It is the end of the semester and that means only one thing for me as a teacher — a pile of assignments or exam papers that must be graded within what seems to be an unreasonably short time. I bring a different approach to evaluating exams and assignments (as I imagine most teachers do), and it struck me that it may be useful for students to understand this difference. While both assignments and exams aim to assess learning — a demonstration of understanding or ability to apply concepts — the standards used to carry out that assessment might differ a bit.
We are all used to studying for exams and answering test questions, from the tricky multiple-choice to the tedious essay or short note. These are done in a limited amount of time and it is possible to figure out how to divide one’s attention across the different sections of an exam paper.
The criteria for assessment is also fairly straightforward. Some questions call for categorical answers, with no room for ambiguity — they are either correct or not. Others are more open ended, but have clear expectations: specific points must be covered, a problem solved, or an argument made. There is some space for subjective grading, but not too much. If the content is satisfactory, you get the marks. Of course, in some subjects in the liberal arts the style of writing can also contribute to how an answer is evaluated. But a teacher understands that the exam is written under conditions of pressure, within a given time, and therefore might be willing to make some allowance for such things as untidiness, careless writing, and even a level of sloppiness.
Meet the standards
An assignment is another matter. Usually, the student has some time to execute an assignment. The product that is turned in, therefore, is expected to meet certain standards, both in terms of content and style. The assessment is based on the quality and quantity of the work, the demonstration of effort, and also the care that has been taken in putting it all together. There is less patience with carelessness here. Avoidable errors such as spelling and punctuation mistakes and poor layout can suggest that the candidate just hasn’t bothered to take a second look at the work. In both cases, it is important to allow some time for that second look. Examiners are more lenient with carelessness in a time-bound paper, but tend to be less so when it comes to assignments done over a longer duration. Make a habit of reading through your work to make sure it communicates a level of attention and care. It really can make a difference to how your work is assessed.
The writer teaches at the University of Hyderabad and edits Teacher Plus. firstname.lastname@example.org