See the full set of assessment cases in the assessment toolkit.

[Return to the Assessment Toolkit]


An assessment task undertaken under controlled conditions.

Advantages of this method of assessment

  • Relatively economical, convenient 
  • Equitable treatment for students (same task, same time etc)
  • Less opportunity for cheating
  • Revision process can develop

Disadvantages of this method of assessment

  • Stressful, encourages surface learning
  • Tests exam technique not learning
  • Snapshot of performance, rather than encouraging continuous study
  • Limited predictability of future student depth of understanding achievement


  • Seen Paper (students are given the paper before the exam) 
  • Single essay exam (three hours on prepared topic) 
  • Take-away Paper (students are given 2/3 days in which to do exam) 
  • Oral exam 
  • OSCE (clinical settings) 
  • Essay questions; short answer questions; practical and other 
  • performance testing approaches; objective questions e.g. multiple choice, true/false statements, matching statements, etc.

Assessment time

  • Preparation time (lecturer) Low
  • Student time to complete generally 2-3 hrs + revision time
  • Marking time High unless online automated eg MCQs 
  • Ease of Feedback – generally no feedback, opportunities to review exam papers provided to students. Can link to assessment criteria/marking schemes

Templates / Marking Grids/ Rubrics

Writing effective examination questions

Issues to consider for staff (Bloxham and Boyd, 2007)

  • Do your questions allow the students to demonstrate that they have achieved the relevant learning outcome?
  • Offering a choice of questions reduces the reliability of the grades, because it is very difficult to write equally challenging questions. Perhaps set one core question + ask students to answer in relation to one of a choice of topics, cases or problems
  • Avoid the word discuss (provide clearer instructions)
  • Avoid ‘closed’ questions
  • Are your questions clear? This is particularly important to students who have English as an additional language
  • Do your questions allow a range of response? Do they allow students to go well beyond the threshold requirements if they are able to?
  • For higher level learning outcomes do your questions require students to discern the critical aspects of problems and issues for themselves or are they identified in the wording of the question?

Some options for exam papers

  • Provide graded questions going from easy to difficult which all students must complete 
  • Design structured or problem solving questions
  • Provide accompanying reference sheets to avoid dependence on recall
  • Allow students to practice their examination skills
  • Consider setting open book exams
  • Ask students to write notes on a subject or draw a diagram / concept map 
  • Provide a set of results / data for students to interpret 
  • Set clear assessment criteria to show mark allocation
  • Formulate model answers, develop marking grids 
  • Compare your marks with other lecturers

Some issues regarding students

  • Question spotting
  • Writing down as much as you know syndrome
  • Quality vs quantity
  • Misunderstanding/misinterpreting the question
  • Choice or no choice of questions?
  • Allocation of marks
  • Students with disabilities

Some issues re Marking

  • Halo effect: previous work is known 
  • Contrast effect: effect of other scripts 
  • Group membership: assumption of student’s attitude/ ability etc
  • Marker effect
  • Script order
  • Inter-marker unreliability

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