Alternative Grading and Assessment to Support Learning Continuity

June 25, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of human life, including studies and examinations at every level. On 23rd March 2020, in protecting the safety of students worldwide who had registered for the May/June 2020 series of the Cambridge A-Level Examinations, Cambridge Assessment International Education (CAIE) announced that they would put these as well as other Cambridge exams on hold.

“I decided to sit for the mock exams as part of the assessment for my grades, this was because I was afraid that I might have forgotten what I learnt should I defer it to the year-end,” says Clifford Tan Hong Yu, CAIE A-Level student at INTI.

As one of the most established higher education institutions to offer the A-Levels programme in Malaysia, INTI International College Penang swiftly moved its mock examinations online, using its existing full suite Learning Management System (LMS) – Blackboard to ease the continuity of study while students remained safely at home. This was part of the measures to ensure students could still complete their studies, as well as had a good body of work for the alternative grading and calibration that CAIE had opted to use during these extenuating circumstances.

The mock exams, along with the body of work completed by the students throughout their programme would be reviewed and graded to become the actual CAIE results for the May/June series. Using these results, students could still apply to universities they aspired to attend as they carry the same value as any other series. This meant students would not be left in the lurch during the pandemic but were able to carry on with their study plans and continue into tertiary education.

INTI was also among very few exam centres which granted a full 10% refund on the A-Level standard entry fees for the May/June 2020 series.

“The Cambridge A-Level mock exams were not modified to become an alternative exam, even though it was conducted online, and of course, the grading and ranking of students’ academic performance for CAIE’s calibration did not solely depend on this mock exam results, as we had to use a rubric as well,” explained Mr Mok Kam Fatt, Senior Lecturer of the Cambridge A-Levels programme at INTI.

The rubrics that Mok referred to were based on lecturers’ professional judgement and all the evidence they had gathered, over the course of guiding and teaching their students for 18 months. “These include our observation of a student’s mastery of the syllabus from past assessments, assignments, online quizzes and his/her contribution to class activities; and the quality of work students have shown throughout their A-Level journey,” said Mok, who lectures Further Mathematics and is also the sole lecturer to grade and rank the students taking this subject.

By sitting for INTI’s mock examinations virtually for the CAIE calibration, students are still able to carry on with their study plans and continue to tertiary education.

When asked about how different the experience and preparations for the online mock exams were, Ms Teoh Siew Chin, INTI’s senior Physics Lecturer said, “There was no significant difference for the students and myself. Perhaps the only difference was the mental preparedness one has towards the change expected within such short notice. In terms of preparation, the questions were still set with reference to Bloom’s taxonomy. The only difference was that, instead of paper-based exams in an examination hall, the assessment was done online.”

Commenting on the experience of using CAIE’s Grade Submission System in submitting predicted grades and rank orders, Teoh described that it was a completely new experience, as there was more than one factor to consider when awarding predicted grades and rankings. “We were given a guideline on what to consider. According to CAIE, a strong indicator for predicting grades and rank orders would be a student’s Advanced Subsidiary (AS) Level results.”

The AS Level is an independent qualification encompassing the first year of an A-Level qualification’s content which a student sits for before taking the A2 Level, the second part of the A-Level examination. The AS and A2 marks will then be combined for a full A-Level award.

Teoh attributed the smooth process of the online mock exams to the implementation of LMS eight years ago at INTI. She said: “With a whole series of on-going online training courses offered by the Corporate Teaching & Learning (T&L) team as well as in-house T&L support at each campus, teaching staff were well equipped with the relevant skills to support A-Levels students throughout the Movement Control Order (MCO).”

Students who sat for the virtual mock exams also shared their thoughts, as this was an unprecedented experience for them throughout their learning journey.

“I decided to sit for the mock exams as part of the assessment for my grades, as I didn’t want to wait for the exams in October/November. This was because I was afraid that I might have forgotten what I learnt should I defer it to the year-end,” said Clifford Tan Hong Yu. He was among the A2 Level candidates at INTI who decided to go ahead with May/June sitting amidst MCO.

Clifford is confident of getting fair results as he had been practising past year questions during the MCO. “However, I will wait for the entire calibrated results before applying to a university. If I am not happy with the results, I will resit the examinations in October since we only have to pay 50% of the exam fees,” he added.

The results for the CAIE A-Level May/June 2020 examinations series is expected to be announced on 11th and 12th August 2020.

Allynna Tan Sue Mae, also an A2 Level student, said she decided to proceed with the mock exams as she was already prepared to sit for the actual A-Level papers in May/June this year.

“The mock exams were conducted in such an organised way, where the candidates logged into their Blackboard accounts and accessed a particular folder at a given time when the papers would be available. We downloaded the paper and worked on it. Once the time was up, we had an additional 30 minutes to scan our answer scripts and upload them onto Blackboard,” she explained.

“We were not allowed to have any books beside us,” said Ian Lim Jan Sern, who sat for his A2 Level exams virtually, when asked if these were open book exams.

Ian plans to try for a scholarship if his results are satisfactory. He said, “Having good results means that the odds of receiving a scholarship would be much higher.”

Through the efforts of the lecturers of different subjects to grade and rank the students for the CAIE calibration, students continue to hope for fair and reliable outcomes, which will aid them in continuing their studies without delay.