ENSURING THAT EXAMINATIONS MEASURE THE ACQUISITION OF KNOWLEDGE AND NOT THE STANDARDS AND OPINIONS OF THOSE WHO SET THEM
, S. Jerrams2
1Auston Institute of Management (SINGAPORE)
2Dublin Institute of Technology, Centre for Elastomer Research (CER) (IRELAND)
In higher order learning, examinations remain a major part of the total assessment of students and are still a necessary element in maintaining and enhancing standards. Hence it is essential to ensure that examinations reflect learning at the appropriate level in a degree programme and identify the relative ranking of students within a cohort. It is important to ensure that the range and quality of learning is enhanced by challenging students with authentic and intellectually demanding tasks, rather than focusing on outcomes based merely on surface learning.
Moderators and external examiners frequently observe that a paper is often set at too low a level (i.e. level II instead of level III) and, if not rectified before the examination is taken, virtually everyone passes with high marks and the probability is that many students obtain inflated grades. This frequently leads to examination boards arbitrarily adjusting marks to obtain marks complying with a bell-curve where fewer students obtain merits and distinctions, the majority receive average scores and a few fail. Another situation can occur where students are guided towards answering formulaic questions and are thus merely learning to answer a question by following a well rehearsed procedure. Again, adjustment is unfair, as it is difficult to determine how much subject knowledge the students have acquired.
A third situation arises, where the lecturer is satisfied with their own command of the subject, but is unaware that they are failing to convey the subject matter to the students. This commonly results in a difficult examination that most fail and the lecturer subsequently blames the ability of the students for the outcome. Of course, it sometimes happens that a cohort of students is badly matched to the syllabus and the lecturer cannot find a way of bridging the gap between the knowledge levels of the students and the requirement of the course. The third situation is the most difficult to resolve because the individual lecturer is convinced of their own ability and falls back on the argument that they are maintaining standards where others aren't. Three things undermine this argument:
i) If the students perform satisfactorily in other modules, there is usually a different reason for them doing badly in the one in question. Moreover, the lecturer in self defense is implying that his/her colleagues do not work to the same standard.
ii) If the students were offered places on the programme in line with the correct entry criteria, there is no reason why they should perform badly in one module by contrast with others.
iii) If examination papers have been independently moderated and an external examiner believes they are pitched at the appropriate level, in combination with point ii) there must be a problem with the delivery of the course.
This paper will provide a detailed study of shortcomings in the setting and marking of examinations and will thereafter help in identifying causes that lead to examinations of an inappropriate standard.