Assessment & the Expanded text project: Current assessment practice 1 – Exams, Essays, Coursework, Oral


‘The diversity of material and approaches, as well as programme objectives which value choice and independence of mind, suggest that it is desirable for students of English to experience a variety of assessment forms.’ (CCUE/QAA: 1999). Current Assessment Practice is a searchable index of assessment practices across the Higher Education English community. It provides examples of the assessment practices the draft subject benchmarking document suggests might be profitably used to achieve such diversity.

All the assessment practices included in Current Assessment Practice are used by English and Related Studies tutors in the Higher Education sector. Initially current assessment practices in the four departments of English making up the Assessment and the Expanded Text project were documented and analysed. Each member of staff was invited to describe an assessment design they currently used, and to reflect on any factors affecting its development and use. Tutors were also invited to comment on the impact the design had on their students. The survey produced forty six replies from tutors across the consortium, nine of which included the assessment of group work and presentation. We later extended our survey to all university departments whose assessment methods were cited as ‘good practice’ in the English subject review reports (HEFCE: 1994-5). As a result members of staff in a further seventeen departments provided details.


Using peer assessment and the personal statement to improve independence of mind and originality of approach in interpretative and written practice

Although the course where this assessment design is used is not taught within a Literature curriculum, it is structured around theoretical and issues based texts which are common to us. Here assessment is being used to underline the point that the experience of students themselves can help to structure and improve subject specific learning. This assessment makes student opinion its starting point. Tutor experience suggests that many students confuse the idea of criticism with being negative, shouting down. Equally, once students read an authoritative narrative such as Weberís on class, they feel unable to write their own. This assessment design closes the gap between theoretical text and student reader by involving the students at all stages of the course. The students are the ones to select the texts for study. They bring work to writing workshops and peer assess their colleagues. Implicit in this teaching, learning and assessment design is the belief that personal experience is a sound foundation for learning.

Assessment design: plan for personal statement (10 per cent), presentation on personal statement (10 per cent, peer assessed), 5,000 – 7,000 word critical statement (80 per cent).
University of East London
Unit title: Political philosophy

The unit encourages a close reading of texts in political and social philosophy. It provides a forum in which issues in political philosophy can be subjected to debate, and critical analysis in discussion and writing. Staff and students negotiate the texts for study and students are encouraged to read those texts without recourse to commentaries and secondary summaries of the text. Texts may be chosen to explore certain themes such as identity, women in philosophy, social contract, social justice etc. In the past students have selected texts by Mary Wollstonecraft, Marx and Weber amongst others. The format of the unit is a weekly one and a half hour seminar and an hours workshop plus two hours individual tutorial entitlement.

The main assignment is a personal statement. The students critically reviews his/her own position on a topic of his/her choice, with appropriate references to the present literature. The personal statement has to be word processed or typed, using standard footnote and bibliographic conventions.

Students are required to submit a plan for the personal statement by week nine of the semester and to make a presentation to the group on their statement in weeks eleven and twelve. In addition, each week a student makes an introductory presentation on an agreed text of about fifteen minutes which is followed by group discussion. There is also a weekly writing workshop devoted to planning the statement, exploring personal experience in writing, setting out an argument. Students and tutors read and comment on each other ís work in progress.

In this section:
  1. Using formal unseen examinations to motivate breadth of reading
  2. Varying the examination format to improve critical acumen
1. Using formal unseen examinations to motivate breadth of reading

This practice varies student learning by using the formal unseen examination to test breadth of subject knowledge. The practice is the last in a series of assessments which aim to makes the department’s assessment criteria the direct subject of staff/student dialogue. Prior to the examination students completes a self-assessment of an essay. The self-assessment makes clear the relationship between the diagnostic and final assessment by highlighting the importance of breadth and depth of subject knowledge, including relevant contextual knowledge.

Assessment design: diagnostic essay (0 per cent), 2,000 word essay (50 per cent), two hour examination (50 per cent).
Sheffield Hallam University level one, twenty credits
Unit title: Introduction to prose fiction

The course where this assessment design is practised aims to introduce students to the study of prose fiction using texts from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Students learn to recognize and interpret the range of literary forms and devices used by novelists. It makes the difference between reading as a pastime and reading as an academic exercise and the assessment rewards the student who has learned to select and judge.

