Examiner judgement in higher education assessment

Examiner judgement in higher education assessment

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Speaking at a recent seminar hosted by the Cambridge Assessment Network, Sue Bloxham, Professor of Academic Practice at the University of Cumbria, explored a mismatch between the policy and practice of assessment judgement in higher education.

Professor Bloxham explained that procedures to guarantee consistent reliable standards play a key role in quality assurance. However, she said that the procedures used don’t necessarily match the nature of the way we go about making judgements. For example, we expect assessment to be marked on a criteria base but when we have explored the practical nature of how staff mark, they tend to mark in a holistic way and come to an overall sense of what the work is worth. On the one hand we can say that work is analytically marked, but on the other hand it is difficult to mark analytically using professional judgement.

A major theme of research by Cambridge Assessment over recent years has been the nature and use of human judgement in the marking of school examinations.  Examiners’ judgements play an important role in the maintenance of examination standards, and examiners are 'standardised' to ensure that they apply the mark scheme fairly and consistently. This ensures that students get the grades they deserve.

Whilst there are considerable differences between school and higher education in terms of procedures, numbers of students and the level at which they are working, Dr Jackie Greatorex, Principal Research Officer at Cambridge Assessment, was interested to hear Professor Bloxham's research into judgements, cognitive judgements, and marking particularly of longer pieces of work. She explained how previous psychological research by Cambridge Assessment had found that examiners were using a number of cognitive strategies – matching, scanning, evaluating and scrutinising – as they were marking. Interestingly, this also applied to those with less marking experience, and those marking onscreen.  

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