How do we make our assessment as accurate as possible?

13 January 2016

How do we make our assessment as accurate as possible? Well, we have to ensure that the questions we use to assess are well chosen, that our grade boundaries are calculated properly rather than chosen arbitrarily, and our marking is precise and consistent. Now, of course, Create a Test can help you with all of those things, but I don’t want to talk about them now. Today, I’d like to discuss strategies to ensure that the work that the students produce in those assessments is an accurate reflection of their true abilities.


Firstly, let’s discuss the situation in which students complete their assessment. To be completely blunt, any assessment which involves students completing the test online, outside of exam conditions, is utterly worthless. These tests are helpful for revision, but are no basis for meaningful summative assessment. I don’t want to labour the point, but you have no control over how your students sit the test, and they will cheat.


So it’s safe to assume that anyone who takes assessment seriously will have their students complete their tests in school, under supervision, in exam conditions. So what else could go wrong? Well, a lot of schools use past papers to assess. This is better, but I know for a fact that some students (particularly at A Level) go through all of the past papers before an exam, to give themselves the best chance of success. Secondly, and more worryingly, many schools assessing at KS4 use a calculator paper and a non-calculator paper from the same exam series. It doesn’t take a bright student long to find out that you’ve used the November 2013 non-calculator paper, and memorise the answers to the calculator paper. Of course, any student who sees the paper before it is sat ends up with an invalid result.


So we have to create our own tests, but does that guarantee robust assessment practice? Not quite. So many schools that I speak to, who do create their own assessments, then use those same assessments year after year. Since the students are often given their papers back to revise from, and since students often have friends and siblings in lower year groups, it’s not difficult to imagine the mechanism whereby students have access to a paper before they sit it.


Right. So we create our own papers and alter them every year. Does that solve the problem? Almost. My final concern is that assessments that take place in lessons are difficult to invigilate. Students are often very close together and can easily see each other’s answers. It’s also a common practice for different sets to sit the same paper in different lessons, or on different days. It wouldn’t be difficult for a very able student to remember the answers to the last three questions, and relay them to a friend. 


So my suggestion is that a department that wants to make its assessment as airtight as possible needs to abide by the following rules:

  • All students should complete the test in exam conditions

  • Past papers shouldn’t be used

  • Assessments should be changed (not rotated) every year

  • Different students should sit different versions of the same test


Well, thankfully, Create a Test allows you to create papers in minutes, which can be printed to be used in class, altered easily, and whose questions can be altered in seconds, to create literally trillions of different versions of the same test. Should make it difficult to copy!

I hope your December assessments went well. What have you done in your departments to improve assessment? Tweet us @createatest to let us know what you think.


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