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Synoptic Assessment

A synoptic assessment combines two or more modules of study into a one assessment. 

This approach can help reduce the side effects of feeling that students are working to a tightly “modularised” course where both students and staff might feel there is too much “silo” thinking (Gibbs, 2006). Offering more opportunities for synoptic assessment can help students to make real links and connections between modules, recognise the relevance of their module content,  improve their synthesis and application skills (Southall and Wason, 2016), increase their engagement (Gorra et al, 2008) and might also provide teachers with a more holistic, conceptual approach to delivery.  The importance of the process of learning as distinct from the outcome of learning is given more attention within this model. It also appears to encourage deep learning through its enhanced focus on vertical and horizontal integration of the topics being studied

This method can combine assessments between modules and across subjects. It expects students to transfer knowledge and skills and helps them see how issues and themes connect. The QAA Code of Practice specifically defines it as:

‘Assessment through a task that requires students to draw on different elements of their learning and show their accumulated knowledge and breadth and depth of understanding, as well as the ability to integrate and apply their learning’ (QAA, 2016)

It can carefully be used to assess two (or more) modules at one level (either across one or two semesters). Synoptic assessment suits project work, which may take place over the academic year but care needs to be taken to make sure the project terms and aims can encompass the breadth of the learning outcomes that need to be assessed.

Synoptic assessment requires careful planning and coordination across module teams.

Synoptic assessment is much much more difficult when it is not built in as part of the course design phase and when colleagues across module teams don’t communicate well enough with each other. Retake arrangements must be specified at the design stage and carefully mapped against learning outcomes


Resources

Gibbs, G. (2006) Why assessment is changing. In C. Bryan and K. Clegg (Eds.) Innovative Assessment in Higher Education. London and New York: Routledge.

Gorra, A., Sheridan-Ross, J. and Kyaw, P. (2008) Synoptic learning and assessment: case studies and experiences. Ninth Annual Conference of the Subject Centre for Information and Computer Sciences. 26-28 August 2008, Liverpool Hope University.

Morris, E. (2016) A synthesis of synoptic assessment. Trent Institute for Learning and Teaching (TILT) Symposium: Exploring synoptic assessment (13 December 2016, Nottingham Trent University) 

Patrick, H. (2005). Synoptic assessment: Report for QCA. Cambridge: University of Cambridge.

QAA (2016) Glossary. Available from: https://www.qaa.ac.uk/docs/qaas/about-us/qaa-glossary.pdf?sfvrsn=a94bfc81_4

Southall, Jane and Wason, Hilary (2016) Evaluating the use of synoptic assessment to engage and develop lower level Higher Education students within a Further Education setting. Practitioner Research in Higher Education, 10 (1). pp. 192-202.

Page last updated: 28/04/2020

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