Theoretical Underpinning and Practical Issues in Tests and Examinations EDUC5951

  • Academic Session: 2019-20
  • School: School of Education
  • Credits: 20
  • Level: Level 5 (SCQF level 11)
  • Typically Offered: Semester 2
  • Available to Visiting Students: No
  • Available to Erasmus Students: No
  • Taught Wholly by Distance Learning: Yes

Short Description

This is an optional course within the MSc in Assessment in Education. Participants develop their understanding of the principal theoretical approaches to test and examination design, of research into factors affecting the validity of tests and examinations and of means of optimising validity. In the light of research, policy and practice in testing, participants examine implications for social justice of different approaches; they draw on their own experience and apply their learning to their own context. As members of a collaborative learning community, participants are supported by the formative use of self-, peer- and tutor- assessment; a final assignment assesses course attainment. 


This course is taught entirely through distance learning. The course runs through Semester 2. It is taught over 12 weeks followed by 3 weeks assignment preparation. There are 4 milestone activities during the 12 week teaching period. Students are expected to be online at least once every week in this course, to work online and with the online resources for some 90 notional learning hours, to undertake guided independent and groupwork activity for some 68 notional learning hours and to deploy some 42 notional learning hours to assignment preparation with peer and tutor support.

Requirements of Entry

Excluded Courses





Participants prepare a portfolio of evidence of their critical analysis of the nature and fitness for purpose of standardised tests or examinations used in their professional context. This includes critical evaluation of the benefits and disadvantages of these standardised tests or examinations for learning, teaching and assessment practice in school or other educational setting, critical evaluation of their impact on aspects of social justice and proposals for improvement of practice. The assignment is equivalent to 4000-4500 words.

Course Aims

1. To enable participants to evaluate critically the key factors affecting the validity, reliability, standardisation and dependability of tests and examinations.

2. To enable participants to develop the critical knowledge and understanding required to recognise and evaluate the key characteristics of standardised tests and examinations intended to achieve different purposes.

3. To enable participants to develop the critical knowledge and understanding, skills and attributes required to evaluate the quality of tests or examinations with which they are familiar, in terms of their fitness for purpose(s) and their positive or negative "washback" effects on practice in learning, teaching and assessment in a school or other educational setting.

Intended Learning Outcomes of Course

By the end of this course, participants, drawing on their reading of theory and research and on critical analysis of their own experience, will be able to:

1. Describe and analyse critically the key characteristics, including the theoretical bases for standard setting, of standardised tests and examinations designed for different purposes;

2. Reflect critically upon the range of factors affecting validity and reliability in standardised tests and examinations, and upon strategies for optimising these;

3. Analyse critically, drawing on theoretical and research knowledge, the educational impacts of standardised tests and examinations taking account of their fitness for purpose;

4. Reflect critically on concepts of fairness and their application in standardised tests and examinations;

5. Analyse critically the quality of external standardised tests or examinations used in their own and in other professional contexts, and their impacts on learning, teaching and assessment and on social justice.

Minimum Requirement for Award of Credits

Students must submit at least 75% by weight of the components (including examinations) of the course's summative assessment.