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Smooth transition for students taking exams at home

When lockdown struck in the run-up to assessment period, the possibility of opening exam centres with hundreds of students sat for hours side-by-side was immediately off the table.

So, how do you assess students during a global pandemic? It was the question HE providers were asking themselves the world over. For University College of Estate Management (UCEM), the answer was take-home exams.

Adapting to new circumstances

Normally, a traditional exam sat in an exam centre is one of two summative assessments included in all UCEM modules – the other being a written assignment which was able to go ahead as usual.

For 2020 however, all exams scheduled for the summer assessment period were replaced with take-home exams and adapted to effectively assess students under the new circumstances.

The guidelines

Students were given seven days to complete their exam, giving them extra flexibility to complete it around work commitments or other pressures resulting from the global pandemic. The deadline for students to submit their papers was 10am on the day their original exam had been scheduled for, with the papers being released at the same time seven days earlier.

Other changes included students being allowed to consult their own notes, core programme reading material and other teaching and learning resources throughout the exam, as well as word count limits to guide students on how long they should spend answering each question.

Once completed, exam papers had to be submitted via Moodle and Turnitin.

Giving consistent exam feedback

Ruth Grindey, director of development at UCEM explains the consideration given to providing take-home exam feedback:

“We were aware that take-home exams would need more detailed feedback compared to traditionally sat exams but not as much as other written assignments.

To ensure students received the right level of feedback, we created a feedback template for markers. This template meant all students sitting take-home exams would receive a consistent level of feedback and an explanation for the grade they were given.”

As part of the rapid roll-out, Ruth and her team also brought in key stakeholders to consult on the change including UCEM’s lead student representative, external examiners, professional and awarding bodies, employers of apprenticeship students as well as the student body as whole.

The outcome

Now, with just shy of 1,000 exams completed at time of writing, initial analysis shows:

  • Overall take-home engagement (VLE submissions) at 82%, 6% higher than that of the previous year
  • All seven modules completed so far saw an increase in engagement (VLE submissions) on the previous year
  • Engagement (VLE submissions) of take-home exams matched the engagement of the first assessment assignment where previously in-person exams had been 3% lower
  • The student experience team had three formal queries about the administration of take-home exams for all post and undergraduate students during implementation

“It’s too early to have a full picture of the outcomes from adopting take-home exams this year but it’s encouraging to see from the first set of modules completed that there is good engagement, a slight increase on last year,”

says Ruth.

“Reflecting on take-home exams in the context of a business continuity exercise to replace in-person exams at short notice, it has certainly been an effective approach and provided a good student experience. The feedback from student representatives before, during and after the assessment has been very positive.

While we can’t yet draw firm conclusions, the comparable, and in some case better, outcomes for students will certainly mean we explore this assessment method more in the future and how it might work alongside more traditional in-person exams.”

For more examples of how innovation during lockdown is inspiring long-term change in higher education, take a look at the learning and teaching reimagined initiative