With enormous thanks to Anita Campbell for taking these notes.

Blogging from The Tenth Southern Hemisphere Conference on the Teaching and Learning of Undergraduate Mathematics and Statistics

Prof Cristina Varsavksy from Monash University.

Placing undergraduate mathematics assessment on the national Higher Education agenda

Deborah King and Cristina Varsavsky (Cristina presented)


  • Changing higher education landscape
  • Development of threshold learning outcomes (TLOs) in Science and Mathematics

How do we demonstrate that graduates have the outcomes we desire? That is the reason for assessment.

There was not much in literature (or last Delta conference) on assessment. This motivated their work.

Assessment in undergraduate mathematics

  • High failure rates
  • Students focus on answers, not on the logic followed to obtain the answers
  • Shopping for marks is common (viewing scripts for marks rather than learning)


  • Assessment practices have not changed for decades.
  • 70% is closed book exams
  • Little variety in other 30%
  • Ticks, crosses, normalising marks is common.

Why are we not using criteria? (Like in humanities, etc.)

It’s too hard:

  • Workload for lecturers
  • Even more students will fail
  • Fear of scrutiny

Start a national conversation around assessment to solve the problem of applying assessment criteria. Conversations covered much more. 20 – 30 participants in workshops, held around Australia.

Challenges and Insights

  • Unaware of standards agenda – for ‘central’ staff to deal with
  • Not used to talking about assessment in departments
  • Individual activity, no communication between tutors, lecturers, coordinators
  • The same piece of work received very different marks by maths educators.
  • It’s difficult to articulate how to allocate marks.
  • Communication of expectations is mostly verbal, through role modelling or model solutions
  • Opposite practices regarding strictness / leniency as term progresses.
  • Tutors left to interpret how to allocate part marks.
  • Unusual to have marking meetings with tutors.

Use of rubrics

Trialing different versions in workshops in different cities.

Looked in literature, couldn’t find much regarding higher education. Much in high schools but they were too broad to adapt for higher education.

Clear learning outcomes need to be established before developing assessment tasks and rubrics.

Workload: an initial investment but bears fruit down the track.

Generic assessment criteria don’t work. Taylor criteria around specific task.

Better effort from students if they are clear on assessment criteria.

Resource: Maths Assess book, contains basic principles of assessment and exemplars of typical assessment tasks.


2.5 year project.

Can download book from website.

Ask ‘what are you giving marks for?’ his is the first step. Students tend to get or loose marks for the same thing several times in an assessment.

Are students interested in reading assessment criteria? Some not. Less arguing for marks because they know how they are being assessed.

Moodle can pop up a rubric as work is submitted.


How clear is this post?