Tutors have found a two hour exam sufficient to get a fair response to the course, given that students are instructed not to repeat material used in their assessed essays. They are asked to write in the exam upon both eighteenth and nineteenth century novels. The breadth of coverage in assessment is essential to motivate the students to read the less obviously appealing texts. In the case of novels with which students are already familiar, say from previous study or film, they are encouraged to re-examine their assumptions and interpretations.

The self-assessment performs several functions. It makes explicit the overall rationale for the department’s approach to assessment and makes clear the relationship between the diagnostic essay and the final assessment. Since tutors also use the self-assessment sheet to grade the diagnostic essay, there is also evident consistency and openness in the demands made on students and the standards of judgement applied. The self-assessment form also provides feedback to these students on their progress.

The examination provides practice in managing large quantities of information. Approaching the study of Literature through genre can mean foregrounding texts students are very familiar with, such as nineteenth century blockbusters. It is important to help first year students realign their reading habits for the purposes of academic writing at university. Many students feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of reading which faces them when they start a degree. In particular, they need to develop ways of reading more texts in less time, and manage the breadth of reading which comes with degree work in order to compare texts from different historical contexts. Varying the formal examination, provides a fruitful and appropriate context for students to manage large quantities of materials from two historical periods. Any tendency to provide a single text response is thwarted by the examination brief.

For more detail about the style of self-assessment practised here see Assessment and the Expanded Text’s case study on self-assessment.

2. Varying the examination format to improve critical acumen

In this practice the tutor takes a traditional assessment design and uses it to enable student learning within a diverse modular system. Experience has encouraged this lecturer to provide clear briefs for essay and exam writing. Approaching the study of Literature through concepts and issues can mean foregrounding texts which students find difficult and unfamiliar. It may be necessary to help students realign their reading habits for the purposes of writing about concepts and issues. The tutor’s clear question briefs structure the students’ reading of difficult texts whilst offering an opportunity to apply what they have read with authority. The tutor uses assessment to offer feedback to these students on progress, and to underline the importance of applying concepts to literary texts. Any tendency to provide an overview of any theory is thwarted by the examination brief.

Assessment design: 3,000 word written assignment (50 per cent), two hour examination (50 per cent).
Sheffield Hallam University level three, twenty credits
Unit title: Critical theory and practice.

The unit where this assessment is practised is concerned with the theory and practice of reading, criticising and producing literature. It aims to make explicit the relation between the theory and practice of literary criticism; to examine a range of key critical issues; to develop students’ knowledge of the social, political and cultural aspects of literary studies; to examine the critical assumptions which underlie the reading and interpretation of texts. By the end of the unit students will be able to analyse a range of texts according to a variety of critical theories and practices. They will be able to articulate the complexities and difficulties relating to their own critical practice; integrate textual analysis and theory where appropriate; articulate the strengths and weaknesses of arguments relating to a range of critical issues; demonstrate a range of critical skills with reference to a variety of texts.

In the 3,000 word written assignment the candidate must demonstrate an understanding of the significant aspects of a particular critical theory, as well as producing a critical evaluation of that theory. The two hour examination asks the student to put theory into practice, and is divided into two sections, each carrying equal weighting. The candidate is expected to answer a general question (from a choice of five), demonstrating the ability to think critically about an issue in relation to literary examples. S/he also produces a critical analysis of a literary extract (from a choice of three) provided on the examination paper.

For alternative examples of designing assessments to support student learning about theory see the case studies in Diversifying Assessment and Practising theory on-line.

1. Combining essays and examinations to vary learning

This assessment package was designed to assess the breadth and depth of students’ knowledge and understanding. The mid semester assessed essay focuses the students’ attention in detail on the texts and issues covered to date in seminars and lectures and consolidates the knowledge already attained. As such it provides a useful basis upon which to build learning during the rest of the semester. The examination tests breadth of knowledge.

Assessment design: 2, 500-4,000 word essay (50 per cent), two hour examination (50 per cent).
Sheffield Hallam University level two, twenty credits
Unit title: Introduction to poetry 1780-1850

The unit offers a critical introduction to the diverse range of poetry written between 1780 and 1850. It relates the production and reception of this poetry to a variety of appropriate cultural and historical contexts. By the end of the unit students will be able to understand individual poems and how they relate to larger historical and literary contexts, and able to apply different critical perspectives to a wide range of poetic texts.

