Thursday, November 15, 2007

Exams 2007-2: Essay Questions

The exams have not worked as well as I would have liked. The change I made this semester to release the essay questions prior to the exam and to ban cheat sheets did not fix the problem.

The problem from past exams where I disclosed the general topic area of the essay and allowed cheat sheets was that students told me everything they knew about the topic but did not answer the question asked. I had put this down to students trying to prepare an essay answer on their cheat sheets and then copying out in the exam no matter what the question was. This year's performance suggests that I had drawn the wrong conclusion.

This year, again, students wrote everything they knew about the topic without answering the question. The problem appears to be that students do not know how to answer questions.

To address this in future semesters I intend to devote class time in lectures and in tutorials on how to answer essay questions in assignments and in exams.

Monday, November 5, 2007

My Photo

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Marking Template

The marking template I used this semester has been a disaster. There are four main problems
  • The template does not provide adequate feedback to students
  • It is difficult to apply
  • The categories are strongly correlated with each other so it does not add great value to have them broken into such fine choices
  • There is no degree of fail included so just below an acceptable standard and totally abysmal are graded the same
This scale was developed at Oxford Brookes University for use in business degrees.

I will be reverting to my old template in future (with some modifications) .


The essays in both units have been disappointing. There are major weaknesses in the technical writing skills for most students.

To start, most students do not know what introductions and conclusions are. So-called introductions start with a background paragraph but no statement of the central theme of the essay or the major points to be raised. Most conclusions are raising new points not discussed in the body of the essay. Many of the essays read like a mystery novel and we do not find out that it was Colonel Mustard in the library with the wrench until the last paragraph.

Many students do not understand the differences between a report and an essay. They do not get that an essay is an argument proposed by the author with the intention of convincing the reader that the argument is correct. It is not a balanced presentation of the facts from which the reader can draw their own conclusions.

A large number of students spent the majority of the essay presenting the background information without answering the question. Telling the reader everything they know about fair value measurement and agency theory without answering the question. They seen to think that the purpose of an essay is to summarise what they have read rather than to answer the question. They do not get that the purpose of research is to give them the knowledge to answer the question. They seem to think that they have to write all of their research into the essay.

Many students seem to be unable to plan an essay. The essay wanders without any central direction. They do not seem to get that they have to review every paragraph and clearly identify how that paragraph supports the central theme of the essay.

The way that I am going to address these items is to run a full week on essay writing skills in future. To do this I will have to drop a technical topic and government accounting seems to be the best one to drop. I will talk to Mark about bringing government accounting into Professional Accounting. This will free the lecture in week 7.

In this lecture on essay writing I will address the issues identified here. I will include information on concept mapping to help students plan their essays.

Next year I will reevaluate the essay performance to see if the week devoted to it improves the performance.