VARIETY VERSUS FAMILIARITY
IN ASSESSMENT TASK TYPE IN
Assessment task type
• At university, freedom to set a range of different
assessment task types, examples include:
MCQ, exam, essay, laboratory report, field work, literature
review, dissertation, website, skills observation, report,
case study, proposal, design brief, physical artifact, video,
presentation…the list is almost endless
Is that variety a good thing?
Tension between variety versus familiarity
in assessment task types
• Arguments for familiar assessment task types:
• Students need to practice and be familiar with
assessment types to do well (e.g. TESTA 2010, Race
• Feed-forward & linked assignments – students get
feedback that is obviously useful to the next task (e.g.
• Arguments for a variety of assessment tasks
• Multiple means of expression to allow students to
demonstrate what they know in the best way they can
In other words…
• A balance between …
• Too many task types that confuse students and mean they
might perform badly due to not understanding the task
type versus too many of the same type of task (e.g.
essay) disadvantaging certain students who perform
better at other task types.
My context for investigating this issue
• Module X –2 assignments - variety: one
multimedia, one essay.
• Module Y – Has an assignment in three parts –
familiarity: same task type.
Data from module X - variety
• Significant correlation between performance on both
assignments. (significant at 0.01 level, rho=0.459, Spearman two-
• However, if we consider the multimedia assignment as
offering the variety from the more traditional essay:
• 21 students did better by 10 marks (one grade boundary) or more
on the multimedia assignment (i.e. were advantaged by variety) by
an average of 13.3 marks
• 14 students did better by 10 marks or more on the essay (i.e. were
disadvantaged by variety.) by an average of 11.8 marks [N=120].
• [NB: the mark profile for each assignment was not significantly
different, i.e. each assignment got similar marks overall.]
Reflection and informal feedback on variety
• Multimedia assignment enjoyable to mark and generates
some fantastically creative work.
• Students seem to engage with the multimedia task.
• No student has complained about the variety in formal or
• The multimedia assignment helps to develop students
• Those who make use of formative feedback (on a draft)
produce better multimedia assignments.
Conclusion about variety
• That 30% of students did better by one grade boundary or
more on one assignment compared to the other suggests
variety of assessment type is important to not
disadvantage certain students.
• More students gained from having the multimedia
assignment than lost from not having two written
assignments which suggests keeping the variety of
assessment types on this module.
Emerging data from module Y
• Only first two parts have so far been completed. Part a is
marked and then students are given feedback that can be
directly used in part b.
did better on b did the same did worse on b
• Those that did worse had all
achieved a distinction on part a.
avg increase if < 70 in
avg increase I f> 70 in
Who got better
marks on part b
Improvement in part b
(based on part a mark)
Reflections and conclusions on familiarity
• Linked assignments most benefited students who had
lower marks to start with.
• I noticed that certain students (particularly those from less
experienced and art backgrounds) struggled a bit with
• It was obvious when marking part b that most students
had attended to the feedback from part a and had
attempted to address specific feedback items.
• I am convinced linked assignments have been beneficial
to students on this module and will keep this idea (I have
to admit I wasn’t so convinced at the start of the module!)
• From my modules it appears that:
• Familiarity works (most notably because of the
feedback, e.g. see Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick 2006)
• But that variety is also beneficial.
• Need to design modules / courses to include both
• This evaluation highlights the huge importance of
feedback regardless of assessment task type.
• Maintain and encourage the use of drafts /
formative feedback for module X.
• Modify Module Y assignment to allow /
encourage greater means of representation
(CAST 2011) particularly for those from more
• CAST (2011). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version
2.0. Wakefield, MA
• Gibbs, G. (2015) 53 Powerful ideas no.27: Making feedback work involves
more than giving feedback. SEDA: London
• Nicol, D. & Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006) Formative assessment and self-
regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice.
Studies in Higher Education (2006), Vol 31(2), 199-218
• Race, P. (2010) Making Learning Happen, Sage: London
• TESTA (2010) Principles of Assessment, Transforming the Experience of
Students through Assessment: University of Winchester