In their essays students are expected to maintain a balance between general argument and detailed readings of specific poems. Credit is given for evidence of individual research beyond lecture and seminar discussion. The examination is a two hour examination in which students have to answer two questions. The questions are on topics of a formal or thematic nature rather than on particular poets or poems. Students are expected to make reference to at least four poets in the paper as a whole. In the examination, students append the title of the assessed essay they attempted and the names of the poems and poets discussed. They are not allowed to repeat material from the essay in the examination answers.

Oral Assessment

Assessing students in seminars is a relatively new practice which demands its own criteria and guidelines. The draft subject benchmarking document states that ‘assessment criteria should be specified in relation to the programme, unit or module as appropriate, and specific variations, for example, in relation to oral assessment or work-related reports, should be made explicit’. (CCUE/QAA: 1999). Consequently, where appropriate we include examples of these variations.

1. Assessing individual and group presentations to improve student academic writing

This practice was developed to improve the quality of student academic writing in relation to the overall learning outcomes of a degree programme. The module where this assessment is practised is designed around aspects of 1890’s literary culture. In accordance with the university’s general learning outcomes for level three, students at this level are expected to be able to engage with debates in literary studies with a considerable degree of confidence, breadth and rigour.

Assessment design: seminar presentation (20 per cent), 2,000 word essay (80 per cent).
Number of students: Fifty six
University of Staffordshire
Title of unit: Decadents and hooligans 1890’s, level three

Each student gives a seminar presentation lasting up to ten minutes and writes a 2,000 word essay. In their presentation students are asked to introduce a specific topic. In contrast, their essays are responses to set questions (although students are given the option of contributing their own essay titles). Students are prepared for their presentations and essays through lectures and seminars relating to the various topics on the course. As third years, they are acquainted with what is expected in a degree level essay and are given the university’s criteria for essay writing.

2. Assessing presentations to diversify the student learning experience

Subject reviewers praised the use of the group seminar as the principal teaching method at the University of Northumbria. They noted that this was particularly suited to the University and department’s aim to promote student centred learning. At the same time staff were encouraged to be more innovative with assessment practices, particularly on newer and more ‘modern’ units. (HEFCE: 1994-5). The new approach, detailed below, was developed to improve student academic writing for ‘new’ units by offering practice in reading texts in context and reflecting on the impact of arguments on peers. The unit where the assessment is practised focuses on a variety of texts produced and consumed in the inter war period. Students study the Harlem Renaissance, the writers of the so called ‘lost generation’ as well as women writers’ response to Modernism.

Assessment design: essay (70 per cent), presentation (30 per cent).
Numbers of students: thirty
University of Northumbria
Title of unit: American modernisms level two, ten credits

Students are required to give a class presentation on a topic related to themes dealt with in the course. These presentations are given individually and last between seven and twelve minutes per student. Presentations are assessed in terms of content as well as delivery. The tutor is looking for clarity of exposition, coherence of argument, evidence of research, effective use of analogy, awareness of and engagement with the audience, ability to respond to questions.

The following extract from a handout to students illustrates the kind of realistic practical advice it is possible to give with the intention of improving student contribution to debate and the quality of their preparatory reading.

Guidance for Class Papers

The class papers not only examine your presentation skills but also provide you with an opportunity to prepare for your essay. Your close reading can be used to develop an argument in response to one of the essay questions or, if you find that your presentation is leading you in an alternative direction you can produce your own essay question (though you will need to consult with you tutor if you do this ). When choosing your extract try to select the text you might want to write an essay on. While you do not have to develop your close reading into an essay, you will save yourself much time and energy if you do so.

Class Papers Should Include:
  • The examination, in detail, of either a poem or an extract from one of the texts being studied on the course.
  • You should pay particular attention to the ways in which the piece is written. This should not simply be a summary of the plot.
  • You should try to identify the key characteristics of the piece in terms of narrative or poetic technique.
  • Your presentation should coincide with the seminar session devoted to the text you are analysing. This is very important since your presentation will provide the class with an important basis for further discussion.
Criteria for Assessment
  1. Clear expression. You should make sure that the paper is presented clearly so that the audience can appreciate your argument.
  2. Coherent structure. Even though you are looking at an extract, there should be a sense of a beginning a middle and an end. The introduction should outline your argument, the middle section should explicate the argument and the conclusion should provide a summation of the main points and further questions the paper raises.
  3. Critical analysis. This is very important. You should be looking critically at a particular extract or poem in order to analyse the way in which it produces a particular way of seeing or saying. I am looking for attention to detail but also a sense of why these details are significant in the context of American modernism.
  4. Time management. All papers will be timed and if they exceed twelve minutes or come under seven minutes, marks will start to be deducted. You should be aiming to speak for ten minutes.
  5. Awareness of and engagement with your audience. Try to avoid reading the paper out verbatim. You may use notes but if you familiarise yourself with the material sufficiently you will be able to look up and talk directly to your audience when you need to.

