The aim of this study was to explore A level students’ preferred assessment approaches, prior to major A level reforms taking effect. Four potential reasons for students’ preferences were investigated: subject, assessment approach taken, perceived difficulty of course content, and perceived pressure of assessment. Questionnaires were sent to 16-19 year old students (via their teachers) in a representative sample of 400 schools and colleges following mainstream A level courses in Mathematics, Economics and French.
Seventy-nine schools/colleges responded (19.8%), returning 663 questionnaires in total. Across all three subjects, patterns of preferences were found to be remarkably similar. Modular assessment was generally favoured over linear assessment, despite modularity being unusual in French. This general preference was due in a large part to a perception that linear assessment is relatively difficult. In turn, it was found that this could be due to the perceived higher pressure of linear exams, rather than to an inability to cope with the course approach on a day-to-day basis. A level course difficulty was mostly perceived to be appropriate. Arguably, to better prepare students for higher education, A level reforms should focus on ensuring that assessment engenders deeper learning whilst discouraging surface learning, elaborate re-sit strategies, and highly targeted revision tactics.