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Donnelly and Fitzmaurice (2005, p.14) suggest that “assessment methods should be in accord with the learning outcomes of the module and should foster a deep approach to learning”. While unseen written exams do develop skills such as “examination techniques, writing under pressure, recall” (Smyth, 2004), there are a number of alternative assessment methods that determine what students actually understand and what they can do, in contrast to what they can recall. As one student noted “I hate to say it, but what you have got to do is to have a list of “facts” …you write down the important points and memorise those, then you'll do all right in the test…if you can give a bit of factual information… “so and so did that, and concluded that” for two sides of writing, then you'll get a good mark” (Comment from student in Ramsden, 1984, p.144). Many modules are reliant on the written exams for the majority of their assessment methods. Brown (1999, p.8) states “the range of ways that students are assessed is extremely limited with around 80% of assessment being in the form of exam, essay and reports of some kind”. Race (2001) agrees when he says that 90% of assessments are unseen examinations and essay/reports and such assessments promote surface learning.
Having a depository of alternative methods of assessment facilitates learners with more opportunity to demonstrate their understanding, knowledge and skills (Ramsden, 2003). Additionally, having diverse methods of assessment can provide more inclusive approaches to assessment design. They provide a means of collecting valuable information and skills that cannot be solely assessed with the traditional written exam. Brown and Race (2013) convey that using a range of diverse methods means that students are assessed across a range of abilities and skills and that everyone has some opportunity to play to strengths.
Although this project outlines challenges to implementing alternative assessment methods such as preparation, cost, and time among other factors, they provide more authentic learning approaches that focus on the quality of students’ performance as an individual and within a team. These alternative methods of assessment can deepen understanding, enhance the learning environment and provide students with real-life transferable skills for future employability.
Dillon, S., McDonnell, A., Murphy, D., White, L. (2018) Alternative Methods to Traditional Written Exam-Based Assessment. PG Diploma in Practitioner Research Projects, DIT, 2018.