3. Assessing group work to promote collaborative research practices

This practice was developed to encourage collaborative research practices and familiarisation with visual and written texts. The unit where the assessment is used investigates popular fantasy films and television programmes from the classical Hollywood era to the 1990’s, and examines a range of important critical approaches to the fantasy genres. By the end of the unit students have seen and discussed a range of popular fantasy films and television programmes and gained an understanding of some important critical approaches.

Assessment design: 2,500 essay (40 per cent), two hour examination (50 per cent), twenty to thirty minute presentation with 1,500 word handout (10 per cent).
Number of students: forty
University of Northumbria
Title of unit: Fantasy in film and television level two, twenty credits

For the group presentation all students are required to join a seminar presentation group in order to deliver a twenty to thirty minute presentation and 1,500 word handout. The tutor hands out a list of suggested topics for presentations. Groups will typically consist of three or four students and the assignment will involve collaborating upon a critical overview of a film or topic, relating to the theme of the particular seminar. Students are encouraged to undertake their own research and to incorporate visual material (video extracts, slides etc.) into their presentation.

Students are also asked to keep a unit dossier containing notes taken during screenings and seminars, reading notes and any general observations on material relating to this unit. This dossier helps students to structure revision and tutorial sessions, and is seen by the unit tutor during the course of the semester.

The assessment process is clarified by institutional and departmental guidelines (e.g. on marking). Seminar assessment has also been discussed with colleagues. Finally assessment is discussed with students in seminars and private tutorials.

Notes for Seminar Presentations
  1. This assignment can be divided into the following tasks:
  2. Within your groups, choose a film that will be the subject of your presentation.
  3. Arrange a group tutorial session with the unit tutor (to discuss possible avenues of research and your presentation structure).
  4. Engage in collaborative, student led research (i.e. taking screening notes on your chosen film and visiting the library to search for books and articles relating to your presentation topic).
  5. Structure your research into a thirty minute presentation to be delivered to the rest of the unit group. Typically this involves each member of the group presenting a five minute talk on a specific aspect of your chosen topic. Your presentation should include relevant video extracts and, if appropriate, slides and/or handouts.
  6. Present your research to the unit group during the appointed session.
  7. Arrange a feedback tutorial with the unit tutor to discuss this assignment (including your response to the task as well as the final presentation).

4. Assessing individual oral presentations to maintain the quality of student contributions in large seminar groups

This assessment practice was developed to ensure the continuous involvement of all members of a large seminar group. It is used in a unit where students consider filmic or written texts in relation to issues associated with the representation of the Holocaust. Group presentation at 20 per cent secures the involvement of all members of large groups (twenty plus). It allows a division of labour, produces wide research and discussion papers that the whole group receives. This means that every member of the group completes the module with a dossier of handouts that can help them in writing essays. It provides a memory bank for them on difficult issues they may need to refer back to. The essay (80 per cent) provides them with an opportunity to give extended consideration to filmic or written texts in relation to a general issue about Holocaust representation. Second markers, and externals, comment favourably on the quality of work submitted for this module.

Assessment design: seminar participation (20 per cent), 2,000 word essay (80 per cent).
Number of students: twenty plus
University of Staffordshire
Title of unit: Memory of the offence: representations of the Holocaust
Level three, ten credits

5. Assessing student managed syndicate style meetings

A syndicate style of meeting is used to encourage an active approach to learning and assessment. A further aim is to develop a broader range of transferable skills. The new method is based on a meeting based exchange and analysis of information. Students engage in old and new debates about putative origins of the novel.

Assessment design: Research exercise (30 per cent), group presentation (30 per cent), 2,500-3,000 word essay (40 per cent).
University of East London
level two
Title of unit: The Origins of the Novel.

