The Economics Network

Improving economics teaching and learning for over 20 years

2.6 Assessment

The forms of assessment in maths and stats need careful thought in order to maintain engagement throughout the teaching sessions. A number of options are outlined below. In many cases these may be combined:

1. Exam: The design of an exam can be used to test all the key maths or stats techniques. At the first year level it may be worth being transparent about the technique tested in each exam question. The reason for this is that students often do not appreciate that they need to have an understanding of the whole syllabus. In other words they can often enter the exam hoping that a particular technique will not be tested. Typically weaker students that only attempt a sub-set of exam questions struggle to reach a pass grade. However there must be consideration of assessing students to ensure that you do not find that a large number of able students all achieve close to 100%. One approach may be to have the final part of each question more challenging. You may wish to be transparent about this so that weaker students are aware that they should move on rather than dwell on more difficult parts of questions.

Another consideration is whether you wish to have an open-book exam. This may be useful so that students are discouraged from memorising particular formulas or every step in a process and focus more on understanding the techniques relevant to particular problem and how the analysis should be interpreted. You should reflect on the learning outcomes for the module when weighing whether an open/closed book exam is more appropriate.

2. Phase-tests: The use of a number of small tests can be useful formative and summative assessment methods and, given their regular sequencing through the term, they can help to keep students focused on learning. There may be rules around the conduct of such tests at your particular institution; for example there may be a maximum student/staff ratio per room. Alternatively there may be a need to establish subject level principles if university rules do not exist. The number of phase tests may be determined by the number of weeks for which the module runs as well as whether you take a paper based or electronic testing approach. There can also be use of electronic testing outside the classroom where students have a designated time slot to take the tests. If tests are taken outside the classroom there are normally a greater number.

There may be reluctance to phase-tests due to the marking burden if these are paper-based. Therefore there needs to be some thought as to what is reasonable. For example, marking homework every week for a cohort beyond even 30 or so students may be difficult in terms of workload. There is a balance between ensuring continuous student engagement, particularly important for weaker students, and feedback as well as the marking workload of staff. As noted above, online resources may provide a more efficient means of providing regular feedback to students in addition to class exercises, rather than using assessed homework.

3. Group work: You may want to consider group assessment where students are asked to prepare a video explaining a key concept or why a concept is important when studying economics. Alternatively, you could ask students to produce a Powerpoint presentation and record an accompanying commentary (using the facility within Powerpoint). Once you check submissions for inaccuracies you could post selected submissions on your Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). The posted submissions may help other students with revision for a final exam as well as adding a competition element to the assessment task.

There needs to be considerable thought as to how the groups for this task are constructed. For example, the groups could comprise of a range of students with different abilities to ensure a degree of mentoring. However there would need to be a degree of peer assessment to encourage a fair workload across group members. It is worth noting that an exercise of this type will need a reasonable level of IT and presentation skills, and this may be are area where students less able in maths are able to offer a greater contribution.