A critique of the assessment of professional skills

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III Assessment of Skills

It has been recognised that assessment has an important impact on learning, and that a proper alignment of the learning environments’ objectives with assessment can have a significant impact on improving learning.10 In the context of skills education Wolski states that students are more likely to take various stages of skills learning seriously if they know that they will be judged on their efforts.11 However, the teaching of skills subjects has raised a number of assessment problems. One significant problem is that the nature of the skills which students are expected to develop, such as complex skills of professional and ethical judgement, are often difficult to assess by traditional methods. Compounding this problem is that some of the forms of assessment which are arguably best designed to assess such skills (role plays, oral exercises, and portfolios) are often subjective in nature, or suffer from problems of reliability or practicality. These problems are mirrored in legal skills subjects elsewhere in Australia.12

While this paper will look at the issue of skills assessment in law, the problem of assessment of skills arises in many other disciplines which may teach both generic professional skills (such as problem solving, skills of excellent written and oral communication, presentation skills, research skills, etc) and specific professional skills (these are obvious in professions such as nursing and medicine, but also exist in many other disciplines). It is hoped that the assessment criteria, and discussion of combining those criteria, will be of broad relevance. However, it is noted that those involved in the teaching of law could, perhaps, learn much from the developments in other disciplines in this regard. While reference is made to research conducted outside of law on occasion, a comprehensive comparative study across disciplines is beyond the scope of this paper.

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