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Assessment Reflection with Barbara Henderson

A long time ago…

Back in autumn 2019 – which feels like a galaxy far, far away – OCA first piloted online submissions for the Creative Writing degree. 

It made sense: writers are used to submitting work electronically, for competitions and to agents or publishers. Very few organisations expect hard copies of writing work these days.

That pilot was successful – though who would have thought that, thanks to the Covid19 situation, online only submissions would become a requirement?

Fast forward a year (what a year) and online assessment has become second nature to writing students. Of course, there are still some anxieties about which work to put in which folder, or feeling certain that the work has been received. But in general, the process has been painless.

How we do assessment

It may help students to understand the process, so that it is open and transparent. The assignments have already received formative feedback – in other words, feedback that’s not part of assessment, but helps the writer to redraft and improve their work. So the portfolio put forward for assessment contains work that’s been revised. I think this opportunity to have a whole assignment thoroughly reviewed before you put it in for assessment is one of the fairest I’ve ever seen.

In a similar process to all UK universities, the work is first assessed by the student’s tutor. After that, assessors with a similar specialism (such as poetry, scriptwriting, writing for children, etc) are brought in to moderate a sample of the work at Levels 1 and 2, and all work at Level 3. Moderators and first assessors hold a discussion about each student and come to an agreement about the final mark.

The programme leader also checks through the reports to make sure they contain useful, constructive feedback in line with the marking criteria.

Before the marks are agreed at an exam board, a selection of portfolios is viewed by an external examiner, who has the opportunity to question the marking and comment on the feedback. This is also where we check that tutors are doing their job well, as the formative reports are looked at as part of the portfolios. 

Once the exam board has seen and discussed the process and the marks, then the results are released to students.

Autumn 2020 reflections

This autumn’s assessment turned up some very pleasing work indeed, and we hope the exam board will agree a clutch of solid ‘firsts’ – including two outstanding submissions at Level 2 and 3.

I got a sense that the standard of creative writing, overall, is improving. 

Not all students, however, have mastered the art of writing reflectively about their own work or analysing the work of other writers. It’s often the critical writing that lets a portfolio down. But all creative writing degrees contain this element because it’s essential to understand techniques and aspects of the craft. Just as you wouldn’t expect to be a good musician without listening closely to and understanding music, so you can’t become a good writer without learning from others and making informed creative decisions.

The new Critical Writing Guide is now available on OCA Learn, and you may also find useful, tutor Vicky MacKenzie’s blog posts.



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Posted by author: Barbara Henderson
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