Blog for 25/02/12- Can the way we are assessed affect the way we learn and develop?

So after much deliberation and research, I’ve decided to specialise into assessments and they way that these can affect us on a personal and psychological level. Each week I’m going to look into a different type of assessment and how this can affect us, such as weekly testing and the link to anxiety and cramming and how this influences our retention levels. This week I decided to stick to a general format and establish definitions and start to link this to certain psychological theories… so here goes.

So what is assessment? Fenton (1966) describes it, as ‘Assessment is the collection of relevant information that may be relied on for making decisions’. Evangeline Harris Stefanakis (2002), “The word assess comes from the Latin ‘assidere’, which means to sit beside. Literally then, to assess means to sit beside the learner.” Davis (2000) takes this further and states that assessment is ” learning that is ongoing, and requires deep involvement on the part of the learner in clarifying outcomes, monitoring on-going learning, collecting evidence and presenting evidence of learning to others.”

Throughout education we are assessed in a number of ways, by the time we reach university we tend to know which forms we enjoy, which ones will cause us anxiety and stress and which ones need to be worked harder towards. Personally, I find exams a particularly stressful time (I’m aware that we all do), I often become so stressed that I make myself ill, meaning that exams are spent trying to survive the actual time period rather than focusing on the exam itself. I’m also not a fan of group work, I find that group work (especially in university) can lead to a concept called ‘social loafing’, to define this simply, its when a person in the group feels that they do not need to work as hard towards the task as the other people in the group will pull them through. Linden et al (2004) conducted field research into social loafing; they found that large group sizes lead to increased levels of social loafing. However, they also found evidence of social compensation effect, this is when people work harder collectively when they perceive that an individual in the group will perform poorly on a meaningful task. Williams et al (1991) studied social loafing and social compensation: the effects of expectation of co-worker performance, they found that a person’s trust was directly manipulated by a confederate’s statement intending their effort.

Education in the Victorian Era focused on making individuals stand up in front of their classmates and teachers and recite information (it could be argued that schooling hasn’t changed much), this lead to high achievers excelling in the classroom and low achievers becoming withdrawn, furthermore, this could of lead children to become anxious within the classroom setting and unwilling to participate. Boivin et al (2009) studied ‘The roles of social withdrawal, peer rejection, and victimization by peers in predicting loneliness and depressed mood in childhood’ and found that withdrawing within a classroom lead to peer rejection and depression in later childhood, in turn this affected achievement within the classroom.

Personally I believe that the way we are assessed can influence the way we develop, if we are assessed in a more aggressive manner, like the Victorian system, this can lead to social withdrawal which can further lead to depression. This could also be added to being assessed in anyway we feel uncomfortable with, such as presentations or weekly testing. However, like I said previously, this blog has just touched on a few of the issues that I will be researching into in my next few installments. Next week I will build on these issues and extend points made throughout this session.


Davies, A. (2000) Making Classroom Assessment Work. Merville, BC: Connections Publishing

Fenton, R. (1996). Performance assessment system development. Alaska Educational Research Journal, 2(1), 13-22

Stefanakis, E. (2002) Multiple Intelligences and Portfolios. Portsmouth: Heinemann


10 thoughts on “Blog for 25/02/12- Can the way we are assessed affect the way we learn and develop?

  1. An enjoyable read! I have never warmed to any form of assessment; exams involve cramming and essays seem drag on forever. I do enjoy collaborative efforts where problem solving is undertaken in groups chiefly because one perspective just isn’t enough; Cortright, Collins, Rodenbaugh and Dicarlo (2003) found that subjects are better at quizzes in teams and so tested whether collaborative group testing improved retention of course content in comparison with individual tests. Retention was significantly improved for group testing, suggesting that this form of testing is an effective strategy to enhance learning.

    Cortright, R, N., Collins, H, L., Rodenbaugh, D, W. and Dicarlo, S, E. (2003). Student retention of course content is improved by collaborative-group testing. Advances in physiology education. 1-4:27

  2. I think that teaching practices like reciting poems in front of the class characterizing part of the education system in the Victorian Era are seldom used nowadays and therefore less relevant. I would argue that most people today know and agree that this teaching style does not promote good achievements of all students in class, but rather helps stabilize the differences in achievement. Especially students with a lower self-esteem and with lower grades suffer from this kind of teaching practices as you said and withdraw.

