George Brown is a retired professor from the University of Nottingham

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Designing assessments
Seven questions that lecturers might ask when designing an assignment or written paper are:
1. What are the outcomes to be assessed?
2. What are the capabilities/skills (implicit or explicit) in the outcomes?
3. Is the method of assessment chosen consonant with the outcomes and skills?
4. Is the method relatively efficient in terms of student time and staff time?
5. What alternatives are there? What are their advantages and disadvantages?
6. Does the specific assessment task match the outcomes and skills?
7. Are the marking schemes or criteria appropriate?
The above questions naturally lead in to the design of a specific assessment task. Here there are several pitfalls. Notable amongst these are unintentional ambiguities in a question or assignment, under-estimation of time and resources required to do the assignment or to mark it, and neglect of a suitable set of criteria or a marking scheme.

The design of effective assessment tasks can be time-consuming. A useful starting point is to look through and note examination questions and assignments that are set in comparable courses in other institutions. Then look at questions set in other subjects in your own institution. You will almost certainly find questions that are intriguing and surprising and you will also find forms of questions that may be transferred into your own subject. Occasionally, you may find the content as well as the form of question is relevant to your own subject. Whilst reading and noting the questions, try to work out what the assessor was trying to assess. (Some examples of examination questions in different subjects are given in Brown, Bull and Pendlebury, 1997.) Return now to the questions in your own subject. Consider what kinds of learning you are trying to develop and assess. Look at the outcomes of your course and think about what kinds of things you want your students to learn and to be able to do.

Alternatively, you can develop some different approaches, new forms of questions and tasks and discuss them with colleagues. Be prepared to provide a rationale for their use. Some people find brainstorming with colleagues is a useful way of generating a series of questions on a topic. Others keep a note-book of possible questions, quotes and problems. Figure 5 offers some approaches that you may not have used.
It is usually better to include new types of questions in course work rather than examinations and new methods of assessment with level one students. Be sure that the wording of the questions is clear. Eliminate any unwanted ambiguities in the questions. Bear in mind that the more open or ambiguous a question is, the harder it is to devise a marking scheme for it, but one can often use broad criteria. If you run a pilot on the assessment tasks, skim read the answers and then devise criteria or a marking scheme or adapt an existing approach. Then test the criteria by marking a few assignments.

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