A Qualitative Study of Students’ Experience of Assessments in Higher Education

Presenters: Siobhan Lynam and Moira Cachia

Parallel Session 1, 11.20-11.50am

Assessments in Higher Education (HE) have several functions. Their role in motivating student learning is undoubtedly their most important role. Despite this, very little research has been carried out to assess the student experience of assessments (Hernandez, 2012). An understanding of students’ perceptions and experience of assessments allows for better design of assessments by teaching staff (Fletcher et al., 2012). Hence this research was aimed at gaining a better understanding of university students’ experience of assessments in HE. This study adopts a qualitative design using a semi-structured focus group methodology. Three focus groups were conducted, with a total of 23 participants aged between 18 and 46 years; total mean age of 23.7 years (for 3 female participants age was unknown), 24.3 years for females and 21.5 years for males. Participants were Level 5 and 6 Psychology undergraduate students at the University of West London. The data was analysed using Thematic Analysis (TA), as outlined by Braun and Clarke (2013). This presentation reports preliminary results from the analysis of the first focus group (which involved 6 participants, five female and one male). The analysis shows that students’ experience of assessments and the resultant learning were influenced by both student and teaching factors. Student factors include the themes Academic Maturity and Emotion, while Teaching factors include the themes Timing, Predictability and Support. All of these themes affected student learning and were substantial to the student experience of assessments. Implications from this study conclude that academic staff needs to be aware that the timing of assessments, level of predictability and balance of support all affect student learning. Strategies to promote academic maturity and reduce stress and fear in students could foster a more constructive approach to learning.


  • Braun, V. & Clarke, V. (2013) Successful Qualitative Research. London: SAGE
  • Fletcher, R., Meyer, L., Anderson, h., Johnston, P. & Rees, m. (2011). Faculty and Students Conceptions of Assessment in Higher Education. Higher Education, 64, 119-133.
  • Hernández, R. (2012). Does continuous assessment in higher education support student learning? Higher Education, 64, 489-502.


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