Why an exam?

Exams introduce an element of speed that is not present in coursework assignments. Therefore, it is very important to begin the task of designing module assessments by considering whether or not an exam is the optimal method of determining whether or not students have met the learning aims of a particular module or course.

There are, of course, a number of reasons why you might elect to give an exam. Practicality, especially in terms of marking, though, is probably the most common reason why lecturers choose exams over coursework.

However, if you are encountering increasing numbers of international students in your modules, particularly those for whom English is a Second Language, it is important to consider whether or not your chosen format of assessment makes it possible for these students to fully demonstrate their skills, knowledge and abilities.

Surprisingly, given the number of EFL international students studying in English-medium universities in Europe, North America and Australasia, very little research appears to have been conducted comparing the performance of international students on university assessment tasks with that of home students. However, De Vita (2002) has conducted one such study within the business school here at Oxford Brookes. The study compares the results of home students and international students on three types of assessment (multiple choice tests, coursework and closed book exams). De Vita found that although international students obtained lower marks than home students across all assessment types, these students received disproportionately lower marks on the closed book exam. The results of this study clearly warrant attention. Thus, the rationale for this guide is to encourage lecturers to give extra consideration to the construction of examinations when a course cohort includes international students.

Useful thing to read

De Vita, G. (2002) ‘ Cultural equivalence in assessment of home and international business management students: a UK exploratory study’. Studies in Higher Education, vol. 27, no. 2, pp. 221-231, May. ISSN 0307-5079