Questions I ask myself when putting together an assessment [a two minute read]

[by Phil Heath, Head of Biology]

Having just completed a course that qualifies me as an assessment lead (make of that what you will!), I thought it might be worth setting out some simple questions that I (should) now ask myself before assessing students. The idea is for you to comment or to criticise as you see fit.

  1. What is the purpose of the assessment? The answer that usually springs to mind is “to find out if they know x or understand y”. Not always though. Some other reasons to assess that I can think of are:
  • To make them revisit some work and revise it.
  • To make them recall so that they remember something better long term.
  • To prepare students for public exams.
  • To generate information for next year/term.
  • To see if they have understood a particular topic or concept.
  • To inform my future planning.
  • To inform how I teach the topic next time.
  • To fulfil policy/keep parents and students happy.
  • To add structure to a course.
  • To inform a prediction.
  • To put a measure on something that I already know.

This question really drives the rest of the process. In fact, you can stop reading here and take away at least 80% of any value that this blog post may have.

2. What will I do with the data? Can I fit it in with past data to form some kind of series (thus making it more reliable), will it change my planning?

3. What are the exact constructs that I wish to examine? By constructs I means specific syllabus statements such as: “is able to write fluently in a range of  styles” or “understands the factors governing the rate of diffusion in living cells”. Do any of my questions examine other things such as the candidates’ ability to retain large amounts of information whilst answering a question or their ability to understand complex English?

4. What style of assessment best fits my needs? Multiple choice is good but hard to write, essays are difficult to assess accurately. Short answers limit creativity.

5. Do I need to mark it or can it be assessed in a different way?

6. Is the assessment high stakes? Is it worth spending time trying to design a high quality assessment? If so, can I analyse how well it worked and use it again?

7. How should I place it in the lesson? Is it best as a starter, a homework, a test, a hinge question?

8. Would the data be valuable to anyone else?

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