In this module, we explore the written assessment method and some tools such as essays and reports, along with some tools that can be used for marking written assessments (e.g., rubrics).
- 1 What counts as an essay?
- 2 Reflection
- 3 Reflection
- 4 Reflection
- 5 Reflection
What counts as an essay?
Consider the following questions
Definition of an Essay
Here is a wordy definition but it does cover the essential components of an essay.
"A test item which requires a response composed by the examinee, usually in the form of one or more sentences, of a nature that no single response or pattern of responses can be listed as correct, and the accuracy and quality of which can be judged subjectively only by one skilled or informed in the subject."
- (Stalnaker, (1951) cited in Reiner, Bothell, Sudweeks, & Wood, 2002, p 6)
Catherine Haines takes a much broader perspective in her book Assessing students’ written work. Marking essays and reports.
“The essay is defined here as any planned piece of written coursework which is submitted for assessment.”
- (Haines, 2004, p 76)
Use of written assessment
- Do you use written assessment as an assessment tool in your course/s?
Compare your list with the one brainstormed by a workshop group:
- Challenging to literacy skills
- Valuable tool for future employment – need to write descriptive instructions
- Important for clear communication
- Reflect more clearly on what they have learned (time to think)
- Information recall
- Shows which students are learning/retaining information
- Teaches to be more accurate in transferring information
- Have to absorb the information and express it
- Can file it, pull it out and recall
- Challenging to literacy skills
- Environmental challenge – using more paper (?electronic versions)
- Students who can tell you but can’t get info from brain to paper
- Does not take into account how people think – can be creative but not easy to convey
- Takes long time to mark
Constructing an essay
The following questions are useful to consider when constructing an essay question
- Why ? – purpose – learning outcome
- What ? – topic
- Where ? – context – location or approach (the focus of the essay)
- Who ? – level at which the question/statement is pitched and the relevance
- How ? – structure/format emphasis
- When ? – due date
It is helpful to always start with your learning outcome and consider how your essay question helps to demonstrate your learning outcome.
When writing your question or statement keeping the what and where in mind how do you bring together the why and who? What tools do you need to link the purpose /learning outcome with the appropriate level required?
Language is the key tool here, thinking about your choice of instruction words and the level at which they are pitched.
What makes a good essay question?
Based on Stalnaker's definition, an essay question should meet the following criteria:
- Requires examinees to compose rather than select their response.
- Elicits student responses that must consist of more than one sentence.
- Allows different or original responses or pattern of responses.
- Requires subjective judgment by a competent specialist to judge the accuracy and quality of
- (Reiner et al, 2002, p 6)
Good and Bad essay questions/statements
Consider the following examples.
Good or bad?
Reiner et al (2002) considered Example A not to be an effective essay question because it did not require the student to compose a response, only list one; there was potential for identical responses and it did not require any complexity of thought. Example B was considered a much better question as it met all the required criteria.
Full information can be found in pages 7 and 8 of the handbook by Reiner et al, Preparing Effective Essay Questions.
In setting the question or statement it is also important to think about how the essay question will be marked.
- Are there clear criteria?
- Is it shaped or open to interpretation?
- How will marks be allocated? (Where will the emphasis be placed?)
Very simply put, a rubric is a grid used to help define marks given to an assessment according to specific criteria. If carefully developed it has the advantages of ensuring consistency across a wide range of scripts and helps overcome potential bias; such as a marker giving more credit to someone who has focused on the markers favourite areas.
The web page Why Rubrics? What's all the Hype? From TeAchnology.com: The Online Teacher Resource can provide a more detailed definition. Scroll down to the section on what are Rubrics? for a general introduction.
If you put 'Rubrics' into the Search box on the top left of the TeAchnology website you you discover they offer an incredible amount of information on this topic. Aimed at primary and secondary education but the knowledge is transferable.
Click on the following links for examples of rubrics
- assessment information summary rubric - this site also has links to a variety of other examples
Tips for Marking Essays
- Plan your time in advance
- Ensure you are clear about and are familiar with the marking criteria or mark allocations
- Provide feedback on common mistakes once
- Identify common mistakes and aim your feedback at these rather than writing the same comment on each script.
Kate Beattie & Richard James offer some useful advice on assessing essays.
A report has meaning for the people it is reporting to therefore emphasis should be on the tone, language and evidence required for the intended audience.
If used as an assessment tool, students are often asked to repeat many of these therefore it is important that the required format is initially learnt by the students.
There is also the potential to use a proforma or template to ensure that students focus on the relevant information required and don’t need to spend time on repetitive details.
Decide on the purpose of the report and what you want learner to achieve
Consider students submitting aspects of reports rather than a full report if many are required over the course.
You could also consider the potential for peer marking – then the teacher/facilitator can put time into moderation and further feedback.
Beattie, K., & James, R. (date unknown) Assessing essays. Melbourne: Centre for Higher Education. Retrieved from http://www.cshe.unimelb.edu.au/pdfs/Assessing_essays.pdf
Haines, C. (2004). Assessing students’ written work. Marking essays and reports. London: RoutledgeFalmer.
Forster, F. Hounsell, D., & Thompson, S. (Eds). (1995). Tutoring and Demonstrating : A Handbook. Edinburgh: Centre for Teaching, Learning and Assessment, The University of Edinburgh.
Race, P. (Ed.). (1999). 2000 Tips for Lecturers. London: Kogan Page.
Reiner, C. M., Bothell, T. W., Sudweeks, R. R., & Wood, B. (2002). Preparing effective essay questions: A self-directed workbook for educators: New Forums Press.
For more suggestions linked to Blooms taxonomy check out these useful instruction verbs
If you would like further reading on assessing essays - chapter six from Tutoring and Demonstrating : A Handbook has some good advice on marking essays from page 56 onwards.