Students work collaboratively in groups of four or five in preparation for their presentation. Each group selects one from a choice of three novelists (Aphra Behn, Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding). For the presentation itself each student produces a brief piece of writing in the style of the chosen author (one side of A4). Each piece of writing is written in collaboration with other members of the group, so the entire writing effort is the result of collaborative effort. Each member of the group then produces an analytical commentary explaining the reasons behind the choice of devices in his/her sample. This is delivered orally and in writing.

Each seminar presentation sub group elects a spokesperson to organise the presentation on the day. This student delivers an introduction, linking explanations and concluding remarks. They also field questions and comments from the wider seminar group. After the seminar, sub group members meet to produce a brief commentary and self evaluation. The commentary should show how the group decided on division of labour, how collaborative work proceeded, and indicate how the students felt the presentation went on the day.

Since the seminar presentation is a collaborative effort each member of the sub group receives the same mark (unless the group has good reason for requesting a different procedure). The students are given guidelines for all aspects of the assessment. Each assessed part also receives extensive tutor comments.

One week after the actual oral presentation, the sub group submits written documentation. This includes the script of the presentation, the individual pieces of writing in the relevant styles plus the individual commentaries on those pieces, the global commentary prepared by the students. The latter includes an account of collaborative work and the process of preparation. The students also hand in the collaborative commentary in they evaluate the whole and assess the effectiveness of the oral presentation. Tutors provide extensive comments on each part and assign marks, taking into consideration the reactions of the rest of the seminar group and the overall oral performance of the presentation group.

Students are reassured by the amount of written documentation that is required. The public nature of the actual presentations ensures that fairness of marking can be discussed openly. Difficulties arise when the odd member of a sub group fails to pull his/her weight. This seldom occurs, but when the danger does loom, discussions with the group as a whole can be productive. One year discussion led to different marks for different sub-group members. This was to everyone’s satisfaction. External examiners are enthusiastic about what our students achieve in the way of close reading and stylistic exercises.

The newness of the practice coupled with lack of student confidence in the first instance, means good guidance is crucial to the success of this assessment practice. The following extracts from a handout to students illustrates the kind of practical advice it is advisable to provide for students.

Notes on Seminars

Tutor led seminars usually provide a space within which you can examine the week’s topics and critically assess the readings. The tutor is there as a guide and referee, if needed, but only you, the students, can produce rewarding discussions. Only you know what you have not understood, what points you would like to take issue with, what excites and what annoys you. Make sure you prepare for seminars by reading and thinking about the week’s material. Informal discussions outside the classroom can be splendid preparation. Seminar presentations will be given in tutor led seminars. The same groups will attend both tutor led and student led seminars. Tutors will monitor the progress of student led seminars and will help to structure them if necessary.Guidelines and materials will be supplied when necessary.

In the case of student led seminars you work in your usual seminar groups but without the leadership of the seminar tutor. The student led seminar provides a structured environment within which you can discuss issues with other members of your group, share ideas and collectively advance your understanding. In the first instance you will usually be working within your presentation sub groups. It is up to the sub group to discuss issues and arrive at conclusions and/or formulate questions for further discussion. If time allows, sub groups should exchange and compare the results of their discussions even before they contribute their efforts to the tutor led seminar.

More than the tutor led seminar, the student led seminar offers the opportunity to learn and practice the basic skills of collective enquiry and discussion and the presentation of the results of discussion to wider audiences. You may want to have a rota of spokespersons.

You should also develop the skills involved in running a meeting based exchange of information. These are arguably the most important skills of all to have in the world of work, whether it be in education, social work, advertising, or whatever. Meetings share information, but they also assess that information, plan and decide on courses of action, and to be ‘meeting illiterate’ is a real handicap’.

So we suggest that you spend the first part of the meeting discussing how to structure meetings and how to use them most effectively in different contexts. Things to think about:

1. You need to have a chair. The Chair is not necessarily the leader of the group (and it does not have to be the same person each week) but the person who holds it together (think of the Speaker of the House of Commons). The Chair asks people to speak in turn so that everyone who wants to can have their say, and also ensures that all the business of the day is covered.

2. You need an agenda. The agenda divides the time of the meeting up in order to cover a certain number of items, and where necessary take decisions. A possible agenda for a seminar might be:

  • apologies for absence.
  • introductory remarks on the materials and issues to be covered.
  • general discussion of the week’s materials.
  • preparation for the following week (you might want to delegate people to prepare next week’s introduction or do some associated library research, and report back).
  • preparation of the discussion for the following tutor led seminar (again, you would probably want to delegate this. Try to make sure that the work is shared!).