    Small-group learning has proved to be very effective for greater academic achievement (Springer et al, 1999). A meta-analysis also demonstrates that students become more favorable attitudes toward learning in various subjects. I can understand you when you say that some students due to the social loafing theory lay back and do not want to participate and others do the whole work thereafter. I think this is not a problem of the concept of group learning but rather a problem that arises but that can easily be solved. The student could for example first talk to the person that does not really contribute to the group and encourage him to start working on the task. When he has problems understanding what is to be done you could help him thereby reinforcing your own understanding of the topic. If all this does not work there is still the teacher to talk to.

    Furthermore, there are new concepts of working in a group like co-operative learning that divide the tasks between different students (Gillies et al.). Each student prepares his topic and contributes to new knowledge teaching the others about his topic as an expert. Finally the students with all the knowledge acquired can solve the task together.

  3. Exams for students just are not a good thing at all ! For example last semester I have one exam that had two essay questions but covered 11 weeks of lectures. Now I could learn everything to some detail but then I wouldn’t get a really good grade or I could learn the really hard topics in detail but then the questions may not come up in the exam.

    Does this really indicate how much you actually know in a topic or does luck of question type play some role in a student’s overall grade?

    Research has been conducted to show how exams do not benefit students.

    Coursework and assignments allow students to demonstrate the exact same knowledge that world be needed within an exam. Therefore assignments aid the student in failure (if they fail) by showing the student where they went wrong (Pye, 1998), instead of getting a fail and the student not actually learning anything from the situation.

    Teachers from all fields of teaching realize that midterms and final exams just are not helpful for their students to actually learn, more assessments are needed as a replacement (Vleuten,2000).

    Exams can cause premature drop out in students, results show that exams do not effect dropout rates with students that are performing well, however the probability of low performing students are greatly increased (Jacob, 2001). This makes sense I suppose, but on average I bet there is more under performing students then really high performing students, and as I learnt last semester in mikes module (the student isn’t wrong, it’s the teachers fault for not teaching properly).

  4. You raise in interesting topic, I’d say the way we are assessed does affect the way we learn and develop. Just on the point mentioned above by Brett, I agree that exams can be damamging to individuals development. I will focus on the flaws of MCQs

    Firstly Multiple choice Papers, where students are given a list of options to choose from, it can lead to students learning incorrect information. This occurs due to the phenomena of the negative suggestion effect (Brown, Schilling & Hockensmith, 1999), where participants attempt to work out the answer to a cued question they are not sure of, and then whatever answer they use they remember which could be harfmful to learning if what they remembered is wrong.

    Secondly research suggests that because on MCQs students don’t have to put answers into their own words the information isn’t learnt as well. This is known as the generation effect and was supported by Crutcher and Healy (1989).

    So not only can the way we are assessed affect are development but it can also negatively impact how we learn

    • Thank you for your comment, I agree that MCQ examines can be seen as unfair and do hold many flaws. I decided to conduct some research to see if there were any positives to this method of testing and did find some interesting statements. McCoubrie (2004) research into ways to improve the MCQ method of testing; he found that many examinees did find the method unfair, however it does hold strong reliability and efficiency. Teachers can get results back to students quickly and it also gives students who are struggling on a particular area to simply guess an answer without it having a major impact on their results. Guessing the answer to a 50% essay question would be far more damaging.

  5. Although there is research which demonstrates social loafing, and according to this type of research, using group work in classrooms would ultimately mean that students aren’t working as hard as they should be (except if certain students try to make up for the social loafers). However, I think deciding to not use group work would be an extreme solution, as there is research which demonstrates the uses of group work; Pica and Doughty (1985) found group work useful in a classroom teaching second languages. There is also research which suggests that although social loafing occurs, there are ways to minimize the effects of it. For example, making all students aware of the fact their efforts will be monitored (Harkins & Petty, 1982). This would mean that students would gain the benefits of working in a group while the drawbacks of group work (i.e. social loafing) are under control.

    • Thank you for your comment, and I do agree that it would be an extreme measure to scrap group work entirely, however, my dislike for it will always be a component in me trying to find negative things to write about it! In agreement with your comment, I decided to conduct some further research into how group work could be improved. Co-operative work is a solution to this; it requires all individuals to work together to accomplish goals, only if the group work together will they succeed. Johnson and Johnson (1989) have conducted vast amounts of research into co-operative learning and have found it to be an effective solution to group work.

