Are students being over-assessed? An empirical analysis of the UK higher education (HE) sector.

This project will carry out an empirical investigation as to how assessment practice/regulations vary across UK HE institutions and over time, and to what extent have such variations explained the variations in student learning experiences /outcomes across institutions. Findings will provide evidence-based guidance to future assessment regulation/policy at Reading.

Department: Economics

Supervised by: Minyan Zhu

The Placement Project

There has been a recurrent debate in the recent years regarding whether students have been over- assessed in the HE sector (not just UK but also worldwide, see e.g O’Neill, 2019) and its potential impact on student learning outcomes (George, 2009) and student engagement (Price et al., 2011). The implications of possible over-assessment are particularly important considering that student surveys systematically reveal that assessment is one of the aspects with least student satisfaction not just within our school, but also across other schools and universities. NSS results in 2020 indicate that assessment and feedback scores on average are systematically lower than other aspects in the sector. Despite the practical importance, empirical evidence in the UK HE sector to examine the issue is surprisingly limited (with the exception of Galvez-Bravo, 2016). This project aims to do the following: 1.To review literature and understand the link between assessment (or over-assessment) and student learning pedagogically. 2.To construct a panel dataset of relevant data in the UK HE sector, including but not limited to: number and component of assessment (e.g. 1 exam only, 2 exams, exam(s)+ 1 coursework, exam (s)+2 coursework etc.), form of assessment (e.g. formative +summative, formative only or summative only), NSS scores, University/subject ranking, graduate outcome survey responses. Descriptive data analysis will be provided at this stage. 3.To carry out a thorough empirical investigation to ascertain the extent to which the variations of assessment practice/regulations at the institution level over time have explained the variations in student learning experience/outcome and institution ranking.


The initial task for the student will be to familiarise themselves with the literature; this means to understand both the theoretical contributions of relevance, and any empirical work that has been carried out. This stage will inform the subsequent task: hypothesis formulation, and data collection and analysis. Throughout, the essential task of presenting findings will be vitally important.

Skills, knowledge and experience required

The student will need knowledge of research methodology, data collection, data management and some basic statistics for the empirical aspect of the project. The student will need to be familiar with carrying out literature searches and summarising the findings of other research studies. Familiarity withs statistical software such as Stata is desirable but not essential.

Skills which will be developed during the placement

The student will be able to •develop their research skills using a variety of sources including the library and online databases via their literature search; •develop their data handling skills, plus their data analysis skills via the empirical work in the project; •develop written communication and presentational skills via weekly meetings to present findings.

Place of Work

A desk will be provided within the department, though place of work is flexible. Remote work may be applicable given the COVID-19 situation.

Hours of Work

Standard (though we are flexible)

Approximate Start and End Dates (not fixed)

Monday 05 July 2021 - Friday 13 August 2021

How to Apply

The post will be advertised centrally on the UROP website between 22nd February and 9th April 2021. Students should submit their CV and Cover Letter directly to the Project Supervisor (click on supervisor name at the top of the page for email). Successful candidates will be invited for an interview.

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