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
Such assessment also plays a significant role both in selection for next steps in education, university
We believe using a linear and staged approach, rather than a modular one, brings the biggest educational benefits. It
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’ (
By following well-designed approaches to
What are the benefits of
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
*The text above has been sourced directly from Cambridge international assessments website.