Assessment is not an afterthought that comes when you have designed and delivered all your teaching. It is not just a test at the end. It is the driving force that gives life and potency to your module. Assessment makes more difference to the way that students spend their time, focus their effort, and perform, than any other aspect of the courses they study, including the teaching. If teachers want to make their course work better, then there is more leverage through changing aspects of the assessment than anywhere else, and it is often easier and cheaper to change assessment than to change anything else. (Gibbs, 2010, p. 3) Assessment is also the process through which students ought to be able to achieve some of their deepest learning. Learning, as emphasised in Chapter 3, is an active process of constructing new ideas and students seldom think more actively than when working intensively on an assignment. However, assignments can also present significant stumbling blocks. An assignment can be the point at which a student is most vulnerable to losing heart, feeling defeated and potentially dropping out. Equally, assignment work often fails to display the deep learning that teachers hope for. Why, after committing themselves to years of study and large debts, do some students submit work apparently done at the last minute, showing poor use of course content, thin analysis, weak writing and that most self-defeating of practices – plagiarism? Is it just poor application, laziness and the distractions of student life? Or is there a fundamental problem with the assessment system, or with students’ level of ability? Or, more mundanely, is it that students are not really sure what they are being asked to do, or how to set about doing it.
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