Compassionate Assessment webinar

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced many universities to radically change their assessment practices. Many argue that this presents a golden opportunity to vastly improve assessment practices in the longer term. In this webinar on 17 September 2020, the esteemed Prof Sally Brown and considered ways in which we might take a more compassionate approach to assessment.  

Details of the webinar are available on the Student Mental Wellbeing project website, including a link to a recording of the session. Below, brief written notes on the content are presented. 

- There is little doubt that assessment is a high stress activity. This is due to factors such as the need for synchronicity; time constraints (including marking turnaround times for staff); exam venues; a lack of clarity regarding what assessors are seeking from students; and, too often, an assumption that students can’t be trusted..!

- Exams are often seen as the "gold standard"- not least because as many academics and policy makers were good at them when they were students! They are also seen as the best way to counter plagiarism. 

- Future assessment must be compassionate: "the more you make it about individual context, the better”

- Professional bodies may still expect exams. Academics can try to influence this- but is a long process. Covid has shown some bodies to be more flexible than others.

- Inclusivity needs to be designed in to assessment from the outset- this is not simply a matter of offering students extra time in exams..! Provide choice about format, and when students will be assessed.

Authentic assessment goes beyond just employability, as it needs to be transformative, a means by which students learn through participation

  • Need for students to see the purpose of what they’re doing; makes it more stimulating to undertake (and to mark)
  • There are challenges, too: it takes longer to design these types of assessment than writing an exam question; staff may be unfamiliar with the approach. See Brown (2015) for examples of authentic assessments. 
  • e.g. instead of discussing possible actions that Type 2 diabetics could take (in exam), produce a digital learning pack aimed at this group (plus a commentary)
  • e.g instead of discussing legal responsibilities (in exam), present students with a scenario and draw up a brief for a client

- In conclusion, assessments need to be manageable for staff and students; quality assured; authentic; integral to learning (rather than merely a measurement of it); and plagiarism proof.


Brown, S., 2015. Authentic assessment: using assessment to help students learn. Electronic Journal of Educational Research, Assessment & Evaluation21(2).