Assessment is changing, there was a time when all examinations were sat in a room, the answers would be handwritten on a piece of paper and a retired English teacher would stand at the front reading out instructions as to what you could and couldn’t do in the next three hours.
Not any more…….you request a date that is convenient, turn up at the exam centre, no longer is this a sports hall, it might be a driving school test centre or the college you studied at. Then you log onto the PC and answer questions on the computer screen in front of you. The results may be immediate; it depends on if it is “human marked” or computer marked.
But in some ways these changes are only the tip of the iceberg!
What no past exam papers?
As examinations move into the digital world we are seeing other changes as well. There is a move towards objective testing, scaled scoring and examining bodies no longer providing past exam papers, what did you say, no past exam papers……!
This is partly down to the nature of the test i.e. you can’t provide an exact replica of a past exam question if it is an objective test. Remember objective test questions are randomly selected from a pool, and are different for each student. But there is also a shift towards some examining bodies only providing an example of the type of questions that could be set rather that a continuous flow of, the last exam papers.
If the test changes – how you study (and teach) has to change
Now for someone who has advocated that students analyse past exam questions in order to identify key areas so as to better direct their studies, this is a bit of a blow. It has also been the method I have used in the past to focus my own delivery in class and on line. Of course using past exam questions has always been much more than just spotting key areas, it is about focus, providing a place to start, showing content in the right context, helping with writing style etc.
There will still be past questions, sample questions will be provided. What we don’t know is how representative they will be of the examination. Or will it be as we have seen in the past with pilot and specimen papers, they change over time, drifting away from the original in terms of style and emphasis. Although I can see the logic in examining bodies not releasing papers, I hope they will continue to keep the sample papers fresh, in keeping with current thinking about the subject and how it will be examined.
What to do?
Students and tutors still need focus, there has to be emphases on key areas in order to chunk the content so that it can be more easily learned, it’s just that we won’t be able to use past questions or at least as much as we have in the past. That emphasis will now have to come from articles written by the examiners, examiner reports and syllabus weightings. If faced with a new subject where there is only one sample paper, it will be necessary to read the guidance from the body closely, noting reference to “this being a key part of the subject” or “one the examiner thought was answered badly in the past.” These together with the syllabus weightings and specific learning outcomes will have to be your guide. It is of course possible that the subject has not changed much from before and so some of the older past question can be used. As far as questions style is concerned then that will have to come from the questions and answers that are published, it may not be ideal but it’s the best we can do.
The overall impact of these changes is that students will have to know more, something that is hard to argue with. Students and tutors alike will have to devote far more time to the subject, which is fine if students have the time and can afford the extra costs involved in longer periods of study.
But it’s not all bad news, new technologies can help students make the most of dead time, studying on the train using their mobile phone for example. Also knowledge is more freely available than ever before as many top institutions provide a huge amount of free easy to access content online.
One final thought, examinations may change and they may not be fair but on the whole they are equal, everyone as before is in the same boat, and someone will always pass, won't they!
The future – Sitting the exam at home?
And maybe even the exam room will become obsolete. Proctur U is a US based company that also has a presence in the UK offering online invigilation. Watch this video to see how it works and judge for yourself.
Stuart Pedley-Smith, Head of Learning for Kaplan Financial, has been involved with training and educating finance professionals for over 20 years. He is especially interested in the process of learning and the exam skills and techniques that contribute towards success in the classroom and in life. Stuart has written two books – The E word – Kaplan’s Guide to Passing Exams and A student’s guide to writing Business Reports.