Learning and teaching

Loading, bunching and variety

Assessment loading

The discussion around the appropriate number of assessments is a difficult and controversial one. There is a tendency for us to over-assess our students. Over-assessment creates an environment whereby students feel that they must always be looking towards the next assessment, and preparing themselves for undertaking it as opposed to learning. They, therefore, do not feel able to engage with the course material fully. This in turn, encourages an ethos of surface, rather than deep learning, where students 'learn to the assessment'.

Timing and bunching

The issue of loading is related to the issues of timing and bunching. When designing your assessment strategy you need to think of how the tasks are going to spread throughout the year. Students frequently complain of too many assessments occurring at once. This is a long-standing problem and one that is somehow intractable. Assessments must occur within certain periods, and assessments pile up across courses. However, there are some practical solutions that can help alleviate the problem. Reducing the number of assessments as well as including formative ones that can be included in the summative, being just two examples. You might also want to consider the use of Map my Assessment tool which helps you visualize assessments over a period of time and highlight possible problem areas.

Assessment variety

It is useful to approach the assessment method selection by considering what qualities or abilities you would like your learners to develop and then choosing the appropriate method to assess it. 

A variety of methods is desirable for several reasons:

– to measure different types of learning
– to reflect professional contexts
– to enable students to work to their strengths at some times but also face new challenges
– to facilitate 'reasonable adjustments' for students with disabilities while retaining rigour and consistency of marking

However, assessment variety is a complex issue, in that using too many, or too few, varieties of assessment can cause problems. At one end of the scale, students find use of too many varieties of assessment to be confusing and/or an inefficient use of time. For each different assessment method students have to develop new skills and learning strategies. Whilst this is obviously the intention, when the variety becomes too great, students feel that they spend too much time learning how to approach assessments and, that they don't have time to fully engage with the material, which can lead to surface learning. Likewise, using too few assessment types limits what students can achieve on the programme, and means that only those with particular skill sets are allowed to shine. Ideally there should be a wide enough range of assessment types so that students with a broad range of skills and specialisms can perform well, but not so many that it becomes arduous or cumbersome for the students.