04 March 2011

Continuous assessment has been around for some time but many people still considering contraversial. Wikipedia has a good description:

“Continuous Assessment is the educational policy in which students are examined continuously over most of the duration of their education, the results of which are taken into account after leaving school. It is often proposed or used as an alternative to a final examination system.”

When studying for a Masters Degree with the University of Liverpool, you will be assessed completely by continuous assessment. To put it another way, there are no exams! I was talking about my learning experience with a friend in Human Resources and he asked a pretty common question - “How can you properly assess a student without exams? Otherwise how do you know they really did the work?”. This question does come up a lot, especially from people who are considering the masters degree and are concerned about its quality and how to defend the lack of exams to potential employers.

I always suggest that they print out all the work they have done during the masters degree (which is a staggering amount) that has been passed through and verified by TurnItIn or SafeAssign. For those that don’t know, these are applications that scan millions of previous assignments, journals, books and the web to make sure that nothing has been copied. It’s pretty hard for an employer to doubt your stack of work.

Failing that there is also the academic approach. It is really easy to cram for exams - and many people do this. The problem is that after you’ve actually sat the exam, you pretty much forget everything that you crammed in. Exams are necessary but are fundamentally flawed. They only capture a student’s ability at a snapshot in time. It doesn’t take into account that student’s overall performance such as taking part in discussions, assignments and more.

The University of Liverpool Masters degrees require you to had in several items each week which are usually marked before you begin the next week. You need to consistently do well over the course of each week of the module in order to get a high grade. This makes it far more challenging as the only way to do well here is to keep a high standard of work throughout the entire masters degree programme.

The dissertation is handled a bit different and is graded separately by your advisor and then by a second assessor. Only once they have been marked separately are the grades awarded compared. If the grades are more than one grade apart, the assessors need to get together to determine a compromise. Even once this is done, all your grades and results go to a University Board of Examiners for final approval and confirmation.

Continuous assessment also looks at the student’s overall  capabilities - each assignment has original content and is graded by an expert in the field. This means that you constantly demonstrate your level of knowledge and this is something that an exam simply cannot accomplish. Each discussion post reply is also read and graded. This provides a very rich and accurate view of the level of the student.

In short, with continuous assessment  it is very hard to do well unless you put in consistently high quality work. If you’re the sort of person who does that, you will find that this will work very well for you. If instead you don’t do much all year and then cram for the exams then you will have a challenged ahead of you.

In my opinion continuous assessment is a very better way to judge a student’s level of knowledge, skill and expertise. That’s not to say the traditional examination should never be used - but I do think that continuous assessment provides superior results.

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