Assessment

Good assessment is at the heart of a good education. When we design our assessment, our starting point is what we want students to develop: deep subject knowledge, conceptual understanding, and higher level thinking skills.

For assessment to work well, the questions used to test students’ understanding need to have been designed well, too. This is as true for formative assessment and ‘assessment for learning’ (the questions that teachers ask every day in the classroom) as it is for summative assessment and ‘assessment of learning’ (end-of-year tests and public exams).

Fair, valid and reliable

Our assessments enable effective differentiation of student performance, across cohorts and over time. We design our assessments to be fair, valid, reliable and practicable:

  • Fair: all students sit exams in the same conditions, as far as possible.
  • Valid: an assessment assesses what it is intended to assess, and avoids irrelevant matters.
  • Reliable: if you had taken the exam on a different day, and it was marked by a different examiner, you would get the same outcome.
  • Practicable: an exam that schools can reasonably stage without excessive arrangements; and students can reasonably sit – for example, the exam is not too long.

We follow our own Code of Practice (2017), which sets out our commitments to quality in major public examinations.

Assessment of learning

Assessment of learning at the end of a programme of study can provide valuable evidence of a student’s achievement. It also provides focus, pace, motivation and challenge to learners during a one or two-year course.

Such assessment also plays a significant role both in selection for next steps in education, university and employment (and therefore in students’ lives) and in accountability (and therefore in the lives of teaching professionals). We take very seriously, therefore, our responsibility in making sure all our assessments are fair, valid, reliable and practicable.

We recognise that the way we design summative assessment of learning can strongly influence what happens in the classroom. That is why we use a flexible assessment structure, allowing a ‘linear’ approach (all exams at the end of the course for Cambridge IGCSE and Cambridge International A Level) or a ‘staged’ approach (with some Cambridge International AS Level exams halfway through a two-year course).

We believe using a linear and staged approach, rather than a modular one, brings the biggest educational benefits. It maximises time for teaching and learning interests and support their development through assessment for learning rather than through multiple modular assessments of learning.

It also helps students develop a strong grasp of each subject as a whole, which universities value highly. We draw on research by Andrea Greve (2016) at the Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at the University of Cambridge, which supports the view that returning to topics over a period of time supports learning better. Students have more time to revisit and understand topics and concepts, so they can go beyond cramming for a test, and really retain what they have learned. Retaining learning is essential not just for generating new ideas and solutions, but also for making connections across subject disciplines.

We believe that putting students’ learning first leads to improved performance in final exams. And by taking exams when their understanding is deepest, at the end of the course, students do not face assessment before they are ready.

Assessment for learning

For Cambridge, ‘assessment for learning’ (AfL) is an approach integrated into teaching and learning that creates feedback for students to improve learning. We see AfL as a vital part of effective teaching practice.

By following well-designed approaches to AfL, teachers can understand better how their students are learning and use it to plan what they will do next with a class or individual students. AfL also helps the learner to see what they are aiming for and understand what they need to do to achieve those aims. AfL therefore focuses on the teacher and the learner understanding.

What are the benefits of AfL? AfL connects assessment and teaching objectives – clarifying assessment objectives provides a clear focus for teaching and learning strategies. AfL, effectively implemented, can support students to become confident, reflective, innovative and engaged (at least four of the Cambridge learner attributes). Research by John Hattie (2009) shows that feedback improves learner achievement (ranked 10th out of 150 factors), particularly if it involves feedback from learner to teacher about their own learning.

Cambridge supports AfL in different ways. Our clear curriculum frameworks and syllabuses, with clear learning and assessment objectives, help teachers, at varying levels of experience, point learners to what they need to focus on. Assessment for our Cambridge Primary and Lower Secondary programmes helps learners and teachers assess progress and provide feedback on strengths and weaknesses in the core subjects of English, maths and science. We support teachers’ own learning about AfL via our online course, subject-based training and all Cambridge Professional Development Qualifications.

Supporting speakers of English as a second or foreign language

Our assessments are in the medium of English. We design those assessments very carefully to make sure they are accessible to speakers of English as a second or foreign language – both in terms of language and cultural references. Our questions use clear language.

For example, questions in Cambridge International AS & A Level Mathematics use fewer command words than any other international A Level. Command words explain what students need to do, such as ‘calculate’, ‘define’, ‘evaluate’. We make sure that each command word relates directly to the relevant assessment objectives and is used consistently within and across syllabuses. More and more of our syllabuses give definitions for each command word we use, so students and teachers can understand the scope, nature and depth of treatment examiners are looking for in a response.

*The text above has been sourced directly from Cambridge international assessments website.

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Assessment

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