Multi-stage Assessments

Michael McCann, Nottingham Trent University
Published September 2020

Introduction

Multistage assessments involve interim assessment activities that feed into the completion of a final assessment for a module. This means that there is an important distinction to be drawn between these and ‘standalone’ assessments with deadlines at points during the delivery of a module. Multi-stage assessments should be designed so that their completion, and associated feedback, helps students with their work in drafting the final summative assessment for the module. Consequently, rather than leave their effort on a module to revising for a few weeks before an end-of-module examination, multi-stage assessment activities promotes continuing engagement with the module content.

Since the interim stages of the assessment should aid the preparation of subsequent stages there should be a strong formative element. This necessitates the provision of substantial feedback. I have used several forms of interim assessment, some voluntary and some compulsory, in a number of modules over recent years.

Purely Formative Interim Assessments

In a final year module covering managerial economics, I have used a coursework assessment where students conduct an economic analysis the strategic decision-making of a chosen company. In the year-long module, the first stage of assessment is a poster at the end of the first term. In the poster, students present some initial data on the areas they are intending to investigate, including any early themes they have identified for analysis. I make an event out of the poster tour providing students with an opportunity to gain experience in presenting information in a meaningful and accessible way. I place students in groups and discuss each other’s poster informally during the event. The opportunity to both give and receive feedback encourages a cross-fertilisation of ideas which stimulates the learning process further. I provide feedback reviewing the choices students have made and suggesting possible lines of inquiry.

At the second stage during the second term, students can submit a draft of their report for feedback. I comment on their analysis and the quality of the written arguments presented. I allow students some autonomy in deciding when to submit the draft, but they cannot do so in the two weeks before the final assessment deadline.

I do not attach marks to the interim stages. As a result, students may not feel inclined to do them. However, I signal to students that they will receive valuable feedback which will help them complete both subsequent stages and the final assessment. Further, I illustrate the high correlation between completion of the interim stages and grades in the final summative report. Consequently, I enjoy high participation rates.

In this situation, the timing of the interim stages is important. I ensure I have delivered sufficient content before the first stage and allow gaps between stages. This makes the interim stages meaningful events in the progress of student learning. Further, I co-ordinate deadline with colleagues so there are no summative deadlines for other modules which may draw students attention away from the module’s interim stages. It is a good idea to agree an assessment and feedback schedule at the course level to avoid clashes.

Here is an excerpt on interim stages of assessment from the assignment brief for 2019/20:

Interim Assignment Tasks

  1. Poster

You will be able to submit a poster characterising the seminal features of your company and embryonic ideas for analysis.

Format of Posters

The posters should be presented in A3 format. Different sections should be presented in different textboxes and diagrams/ graphs.

Examples of poster template are shown on the NOW Contents Section in the Assessment Folder. These are only a guide. Feel free to experiment with different formats and designs.

The Poster tours will take place in the final week of term 1 (w/c 9/12/2019).

You will receive verbal and written feedback from both your fellow students and me. You should use the feedback to guide your work on the report. This will help you to engage effectively and organise your work.

  1. Draft Report

Written feedback on ONE draft of your report (not available in last two weeks before final submission).

Summative Interim Stages

Interim stages can be summative as well as formative. By including a summative element, greater engagement can be elicited. There are two main ways of designing the summative grading:

Firstly, specific marks are awarded for the quality of work completed – the better the quality of the work completed, the greater the marks awarded. This should certainly encourage students to participate and put in effort to achieve higher marks. However, the important element of multi-stage assessments is the formative feedback provided. The danger associated with awarding marks is that students will focus on that and may ignore the valuable feedback that will help with the completion of subsequent stages. Further, by awarding marks at an interim stage, there is less opportunity to reward the progression of learning that we are trying to encourage.

To address these issues, an alternative way of incorporating a summative element to multi-stage assessments is to reward participation solely. I use a grading criterion to encourage the completion of interim stages of the assessment. See below:

Assessment Criteria

Source correct financial data from credible sources

Knowledge and understanding of economic and financial theory

Analysis of financial data using relevant economic and financial theory

Presentation

In this case, the first criterion is related to the sourcing of data for the final summative assessment. I require students to source and submit the data they plan to use in assessment tasks periodically throughout the course. Tutors provide formative feedback about the usefulness of the data. The more deadlines met, the higher the potential grade for that criterion. Therefore, I reward students for completion of interim stages of multi-stage assessment. Here is an example of the interim stages from an assignment brief from 2018/19:

You must complete several interim tasks which involve important formative learning:

  1. Submission of a single excel file containing data for chosen question in section A to the NOW Dropbox by midnight on 30/1/19. This should include a reference to the source of the data.
  2. Submission of a single excel file containing data for chosen question in section B to the NOW Dropbox by midnight on 27/2/19. This should include a reference to the source of the data.
  3. Submission of a single excel file containing data for chosen question in section C to the NOW Dropbox by midnight on 27/3/19. This should include a reference to the source of the data.

Conclusion

I use a variety of multistage assessments to encourage students to engage continually with module content. Importantly, the use of multiple cycles of assessment and feedback can facilitate deeper learning and higher attainment levels. For me, the key is that the assessment is completed and feedback provided in a ‘space’ where no marks are at stake. Students use the interim stages to check knowledge and understanding with the ultimate aim of preparing a higher quality final assessment and demonstrate higher attainment. Aligning the different stages properly with appropriate incentives should encourage high levels of participation and effective outcomes.

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