Equally important as the notes for students are clear and comprehensible assessment criteria.

 Assessment criteria for seminar presentations

In addition to demonstrating your skill in writing pieces of prose in the styles of various authors, the presentation is meant to test skills in communicating ideas to a group and being responsive to that group of fellow students and staff. Students should aim to:

  • Present materials (total time should not be more than ten minutes per person) [this means making a careful, coherent selection from your written materials].
  • Present ideas succinctly and clearly.
  • Use quotations and/or illustrations as appropriate.
  • Show an ability to listen and respond non defensively to discussion from the group.
  • Make efforts to ensure all members of the group are engaged with the issues.
  • Make good use of the time, which will involve raising aspects that are being lost in discussion. Balance this against the need for flexibility and allow the group to make its own responses. Allowing some time towards the end of the session to review the discussion.

The seminar presentation is weighted as 30 per cent of your overall mark for the unit. The passing mark is forty (out of one hundred). A mark below thirty will normally result in a failure of the unit as a whole.

Criteria for grading pieces of work

For grades of 70 and above –

A piece of work which shows clear evidence of command of the relevant historical and intellectual issues; of independence of thought, such that complex arguments and concepts can be defended or questioned; and which displays a high level of skill in extended written expression, or, in the case of seminar presentation, in the oral expression of ideas.

For grades 60-69

A piece of work in which the student engages with the relevant issues in depth and consistently attempts to elaborate ideas for him/herself, and displays a well-developed skill in extended written expression or, in the case of seminar presentation, in the oral expression of ideas.

For grades 50-59

A piece of work which displays evidence of competent handling of the relevant intellectual issues, and of the engagement with them. Students should show some ability to think for themselves, and should be able to express ideas clearly in extended writing or in short oral presentations.

For grades 40-49

A piece of work which provides evidence of an elementary grasp of the relevant intellectual issues and a basic competence in extended written expression or in the oral presentations of issues.

For grades 30-39

A piece of work which shows only a rudimentary ability to conduct an extended argument in writing or to express ideas orally, but provides evidence of an elementary grasp of the relevant intellectual ideas.

The full range of marks within the seventies and low eighties should be used in order to distinguish between a first and a good to very good first, and the full range of marks below the pass mark of forty should also be used.

Marks may be deducted if students fail to follow the guidelines and directives about the content and modes of presentation to specific pieces of work, as in the case of providing bibliographies, footnotes, written commentaries to projects and seminar presentations etc.

6. Using presentations to demonstrate understanding of theory in practice

In this practice the presentation is designed to encourage students to work over a period of time independently of a tutor, to undertake original collaborative work and to devise suitable strategies for communicating their research to an audience.

Assessment design: 1,000 word exercise (25 per cent), 3,000 word essay (50 per cent), group presentation (25 per cent).
Sheffield Hallam University
level three
Title of unit: Fiction and film: reading adaptations.

The practice is part of the assessment strategy for a unit which aims to introduce students to the relationships between prose fiction and film. The unit approaches this issue through the study of the practice of filmic adaptation. Students are asked to deploy critical discourses of difference in the analysis of specific texts; to explore recent methodological approaches to the problematic of adaptation. By the end of the unit students will be able to analyse the interactions between prose and filmic texts; critically discuss the problematic of textuality in relation to both media; situate texts within a range of cultural contexts; develop sophisticated critical frameworks with which to describe the practice of adaptation.

Groups of five students give a presentation of twenty minutes to two examiners. Each presentation examines one example of film adaptation from a prescribed list (although groups can negotiate other texts with their tutors). The presentations have to offer a detailed reading and comparison of how two scenes from the novel or short story under consideration have been adapted for cinema. Students are required to submit their working notes for the presentation and there is a short oral exam afterwards in which students are asked questions about issues arising from the presentation. All members of the group are awarded the same mark.

As this is a group assessment, opportunities for collaborative work are timetable in to the course. During this time the tutor is available to respond to queries and problems. The tutor decides upon the final grade. A second internal examiner is invited to attend the presentations (which all take place at the end of the semester). Students are required to submit their notes for the presentation. These are not assessed but a sample is sent to the external examiner for information only.

7. Assessing group presentations to improve student understanding of performance

In this practice the assessment of group presentations is primarily used to improve student understanding of a unfamiliar genre. The tutor decided that a good assessment would help in making a very different genre comprehensible.

