Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title Streamlining Assessment to Improve Quality
Originator Professor David Sugden
Department Department of Geography, University of Edinburgh, Drummond Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9XP
Tel. 0131 650 2521
Fax. 0131 650 2524

The changes outlined here have been part of a long-term streamlining in assessment across all geography courses. Many of the changes, involving fewer, more relevant assessments, were first introduced for honours modules and then moved down through the years to affect all cohorts. Overall, the changes have been accepted by staff and students and there has been a marked increase in quality of student output.

One major change was to convert all examination questions from 30/40 minute to hour-long essays. There were thus fewer questions, but it was not possible to get away with only recall. The immediate response was that the quality of answers improved and that students did more reading. The number of essays has also been reduced throughout all courses, with each essay requiring more work on the part of the student, and contributing more to the final grade. Class examinations have been removed from most courses and the number of exemptions given to first year students has increased. Pass/fail examinations are being used to a larger extent, and more are planned.

Project work has also increased and now accounts for up to 45% of the course grade. There is prior discussion between staff and students as to what makes a good project, followed up with input in tutorials, and several options now incorporate oral assessment and are peer assessed, with the half of the grade being awarded by the students. In feedback, some of the discussions revolve around why peer and tutor marks differ.

The department is encouraging the submission of all work in a word-processed format, though concerns have been voiced about the increasingly poor writing styles on exam scripts. The dissertation deadline has been changed to later in the degree programme, and the greater experience gained from options and the like has resulted in higher quality dissertations, which have been winning national prizes.


Project work

This abstract has been reproduced with the kind permission of the ASSHE Project, which was undertaken under the auspices of the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals and with the financial support of the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council.

Hounsell, D., McCulloch, M. and Scott, M. (Editors) The ASSHE Inventory: Changing Assessment Practices in Scottish Higher Education, (The University of Edinburgh & Napier University), p. 6
Database entry ref. 258

An expanded version of this case study abstract appears in the GDN Guide "Assessment in Geography"

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