“How do I learn for my main exams? I am not sure how, but what I want is to remember when I see the questions.”

I could relate to the above statement. I was always nervous, if the long hours I put to study and revise, will it help me remember and fill my answer sheet. Did I learn or did I study? The below opinion is constructed from my interactions with students and cross-referenced with literature.  

The Learning Effects of Summative Assessments (LESA) are less researched and recorded as much as we might need it. Assessments evaluate our learning, but also determine how we learn. The preparation towards assessments impacts how a learner approaches the learning process. The effect of assessments occurs in two ways; related to perceived demands of the assessment task & related to assessment system design.

Perceived demands of assessment task
What cues does a learner take to form a perception on the needs/demands of assessments? The cues are taken from lecturers, learning materials, peers, seniors, previous papers, learner’s own experience on assessments. “The subject is vast, so I focused my energy on the lecture notes. Almost 80% came from the notes.” This is not surprising as we request questions from the lecturer who handles the topic. If the assessment items (questions) were sourced externally based on the learning outcomes only, there might be trouble. I am not much worried at this front as the curriculum ensures self-directed learning as well, by the ‘20%’ not covered in lecture notes. As we had introduced the revised curriculum, the assessment structure and the sequence of topics was changed. This is most seen in the medical sciences. This put a demand on the learners who experienced this curriculum first as they had no access to advice of seniors or previous papers. “I got a shock in my first continuous assessment. I realized that my method of studying as I did in A level had to be changed. There were more application questions, which cannot be answered only through memorization.”

“Dental topics was easier to learn than medicine topics.” This was due to the related practical of the dental subjects. The medical topics afforded very fewer practical opportunities and mostly had to be learned without experiential learning. Constructed response items and open-ended assessments require deep learning. This is tested in the ‘Modified Essay Questions’ which allows higher order thinking (Blooms) questions. “I learned the function of adrenaline, but when I saw the question on its role in a patient who is having profuse sweating and chest pain, I was lost. Now I know, how to approach such questions.” The learning is supported by formative assessments that provide clues to learning method for such higher order thinking questions.

Assessment System Design
A lot of time is spent preparing for upcoming assessments. “Can I leave now; I have finished with my patients.” I was left in a dilemma, to encourage the student to learn from the clinical setting that is highly relevant to her immediate career or allow her to go prepare for the upcoming assessments on medical topics. “I realized that vast number of topics to be covered for the end of year exam. I have started early.” The scheduling of assessments and the topics covered affects the work life balance of students. “I don’t think having a series of assessments at end of each topic is a good idea. As a dentist, I need to remember a lot of things and end of year exams is a good way to test my memory.”

Assessments have a greater control on the learners that is very pervasive and insidious. My experience as a learner and facilitator of learning clearly agrees with it. Further, more than the actual learning, the learning assessed in exams carries a higher weightage on the progression and minds of students. I feel a disjoint exists in learning and assessment objectives in all learning systems I have been exposed, as a participant or observer.

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