Assessment design: group presentation (50 per cent),annotated text project 1,800-2,200 words (50 per cent).
Number of students: forty five
University of Luton
level two

Students are advised to select a section of text (up to two pages is a suitable length from up to four pages or 200 lines from a play) from a novel, short story, play or poem. Having selected an appropriate text they discuss in detail how they would translate text into performance. They have to give reasons for the performance mode they suggest, and examine how that mode realises the literary qualities of the text. They are asked to note any gains and losses. Discussion of what they have chosen to do, and why, has to be included in the final project. Students work in groups of three, four, five, but receive individual grades.

Guidelines for both the ‘performance’ assignment and criteria for presentation are handed out. Preparation for the assessment consisted of the lectures (two hours per fortnight) and seminars (one hour per week) and the fortnightly screenings. A very substantial reading list was circulated. Students are also encouraged to attend local and London productions of plays.

The module co-ordinator together with the second marker decides on the grade. To date a second marker who sits in on a selection of the sessions has moderated grades. A recent development has been to video the presentations. This means they can be widely viewed and made available to the external examiner.

Grade Criteria for Performance Project

In addition to the usual essay criteria, the following grade criteria will be used in marking your performance project. Bear in mind that not every project will contain all these features, they are intended to give you some idea of how to improve your work.


Selection of an appropriate text. (Appropriate means a portion that has some unity, or conveys some idea beyond that of a simple plot, or which can be justified as useful in the essay). Inclusion of all relevant documentation (original text, performance version, annotations, discussion of approach, bibliography).


Awareness of ‘theatricality’ and how to cope with basic staging problems (light, movement, set dressing). Recognition that these are problems that need to be addressed.


Logically expressed rationale for the chosen production style and use of medium. This should be expressed as an awareness of the possibilities offered by the text (the performative). At a more sophisticated level, this may earn a B Grade. Awareness of one of more theories to do with performance arts.


Symbolic awareness (stage symbols matched with the needs of the play). Stylisation used to effect. Higher grades for integration of style with content. More sophisticated awareness of the implications of performance theory/theories.


Philosophical/theoretical awareness of relevant concepts. For example the nature of reality, mental/psychological states, identity; intertextuality. Use of the chosen medium to explore these more deeply.

Performance Assignment
  1. Provide a copy of the text you plan to use.
  2. Type out another copy, which you will annotate with stage directions, lighting and sound instructions. This may become bitty, so find a way of distinguishing between your instructions and the original text. (Highlighter, italic font – there are various possibilities.)
  3. If you wish to put in a sketch of the set design, and/or of costumes you may do so.
  4. You should add a discussion of what you have chosen to do and why. (In other words provide the rationale for your decisions about staging). This rationale need not refer to the play as a whole, unless you need it to.
  5. Word Count. Do not include the original text in your word count. The length (1,800-2,200 words) is intended as a guideline only. Obviously, if you put a great deal of thought into producing a sketch, this will mean that you need not aim to write such a large number of words. On the other hand, you may find that it takes a lot to explain what you are doing. In that case, cut down the length of the passage you are working on, or cut down the number of areas you are covering (e.g. leave out characterisation in order to focus on technical matters).
  6. Bibliography. Some essays will be wholly original, and need little in the way of bibliography, part from the source of the text. ‘Stylised’ productions should give the source of all inspiration.

8. Managing Student Seminar Attendance

This practice is not about the improvement of student learning, but the better management of that learning. It shows how the administrative procedures, which go hand in hand with our assessment practices, can make the links between seminar and assessment more explicit to students. Students are encouraged to view their academic writing and seminar attendance as part of a seamless continuous learning process by being required to submit essays individually and as a portfolio and recording their contribution to seminars.

The added advantage of the portfolio method is that it permits students’ contributions to seminars to be assessed as well as his/her written work.

Assessment design: portfolio (made up of three 2,000 word essays), unseen exam 100 per cent.
Title of unit: Period of English Literature
University of Sussex
level two/three

Students complete three essays for the course, each with a maximum length of 2,000 words. These are handed in to the tutor on set dates. Each essay is given a mark out of 100 and returned to the student with the top copy of the completed essay record sheet. On an appointed date in the summer term students submit the three essays again, together with a portfolio report form. On the portfolio report form the tutor assigns a mark for written work, modified by up to ten marks either way on the basis of the seminar report entered on the portfolio report form.