Best practice across the wider HE Sector in relation to student support in preparing for examinations, EMAs, revision, resits and resubmissions.

Jewitt, Katharine (2017). Best practice across the wider HE Sector in relation to student support in preparing for examinations, EMAs, revision, resits and resubmissions. The Open University.


This project was undertaken as part of a review of student support for examinations, end of module assessments (EMAs), revision, resits and resubmissions, as part of activity within the Assessment Programme, Learning and Teaching Innovation Portfolio.

Through existing contacts of the report author and through a wider network accessed via forums and social networking, a mix of mini interviews via Skype, telephone and email were undertaken, together with desk research and the use of key pieces of literature from the wider Higher Education (HE) sector to identify best practice across UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). The focus was on undergraduates though the research has found that the best practice is applied to both undergraduate and postgraduate and a distinction is not made for services discussed in this report.

There are 107 universities in England (HEFCE, 2017), 15 in Scotland (Universities Scotland, 2017), 9 universities in Wales (Universities Wales, 2017) and 2 in Northern Ireland (NI Direct, 2017). Out of the total 133 universities in the United Kingdom, this report has consulted with 45% (a total of 48) of the universities in the UK, plus an additional five institutions outside of the UK. A list of all institutions consulted in the production of this report can be found in Appendix A.

This project found there were many aspects of support for students in relation to preparing for examinations, EMAs, revision, resits and resubmissions, taking place in other HEIs, which merit consideration for implementation at The Open University:

Choice of Assessment Format: HEIs provide greater diversity in the mechanisms and forms of examination. They enable students to present in a range of formats for their skills and knowledge to be assessed.

Examination Familiarisation: There are a number of good examples of HEIs helping students become familiar with the examination process, including the stages before, during and after an examination. All provide website pages and many also provide video tutorials. HEIs provide workshops, courses, drop-in sessions and 1-to-1 consultations.

Video Tutorials: Students are supported in the eTMA, EMA and iCMA submission process through video demonstration on how to submit an assignment, how to carry out a library search etc. The videos show each step by step process, following the screens and mouse clicks.

24/7 Support: Consider the idea of having an 'out of hours' service since so many of our students do seem to work at night. The implementation of a 24/7 support service could be achieved through collaboration with another Open University or HEI in a different time zone.

Clearer Assessment Criteria: The Open University operates differently to other HEIs, in that everything the student needs is often all contained within the study materials provided and there is no requirement to consult wider resources for the purpose of the assignment. This is often a big change for students not used to being given everything. It is not always clear for students. Associate Lecturers are often perceived as being lazy and difficult by students who think they are not willing to read wider beyond the course material. It would be helpful to clearly outline to the student, the Associate Lecturer’s remit and how they are instructed to mark assessments within the introductory study guide and how the assessment criteria works and is linked to learning outcomes (in addition to providing the student version of the marking rubrics).

Incorporate Resources from Student home and the Library: Make better use to incorporate and embed study skills resources and library resources. There is a wealth of information available on Student home and the library which needs to be made clear to the student. As an example, the OU library have produced the award winning “Being Digital” (The Open University, 2017a) which is not widely incorporated into courses. The Help Centre provides a wide range of academic study skills which are useful resources.

Academic Skills and Examination Workshops: HEIs offer a regular programme (often weekly) of workshops for skills development and support for examination, for example: making the most of feedback, note-taking, avoiding plagiarism, successful group-working, reading and researching.

Supporting Associate Lecturers: In addition, to providing a range of support and development opportunities for students, HEIs have a regular programme of staff development for their Staff. Many of the approaches for students are adopted for staff. There are a regular choice of monthly and sometimes weekly courses and workshops, across HEIs, for staff to attend for continuous professional development, improving practice and gaining new skills.

E-Portfolios and Continuous Professional Development Plans: The use of e-portfolios is widely used and the introduction of portfolios for all students at The Open University should be explored. This would support the development of employability skills and a portfolio of evidence for students to use at interviews. Alongside portfolios, students should also be supported in a continuous professional development plan that evolves throughout their OU journey.

Revision Distribution: Students should have their revision fairly distributed throughout the course calendar, rather than clustering at the end. Many HEIs start revision from week 1 through the use of interactive quizzes. Time allocated for revision should be used to support students through resources, videos, topic summaries, revision advice, mind mapping and so on, rather than leaving as blank weeks in the study calendar.

Writing Skills Support: HEIs provide a significant and wide range of support, including writers in residence, writing centres, drop-in sessions online. The Open University could explore opportunities for students to develop their writing skills through workshops and courses. Utilising ALs who are authors and teaching on the creative writing suite of courses as an option to recruit writers in residence.

Social Networking: Social networking and blogging is widely used to extend the reach of information and support for study and examination. Many HEIs utilise the Wordpress platform to set up blogs and websites outside of the institutional website, but with a similar name / domain to provide information quickly to students.

Examination and EMA Feedback: Examination and EMA feedback should be issued and in time for students to act on it for their next course. One reason why students often find examinations difficult, is because they do not receive feedback on the examination elements.

Sample papers and EMA Non-Model Answers: All the HEIs consulted in this study provide free exam papers for students. Any paper from any course can be accessed by students at any time. In addition to exam papers, students submitting an EMA should be supported by being provided with non-model answers, which are far more beneficial to students than a model answer.

Formative assessment and feedback: More opportunities for formative assessment and feedback should be explored which would facilitate learning without students having to be concerned about marks and the opportunity for collaborative working with their peers.

Student Mentoring: All the HEIs consulted provided a student to student mentoring service. All student mentors are fully trained. There were also examples of other initiatives, such as students being paired with employers in the local area and the HEIs themselves, recruiting students into part time job roles.

Self-reflection and peer learning: There should be opportunities embedded into all courses for peer-to-peer learning and self-reflection exercises.

Holistic Support: Provide holistic support for students, throughout their Open University learning journey, including health, wellness, learning and employability, skills and knowledge support. Health is the very foundation of life.

Online Counselling: All the HEIs provided a counselling service for students, including individual counselling, workshops, group counselling, self-help leaflets and online courses, as well as, real time online counselling through web chat, Skype or video conferencing.

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