite knowing the material.

Another way to find out how much your students know is through some form of oral examination, involving giving answers to topics out loud with no writing involved, or creating a presentation. This means the students get to learn presentation skills along with engaging with the material, and you can use a Q&A session to probe them further. Some shy students may struggle with this, though, so bear this in mind when you are marking.

A hi-tech way to conduct an exam uses a multiple choice model and the rental of an audience response system. Here, each student is given a handheld voting device, and the number of this device is recorded for each student so you can correlate everyone’s results. A series of multiple choice questions appear on the screen and the students vote for what they believe to be the right answer. This is a quick method of assessment, it runs at the rate the students choose, and it means the results are collected automatically so you don’t need to do any marking.

Other methods include more creative projects. For example, creating a video, a poster or a creative writing piece can work for some subjects to indicate what they have learnt, so think about whether this could be an option for a more interesting type of marking.

Ideally steer clear of group work for important assessments. It is usually the case that one person will end up doing more work than the others, and slackers may be able to get away with it as hard-working group members will guarantee them a good mark. Checking how each student is doing individually is a much better, fairer idea.

About the Author

Phillip Ash is a consulting lecturer at several UK academic institutions and believes passionately in modernising teaching methods to involve new technology

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