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Student News: Understanding assessment

21 November 2016

In order to succeed in your law degree it is essential that you have a clear understanding of how you are assessed.

In the dim and distant past, you would hear things such as ‘working out what to do is part of the challenge’. There remains some truth in that: working out what is required does take a considerable amount of thought, self-criticism and sometimes soul-searching on your part. You will sometimes have to modify significantly, or even give up, some of the engrained ways of doing things that have worked for you at, for instance, school. But while in the past you had to work out how you are assessed by yourself, today, we do our best to support your attempts to understand what you are assessed on and how we do it.

So, what do we assess on?

The obvious starting point for you is to understand what we asses you on, which is based on our assessment criteria published on Blackboard*. We grade and give feedback against these criteria. You ought to note, though, that these criteria guide our judgment when determining your mark. There are no model answers in which various marks are awarded to you for writing down what we, as your tutors, deem the right answer to a question. Although you should right about relevant material, what we want to know is what you think – what your argument is in response to a question – and for you to defend it through clear writing, well-structured argument, and strong use of authority.

How do we do it?

We are always looking for better ways to explain how we assess. It may be that what is clear to an experienced marker, is not quite so obvious to a first year law student. With this in mind, we have updated the way we assess, and this will now be reflected in how we feedback to you from now on.  Last week, we published a fresh articulation of our assessment criteria. We also published a new feedback sheet which invites your assessors to feedback directly against these assessment criteria. What we aim to do here is to tell a clearer story which starts from how we design our units, through our assessment criteria, and ending with the written feedback we give you. This is based upon world-leading research in assessment and feedback. Although ‘working out what to do’ remains part of the challenge for you, we hope that we have made ist considerably easier for you to have a clear understanding of how you are assessed.

And what about formative assessments?

We have become aware that there may be some confusion about the nature of formative assessments.

Formative assessments (such as practise essays or a mid-sessional examination) are one form of formative work. Formative workis designed to aid your learning, develop your skills, and identify your strengths and weaknesses and does not count directly towards your final unit mark. It includes formative assessments as well as your preparation and participation in tutorials and seminars. No formative work, unlike summative assessment (such as final exams or summative coursework), contributes to your final unit mark. Likewise, no formative assessment (including a mid-sessional examination) is compulsory, in the sense that there are no direct and formal consequences that flow from not completing the work.

However, like all formative work, formative assessments are a valuable learning opportunity that you would do well to take advantage of if you want to do your best in summative assessment. It is up to you to organise your time so that you are able to take and get the most from your opportunities to do formative work. If you do not submit formative work on time, or fail to attend a mid-sessional examination, you will lose that opportunity for practice, evaluation, and feedback in that unit. To be specific, you will not be able to submit that piece of formative work at a later date (or ‘re-sit’ a mid-sessional exam), although there will be other opportunities for formative work and feedback in each unit.

In our recent update to the way we assess we have also introduced a new cover sheet for formative work. This allows you to ask your tutor (when you submit your essay) for specific comments on aspects of your work about which you need particular help. The aim here is to provide a straightforward way by which you can get personalised support on aspects of your work 

Further information

* You can find more on our updated information assessment criteria on Blackboard: Law Student Information / Assessment / The Assessment Regime.


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