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Assessment for learning

Reliability, validity and examination for learning

It is well documented that the way we design our examination assignments has a very strong impact on our students' learning and learning behaviour. This is based, among others, on the fact that the students must pass to get grades – they can’t avoid this. It can be frustrating for the teacher to be asked "Will this come up in the exam?", but it also demonstrates that a wisely designed examination can be a powerful tool in influencing students' learning and commitment in a positive direction.

The purpose of having examinations at all on our courses is twofold. On the one hand, we must ensure that the individual student has achieved the intended learning outcomes that apply to the course, and on the other hand, we must promote their learning process.

The focus is often on the former purpose because our exercise of authority becomes so evident in knowledge control and grading. In relation to this, you must consider the following two aspects when designing an examination:

Reliability - Is the examination designed so that it is a reliable basis for assessment and grading?

Validity - Does the examination measure what it should (i.e. the course's intended learning outcomes), all that it should (i.e. all relevant intended learning outcomes) but nothing else (e.g. irrelevant culture-based context knowledge or general competences that are not listed as intended learning outcomes in the relevant syllabus)?

To ensure this, it is important to start from the intended learning outcomes that exist for the course, that you identify which learning outcomes should be assessed in the relevant examination form and what you as a teacher need by way of performance data from your students in order to make the assessment you are required to make in relation to all relevant intended learning outcomes.

But beyond that, and in relation to the other purpose, it is wise to also consider the Consequence validity - What effect does the examination have on students' learning?

A wisely designed examination assignment not only measures the student's knowledge and competences, but is also in itself an opportunity for learning.

Examinations that have a positive effect on students' learning

Research has shown that there are some recurring aspects of examinations that have a positive effect on students' learning, such as it:

  • is part of a constructive coordination with intended learning outcomes, course content, examination form & desired outcome
  • promotes student commitment and in-depth learning 
  • reflects the relevance of the subject and its application in society by involving students as participants in the disciplinary community
  • develops the students' meta-perspective by actively working with criteria, knowledge requirements and good examples in teaching
  • has a width and variety in its design through a wise and balanced mix
  • includes a certain amount of freedom of choice for students, which promotes their personal commitment
  • stimulates and encourages uninterrupted commitment and effort over time
  • facilitates different forms of dialogue and feedback between student and teacher

Therefore, when thinking about the examination you are going to design, it may be useful to think about these aspects and how you can include as many of them as possible when you design the examination

Read more 

Carless, David (2015). Excellence in University Assessment Learning from award-winning practice. Routledge. ISBN 9781138824553

Pedagogical advice theme
digital examination

You and your teacher team are welcome to contact your unit for higher education development: 

AHU - Division for Higher Education Development

CEE -  Centre for Engineering Education

MedCul- Centre for Teaching and Learning at the Faculty of Medicine