Bond University
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Article Title

Improving the Quality of Learning in Law Schools by Improving Student Assessment

Abstract

Internationally and nationally there is an exciting wave of renewed interest in improving the quality of higher education. In the context of legal education, law schools across Australia are engaged (or soon will be given the new push towards academic “accountability”), in the sometimes painful process of examining and evaluating the effectiveness of their teaching. Whilst it is essential when considering how to encourage students to adopt qualitative learning approaches to consider the effect of all elements in the learning “eco-system” on the student, it is my thesis that student assessment plays not only an important, but a critical role in influencing their approaches to learning tasks. I am encouraged by the similar sentiments expressed by such pre-eminent writers as Paul Ramsden, William Twining and Professor Kahn-Freund. Indeed, it is a tragic indictment on the legal education system generally that it is now a quarter of a century since Professor Kahn-Freund pleaded that “... difficulties or none, a start must be made and the first thing to be reformed is the examination system. This reform is the most urgent job confronting the present generation of law teachers”. In 1987, in Australia, the Pearce Committee6 reported the prevailing method of assessment used by Australian law schools as the problem-type examination at the end of the semester: In all law schools except Macquarie and UNSW, a substantial majority of the subjects taught are assessed as to 50% or more of the possible marks by means of formal end of year or semester examinations. In my own law school in 1992,80 per cent of the subjects offered will have examinations worth 80 per cent or more of the total possible marks available. If the examination system was in need of “urgent reform” twenty-five years ago, this generation of legal educators risks losing complete credibility if it does not engage in a wholescale review of its assessment procedures.

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