Learning and teaching

Assessing students unfamiliar with the UK system

Entering university life is stressful to all students, however, it is twice as challenging to international students as they need to adapt to the new system of education, new country, new language and also new assessment requirements. The most common assessment challenges for international students include:

1.       Lack of local cultural knowledge

Referring only to local contexts can disadvantage international students. Assignments should be culturally diverse so that international students have at least an option to refer to their own experience and demonstrate understanding of the concept using their background. This is in turn beneficial to the home students as they have an opportunity to expand their cultural knowledge and understanding.

2.       Unintentional cheating 

This refers mostly to plagiarism and is also a problem amongst home students. Plagiarism may be a result of one the following:

  • Pressure to perform well linked to 
  • Poor language/ writing skills
  • Lack of understanding of basic rules for referencing

In fact the pressure relating to the need to conform to academic norms paired with the inability to fluently communicate written ideas in academic style is a very frequent reason why international students refer to unintentional plagiarism. Lack of language skills leads to over-reliance on structures and vocabulary used in source materials which are again linked to lack of knowledge about appropriate referencing results in plagiarism.

3.       Participation in tutorials/ in class 

Many tutors cite lack of participation on the part of international students as a big problem that needs to be addressed. Lack of participation is often a result of previous educational experience that was very didactic, lack of confidence, poor language skills or shyness. There is also uncertainty in relation to cultural awareness of how to indicate an intention to participate.

4.       Contribution to group work

The rules of assessment of group work can be confusing to home students, and even more so, to international students. Advice on how to approach assessing group work can be found in Assessing group work section of the hub and very much so applies to international students.

5.       English language skills

While every international student has to reach a certain level of proficiency in order to secure a place at university, when contrasted with academic demands this level is often insufficient to operate as easily as native speakers. While it is not a lecturer's job to teach English language there are ways to make the transition easier. Those include amongst many:

  • Moving slowly in between tasks
  • Providing a summary of the discussion points from time to time
  • Pointing out to specialist vocabulary

6.       Delivering oral presentations

Oral presentations are difficult for the same reasons why class/ tutorial presentation is – pressure, fear of failure and shyness with an additional lack of clarity as to presentation as an assessment method. Clear criteria (the content, format, marking) are essential.

7.       Dealing with various forms of assessment

A lot of international educational contexts are dominated by exams as the only/ most important form of assessment. The variety of forms of assessments in the UK may be confusing and challenging for international students. It is important therefore to prepare international students how to approach a given assessment format and introduce new varieties step by step.