Essays


Sample Cases from Dublin Institute of Technology

See some samples cases for this assessment method in the table below or browse the full set of cases in the assessment toolkit.

Assessment MethodLecturerAssociated Programme(s)NFQ LevelYear
Literature Review Deirdre Quinn Hospitality and Management Undergraduate Programmes Level 7, 8 Years 3, 4
Case Study Patricia O'Byrne BSc Computing
BSc Computer Science
Level 8 Year 2

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Description

Essays are a commonly used method of assessment in many different disciplines.

Advantages

  • Develops student’s writing skills
  • Requires students to be able to develop structured arguments
  • Allows examination of student’s understanding of key elements of the module
  • Encourages students to reflect and engage in deeper learning than some other assessment methods

Disadvantages

  • Essays can be particularly challenging for students where English is their second language
  • Can be difficult for students with dyslexia and other learning issues
  • They are time consuming for lecturers to mark
  • It can be challenging to ensure fairness
  • Writing an essay can be very time consuming for students
  • Is their writing ability as much as their knowledge of the area being tested?

What is the essay assessing?

It is important to establish what you wish to assess. The list below is presented on the Trinity website and notes that you may not wish to assess all of these elements. It is vital that you are clear about what it is you are assessing and that students are aware of this. (https://www.tcd.ie/CAPSL/TIC/guidelines/assessments/written-work-assess.php )

  • understanding of the course work, 
  • ability to describe, evaluate, reflect on, and apply theory, 
  • research skills (e.g. ability to find, evaluate, organise and synthesise resources, and report on them within an academic format), 
  • ability to analyse and develop a research topic in-depth, going beyond what is taught in class, 
  • English language competency (e.g. grasp of grammar and vocabulary), 
  • written language competency (e.g. academic writing skills, referencing), 
  • IT competency (particularly the ability to use MS Word), 
  • organisational skills and time management (for students with significant external responsibilities this can be a major element of essay writing).

Marking Essays

Often to standardize marking lecturers use essay marking grids. Below are some examples:

Such grids ensure that the lecturer is guided in their marking and helps to formalize feedback.

Bloxham and Boyd (2007) say that the assessment criteria of the essay needs to be linked to module learning outcomes and they list an example of the criteria below:

  • Your essay will be marked on the following assessment criteria
  • You demonstrate evidence of a sound knowledge of the topic and use the appropriate terminology appropriately
  • You show an ability to analyse the subject using the principles /ideas introduced during the module. You show some evidence of critical thinking about the topic.
  • You make use of relevant reading and reference it accurately using the Harvard system.
  • Your essay structure helps make the argument and discussion clear and coherent.
  • Use of language: you display a good standard of English with few grammatical errors or spelling mistakes and it is written in an academic writing style.

Tips

These tips sourced on the University of Ulster website are useful for lecturers using essays as a form of assessment (http://www.ulster.ac.uk/academicoffice/download/Handbooks/Assessment%20Handbook.pdf )

  • Help students to see exactly how essays are marked. Alert students to the credit they gain from good structure and style. Groups of students could look at examples of past (good, bad and indifferent) essays, and apply assessment criteria. This helps them to put their own efforts into perspective, and to learn things to emulate (and things to avoid!) by seeing how other students go about devising essays. This could be followed by involving them in peer assessment of the essays of other students.
  • Subdivide essay questions into several parts, each with marks clearly allocated. This helps to prevent students from straying so far off the point that they lose too many of the marks they could have scored.
  • Give word limits. This helps to avoid the quantity versus quality issue (leads some students into simply trying to write a lot, rather than thinking deeply about what they are writing) and also helps reduce the time it takes to mark the essays. The University expects it to be made clear to students whether a limit is set, above which a penalty will apply, or indicative word length is given as guidance. Students should be made aware of the Faculty/School policy on penalties through the course/subject and/or module handbooks. (See also Section 14.2: Marking Schemes.)
  • Do not assume that longer equals better. It is often harder for students to write succinctly than to just ramble on. However, students need to be briefed on how best we want them to develop their art in writing succinctly. Merely presenting lists of points for example, is not normally an acceptable substitute.
  • Do not use the same essay questions, year after year.
  • Help students develop the skills required to assemble the ‘content’ for essays. One of the best (and most time efficient) ways of doing this is to set class or coursework tasks which require students to prepare essay plans rather than fully finished masterpieces. A concept map or diagram can show a great deal about the eventual ‘worth’ of students' essays and making the plans may involve more thinking on their part.

Marking Large Numbers of essays

A key challenge for lecturers with big groups can be how to mark a large number of essays. McCullouch (2007) suggests some ways in which this can be more feasible

  • Set shorter essays – fewer words doesn’t necessarily require less skill
  • Instead of one essay have different parts which keeps the student on track and makes it easier to mark
  • Use peer assessment for one assignment
  • Instead of individual feedback give general feedback to the group
  • Use a marking criteria or checklist to make marking more efficient

http://www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_12158_en.pdf

Student essay writing guide

http://www.bioscience.heacademy.ac.uk/ftp/resources/essayguide.pdf

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