Practice Makes Perfect: : Using authentic assessment techniques in Extra and Co-curricular course (ECCAs) delivery to reflect the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority’s (SRA) change towards legal vocational stage delivery
Authentic assessments are closely aligned with activities that take place in real work settings, as distinct from the often artificial constructs of university courses. As the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority (SRA) has recognised that delivery of the vocational stage of training should utilise authentic assessment techniques to improve students’ ‘Day One’ outcomes, the authors assert that authentic assessments, in accredited and university-run extra and co-curricular activities (ECCAs), should be used to improve student performance. As the authors have found, delivering authentic assessment methods in ECCAs, using a combination of formative and summative techniques used throughout the assessment processes, improves student performance. The traditional law degree method of delivery, which provides for disseminated information followed by the traditional ‘one-shot’ paper-based assessment – normally in the format of coursework and exams – is not the optimum way to train the legal practitioners of tomorrow. The authors assert that the authentic assessment model, which ‘flips’ the method of delivery from content-then-assessment to assessment-then-content is a more accurate reflection of legal practical life. The improvement in performance is seen over two separate stages: (a) the pre-assessment stage; and (b) the mid-assessment stage. At stage (a), the student receives the assessment paper at the beginning of the delivery process and is then encouraged to research the law to find support for their answer, rather than encouraging the use of law to construct an answer. This is the most effective method of assessing research skills, since it allows students to reach ‘outwards’ to all of the available legal material, and then rewards innovation when an answer is constructed. Conversely, under the traditional dissemination-then-assessment method, students take a more ‘inward’ approach to research, and rely on filtration and regurgitation of provided legal material to construct an answer. At stage (b), the student receives continuous formative assessment, rather than the largely summative process in the traditional ‘one-shot’ approach to paper based assessments. This allows students the opportunity to improve performance mid assessment, and allows assessors an opportunity to test more than just legal knowledge skills – the ability to innovate under pressure, for one example. When used conjunctively, stages (a) and (b) of the authentic assessment method in ECCA delivery, optimises student performance levels and provides a more accurate representation of the standards and methods of legal practice, as recognised and required by the SRA.