Essays: thinking about what’s wrong, and alternatives

Readers of this website may already know my views about essays. For a workshop today, with Sally I have composed a little handout which produced great discussions. You can download it here now: it will probably continue to evolve for a bit…
Assessed-essays-and-alternatives.docx (3855 downloads)
An extract from the start..

There are five main problems with the over-use of essays as an assessment device:

  • They take a great deal of time to mark, let alone the time it takes for students to prepare, draft and compose them.
  • When most assessment is in the form of essays, students’ skills at essay-writing are repeatedly tested, as the expense sometimes of their understanding of the subject.
  • Lots of research shows that we’re not at all good at marking essays fairly – different assessors often give the same essay very different marks.
  • Essay marks in the UK tend to lie between 35% for a poor one and 75% for a very good one, whereas in many other disciplines the marks for an assignment like a lab report can range across the whole 0-100% span more evenly.
  • With coursework essays, there can be doubt about veracity – i.e. ‘whodunit?’!