Assessment treadmill

December 11, 1998

Jim Parry ("The all-work and no play way to a degree", THES, November ) accurately describes the assessment treadmill. Not only do students have the pressure of numerous summative assessments demanded by semesterised and modularised courses, but they have to undertake considerable paid work.Workload problems undoubtedly contribute to increased drop-out rates.

But harm extends to those who survive. The constant pressure of assignment deadlines and twice-yearly examinations encourages mere surface learning - students doing the minimum to succeed in their assessed work and ignoring anything not assessed.

Students on over-assessed courses will graduate believing learning is a mere chore. This negative attitude seems to be encouraged, when it is becoming widely recognised that undergraduate studies are only a base on which a lifetime of learning should be built.

Assessment is a powerful influence on student behaviour. Higher education should reconsider its assessment strategies to promote the desired learning. If we get the assessment right, learning will be encouraged and set good practices for life.

Michael Bennett Academic development unit Southampton Institute

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