Are your college tutors assessing you according to real-world criteria?

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of

Monday March 29, 2010

As anyone working in education will know, everything has become very paperwork-orientated and all students' work has to meet specific assessment criteria in order to achieve a Pass, Merit or Distinction grade. The theory is that the student should know exactly what they have to do to achieve the grade they want.

This is in total contrast to the real world of work, where clients will often give the most meagre definition of what they actually want, and the composer or engineer has to 'interpret' these requirements successfully. And if they get it wrong, then there's trouble in store. This is simply the way things work in creative industries. You learn by experience what is the right thing to do at the right time.

Assessment criteria in education often don't work anyway. A 'clever' student can manage to fulfill all the criteria while still producing a piece of work that has little relation to a professional product.

Still, it used to be the case that colleges could set their own assessment criteria, so at least they could be made to work as well as they possibly could. But now for an actual example of assessment criteria used in a Music Technology qualification. Sometimes such criteria are quite good, sometimes they are totally inappropriate. And sometimes the set criteria are not really criteria at all. Here's an example...

In order to achieve a Pass, you must:

In order to achieve a Merit, you must meet the requirements for a Pass, and in so doing also:

In order to achieve a Distinction, you must meet the requirements for a Merit, and in doing so also:

Notice that the only difference between Pass, Merit and Distinction is in the words 'identify', 'demonstrate' and 'exemplify'. Now how exactly is the assessor going to judge whether the level of quality of 'exemplify' has been reached?

Subjectively of course! These are not assessment criteria, they amount to nothing more than 'must please the assessor'.

But then that's gone full circle, hasn't it? It is now once again typical of the real world.


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