  6. I find that the best modules involve a wide variety of assessments, and I think that is what’s works particularly well. It is important to work out how and when is best to use them, while noticing every method does have their criticisms. As outlined in a book by Brown and Knight (1994), every assessment method, traditional or not will disadvantage some students. They suggest that a variety of methods must be used to remove all inequalities in the education system, which in turn will make the system fairer, and allow children of good abilities but different learning styles to achieve equally. Another great suggestion outlined in the book which has been utilized fantastically in this module, is the use of students involvement in each others work, which can be assessed and broaden the feedback for all each others work, which in turn will help enhance judging of their own performance and abilities.


  7. Great blog, Becky! As you know, my focus is on grading systems so your discussion has given me food for thought. It seems that educators are obsessed with assessments (O’Brien, 2012) and politicians continue to value grades almost exclusively as indicators of learning ability. However, with this national fixation on assessments and grading, are grading systems reliable or valid? How much does an A grade in a statistics assignment tell future employers about my competence and intellectual ability? Sure, it tells them that I conformed to all the requirements necessary for me to get a good grade – I adhered to the marking criteria, I followed instructions, I wrote what was expected of me. Is that a reliable and valid evaluation of my learning ability? Is that A grade representative of my capabilities? What about if I had gotten a D grade? Does that mean I am not competent or capable of achievement? Standardised “pencil and paper” tests are the most commonly used assessments in higher education but only really measure recall and memory (Brookhart, 1999). Brookhart argues that classroom assessments “must be meaningful and accurate.. that is, valid and reliable”. But, what exactly do assessments measure? Ask yourself, what does an A grade mean? The Centre for Teaching Excellence identified that instructors’ beliefs influence the grades they award to students and these beliefs place different emphasis on different aspects of academic capability. For example, in marking an assessment (an essay) one marker may be focussed on judging spelling and grammar, whereas another marker may be more concerned with creative and innovative ideas and place less importance on correct spelling. Therefore, the same essay could receive considerably different grades from different markers. This identifies current methods of assessment in education as lacking in reliability, and without reliable ways of assessing learning ability there is no hope for validity in assessment (Nunley, nd). Assessment methods are relied upon so heavily and exhaustively by society, but what they are actually measuring is a poor indicator of that individual’s academic capability, and this needs to change.

    Brookhart, S. (1999). The art and science of classroom assessment: The missing part of pedagogy. Washington, DC: Clearinghouse on Higher Education.
    Nunley, K. F. (n.d.). If we must use grades, let’s make them reliable. Retrieved from
    O’Brien, A. (2012). What parents and educators want from assessments. Retrieved from

  8. A good topic and I think a very relevant one especially seen as it keeps on coming up in government and not knowing whether to get rid of coursework or not and just base our qualifications on exams. I dont think anyone particularly likes exams and I think care needs to be taken when examiners come up with the exam questions. It is thought that repeated testing enhances our memory recall (Roediger & Karpicke, 2006) but I dont know if this is truely the case. The type of exam can have a major effect on the way we revise for the exam and how much work we do in order to pass the exam. MCQ exams are used throughout education but only really test recognition as the correct answer is there for you to choose (McDaniel, Anderson, Derbish & Morrisette, 2007). I feel as if short answer questions are better in exam situations as it requires more skill and relies more on memory recall rather than recognition (McDaniel, Anderson, Derbish & Morrisette, 2007). I do see how exams can be beneficial but I think they would be better to test our own knowledge and for our own feedback to know what we need to look at again and be used more as a revision tool and not as a way to judge our knowledge as not everyone performs well in an exam. Also I think exams can restrict creativity in students as they understand there is a criteria and marking scheme there is to meet and that is how they will pass. But is education about passing exams?

    Roediger, H. L. III., & Karpicke, J. D. (2006). The power of testing memory: Basic research and implications for educational practice. Psychological Science, 1, 181-210.
    McDaniel, M. A., Anderson, J. L., Derbish, M. H., & Morrisette, N. (2007). Testing the testing effect in the classroom. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 19, 494-513.

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