From education to employment

Which Assessment Method is Best?

Professor Ian Favell

It was great to see the short article by Sam Sleight in yesterday’s FE News, “What is the Difference Between an Assessor and an End Point Assessor (EPA)?“, clearly defining the roles of assessors across a range of different contexts.

It occurred to me that the next logical step would be to explore in brief the whole idea of what assessment is about.

Assessment is of course about making a judgement about the extent to which the candidate has or has not met a set of criteria, often called Standards.

These are set by the organisations that create the qualifications or apprenticeships and are of a fixed nature.

In other words, all candidates undertaking assessment for a particular qualification or as part of an apprenticeship, will be measured against those criteria/standards.

Which Assessment Method is Best?

The way in which this measurement takes place, however, can vary enormously, as there are many methods by which candidates can be assessed.

In some instances, the methods are specified within the qualification specification or apprenticeship standards, in which case assessors have no option but to undertake the assessment activity within those regulations.

In other cases, the methods of assessment are not specified, and assessors can be free to select an appropriate assessment methodology to suit the criteria or standards they are assessing.

So, what are some of these assessment methods? As I said above not all methods are available in all situations, but some of the more common methods which assessors might use include:

  • written examination or test
  • oral examination, sometimes called professional discussion or Q&A
  • online/electronic test – often multiple choice or scenario-based
  • observation of activity in real work situation
  • observation of activity in a classroom situation
  • simulation or specially devised off-line activity
  • special assignment report or project report
  • presentation or demonstration
  • workplace evidence, such as emails, reports, documents, photographs, videos, brochures
  • interviews, of both the candidate and others involved with the candidate, such as staff, line manager, customers or suppliers
  • physical items such as something the candidate has manufactured, modified, repaired
  • systems and processes that the candidate has devised and implemented and can be seen in operation
  • and so on ……..

So how does the assessor decided which is the most appropriate method to use?

Often this will be specified in the assessment strategy of the qualification or the apprenticeship standards.

If it is not, then the assessor will need to look very carefully at the criteria against which they will be assessing to determine the most suitable method to demonstrate those criteria. It would be rare for all assessment methods to be suitable in any given situation.

After all we don’t want a pilot of a commercial airline to deliberately switch off the engines to simulate engine fail just to show how the pilot will deal with that emergency situation!

Yes, of course, time in an aircraft simulator coupled with perhaps a short test (written or electronic) and a professional discussion may well suit this context better.

The one thing that is important, however is that the assessor can demonstrate to those who are quality assuring the assessment that the method(s) that have been chosen are valid methods of testing those criteria, that they ensure authenticity that it is the candidate that is undertaking the assessment and that the work that they are demonstrating or providing is clearly theirs, are reliable so that consistent results can be obtained across a range of candidates, provide sufficient evidence to be able to make a secure decision about the candidate’s performance, and that the methods are currently considered effective assessment methods within the wider assessment and professional community.

Advantages and Disadvantages

All assessment methods have advantages and disadvantages, and it is one of the assessor’s roles to ensure that the disadvantages minimised and in particular that all candidates are given a fair and equal opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge, skills, and behaviour against the criteria.

There are now many bodies that are considering the whole subject of assessment at a professional level, with the result there are increasing numbers of different standards appearing.

It is essential to recognise that although the context of assessment varies enormously, its purpose and therefore the methods by which it can be achieved, is always the same…… to check a candidate and their knowledge, skills and behaviour, to see the extent to which they do or do not meet the required criteria in the standards.

This is a big subject, and I’m sure much more will be said, but I hope this taster will confirm to you that despite the wide range of contexts in which assessment occurs, the actual act of assessment is founded on identical principles and processes in all contexts, to underpin the criteria and standards in use.

Professor Ian Favell FCGI, DProf, MA, Dip Mgt, LTCL, Prof Mgr, FRSA, FCIEA, FTAG, FITOL, FSET, FInstLM, FCMI, Chartered FCIPD, AMCVA, CEO of Assessor Training Ltd

About Assessor Training Ltd: Trading as Accredited Training International (“ATi”), they major on training and accrediting Assessors, EPAs, IQAs, and EQAs in the UK and Internationally. 

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