Get Real: Using authentic assessment techniques to improve law degree academic performance’
Authentic assessments are closely aligned with activities that take place in real work settings, as distinct from the often artificial constructs of university courses. The undergraduate law degree differs from many other degrees, in that it requires arguments to be constructed, at even the most academic level. While the traditional ‘paper-based’ assessment strategy provides a pragmatic solution to the problem of a general lack of time and resources to grade students en masse, the authors believe that the use of authentic assessment techniques, in accredited and university-run extra and co-curricular activities (ECCAs), are perfectly placed to augment legal education. As long as the ECCAs are delivered with academic law degree learning outcomes taken under consideration, and are rigorously delivered by staff who are trained and experienced to elicit optimum student performance, students will benefit from authentic assessment in other indirectly connected areas of their academic lives. By delivering authentic assessments methods in ECCAs, a combination of formative and summative techniques used throughout the assessment processes improves student performance, which thereby has positive cross-impact onto law degree academic performance. This two-way communicative assessment strategy allows students to benefit from continuous mid-assessment feedback, which serves to best demonstrate the adversarial nature of the legal system and the demands placed on lawyers to provide clear, simple, usable legal advice – a skill best learned in the ECCA authentic assessment environment, rather than in the artificial ‘one-shot’ approach to traditional coursework and paper-based exam assessments, which provides primarily a summative assessment and/or a weak/unusable formative element in future assessments. Further benefits, such as increased confidence in critical reasoning skills, also improves the students’ academic performance. The authors examine data which shows the entry tariff of the entire student cohort, and then the entry tariff of the student control group who participated in ECCAs in the 2014-15 academic year. These datasets demonstrate that the control group were a true reflection of the capabilities of the general student population. By then comparing academic performance of the control group before and after exposure to ECCAs, the authors assert that there is a correlation between exposure to authentic assessment techniques, and improved general academic performance.