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Durham University

School of Education

Research Projects

Publication details

Reimann, N. (2011). To risk or not to risk it: student (non-)engagement with seen examination questions. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 36(3): 263-279.

Author(s) from Durham


This case study explores students’ perceptions of seen examination questions about topics not covered by the formal curriculum of a final‐year economics module and of the associated group support sessions. Eight semi‐structured interviews with a total of 13 students were analysed. Contrary to expectations, learners taking a strategic approach to the module were not attracted by the seen questions. The uncertainty of an unfamiliar assessment format and the prospect of undertaking independent research and group work were perceived as involving more risks than the familiar unseen examination. Take‐up for the seen examination questions was low, and the students who did not answer a seen question tended to make workload considerations as well as concerns about group work for assessment purposes responsible for their decision. Despite not participating in the group support sessions, a few students researched the seen question in conjunction with trusted fellow students or on their own. The students who answered a seen question enjoyed the autonomy which the seen exam questions provided, while other students were critical of the way in which their autonomy might be externally controlled. The study provides insight into the impact of assessment on risk taking and students’ perception of risk associated with this type of assessment.

School of Education