University students’ perceptions of summative assessment: the role of context

Paola Iannone, Adrian Simpson

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15 Citations (Scopus)
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We report on a mixed-method study that compared students’ perceptions of summative assessment across two distinct disciplines – education and mathematics, at two research-intensive institutions in the UK. The disciplines chosen represent opposing positions in Biglan’s classification of academic disciplines, as well as having very different assessment practices. Results suggest that these education students prefer to be assessed by methods they perceive to discriminate on the basis of academic abilities. Moreover, they perceive the traditional closed-book examination as inadequate to assess the capabilities which are key to being successful in their subject, which fits some but not all of the general findings in the literature. However, comparing these results with those of an identical study with mathematics students, we find that the perceptions of summative assessment are very different. We account for that difference by suggesting that students’ epistemic beliefs play a role in shaping these perceptions and conclude that, in designing summative assessment in higher education, generalised and centralised forces for change need to be tempered by contextual and disciplinary factors.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)785-801
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Further and Higher Education
Issue number6
Early online date17 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Summative assessment
  • epistemic beliefs
  • academic disciplines
  • education
  • mathematics

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