Common Assessment Types in UNSW LAW | Law

Common Assessment Types in UNSW LAW

Class Participation

Students are expected to arrive at class having read set materials and prepared to discuss them in class.  A mark is given for the level of contribution each student makes to the learning in the class.

Assessable class participation is designed to:

  • encourage preparation for class;
  • encourage students to learn, think, analyse, reflect and evaluate legal material prior to covering that content in class;
  • assist students to develop the capacity to think clearly and to present oral arguments;
  • develop collaborative and group learning skills.

There are four main types of class participation.

  1. Voluntary contribution: volunteered responses to teacher questions and comments on issues.
    Teacher leads discussion in class. Issues are raised and questions are posed. Students provide solutions to problems posed or discuss issues as they feel comfortable.
  2. Required contribution: responses to teacher questions directed to specific students.
    Teacher leads discussion. Issues are raised and problems posed by the teacher. Teacher directs questions towards specific students for response.
  3. Pre-warned contribution: required contributions from one or more  students assigned for that class.  Prior to class general issues, questions, themes and problems are identified which will be discussed in the next class. During  class a small group of students will be tasked with discussing those issues, themes, problems and questions, essentially leading discussion. Other students are still expected to participate in discussion.
  4. Prepared contribution: responses to pre-assigned questions
    Prior to class specific questions relating to the next class topic will be identified. These specific questions will provide the basis for  class discussion. These can be assigned to individual students, small groups, or the class as a whole to answer for the benefit of the whole class. This method can encapsulate aspects of class participation type 2 and 3 above. All members of the class are still expected to participate in discussion.

Formal oral presentations are not generally part of class participation.  Such presentations include explicit assessment of communication skills, use of presentation aids, etc.  Class participation is more focussed on beginning or contributing to discussion. 

Marking criteria
In general terms, class participation is marked against the following criteria:

  • Evidence of preparation for class
    • Familiarity with set readings and relevant material
  • Frequency of participation
    • Relates to number of contributions across the semester
  • Quality of participation
    • Relevance.
    • Evidence of critical thinking.
    • Demonstration of ethical and professional values.
  • Demonstrated comprehension of the nature of the question
      Ability to identify issues, provide analysis and apply the relevant law or concept.
  • Reflective, responsive and respectful towards others perspective
    • Willingness to consider alternative viewpoints.
    • No domineering.
    • Willingness to admit to lack of understanding or areas of confusion.
  • Clarity of expression/articulation
    • Ability to formulate responses in clear and succinct terms.
    • General oral skills.
    • Presentation of persuasive argument.
  • Initiative in generating discussion where appropriate
    • Willingness to raise pertinent and thoughtful questions.
  • Level of engagement
    • Contribution to group climate.
    • Attitude to learning and the subject.
    • Attentiveness in class.

Formal Presentations

Students may be asked to prepare a talk on a set topic for presentation to the class.  Topics may arise out the class readings; areas not covered in readings, or reports on research being undertaken by the student.  What separates this assessment task from other oral activities is the explicit marking of the method and manner of the presentation in addition to  the matter of the topic.  Typically students would be marked on the appropriateness of the visual aids they used, the style of delivery, keeping to the set time, the persuasiveness of their presentation, their ability to generate discussion, and their ability to deal with questions, in addition to knowledge and understanding of the topic..

Marking Criteria

In general terms, presentations are marked against the following criteria:

Use of visual aids and other props

  • Appropriate to topic.
  • Used creatively
  • Does not distract from speaker
  • Used to highlight points not a mere mirror of what is being said
  • Easy to understand – eg, not a wall of text

Verbal skill/style

  • Clarity – speaking in a way that the audience can follow and understand
  • Pace – speaking in a way that is not too fast to understand or so slow that audience loses interest
  • Fluency – presenter does not interrupt presentation to collect thoughts, arrange notes, etc.
  • Use of appropriate style and language for audience and topic – eg any humour used is not offensive, does not  detract from the persuasiveness of the presentation; language is not overly colloquial, etc.

Non-verbal skill/style

  • Presenter maintains eye contact with audience.
  • Posture, gestures, etc.  are appropriate for a formal presentation.
  • Presenter projects interest and engagement in the topic he/she is presenting

Structure

  • Introduction and conclusion are clear.
  • Topic is clearly defined, and trajectory of argument is set out.
  • Central argument is clear.

Engagement of audience

  • Discussion generated.
  • Questions encouraged.
  • Attempts to answer relevant questions.

Argument

  • Presentation is made in a persuasive manner with the presenter taking a clear position on issues
  • Alternative perspectives are recognised and considered to the extent necessary.
  • Points and issues raised are synthesised into overall argument.

Understanding of topic area

  • Presentation does not indicate confusion over underlying principles and concepts
  • Legal and other concepts are articulated clearly.
  • Sources are cited correctly – and appropriately (ie sources are generally acknowledged but without pinpoint citation unless necessary).

Timing

  • Presentation is delivered within the allotted time frame.

Fact Scenario Analysis

These assessments build skills of legal analysis and professional communication.  Generally courses earlier in the degree set problem questions, and later courses move to more practice oriented advice questions. 

  1. Problem question: Problem questions are closely aligned with developing student’s legal knowledge, legal reasoning and critical thinking, and writing skills. Generally a ‘fact scenario’ is provided to students. The scenario will be designed around the legal (and sometimes ‘non-legal’) issues that the course is seeking to highlight. Questions (‘problems’) are provided relating to the fact scenario. Students are required to identify the legally relevant facts, apply them to the applicable legal doctrine or legislative provision and assess the likelihood of a breach of the law.  Some tasks may also require assessment of damages or penalty. By default students take the position of a disinterested “judge” in assessing the scenario.  Often the fact scenarios assume facts to be proven to allow discussion of legal issues alone.

The complexity of problem questions can be varied by the length of the fact scenario (and hence number of legal issues arising) and the specificity of the question/s asked.

  1. Advice: In an advice variant of the problem question, the student is required to take the position of a lawyer acting for one of the parties in the fact scenario.  In an advice, assessment is not only of the ability to analyse the legal situation, but also the professional ability to see the implications for the client of taking certain positions in litigation, etc. and the ability to communicate clearly to non-lawyers.  The fact scenarios in advice assessments may be more like that encountered in practice, for example containing higher levels of ambiguity, or be in the form of a brief of evidence.

Format requirements

The default style requirements for problem question assessments in the Law School are:

  • Assignments should be typed and provide sufficient margin areas for markers comments. 
  • There should be double or 1 ½ spacing between lines.
  • Assignments should be fully referenced using the Australian Guide to Legal Citation (3rd Ed), http://www.law.unimelb.edu.au/mulr/aglc
  • Assignments should include footnotes but not bibliographies.  Failure to appropriately reference may amount to plagiarism.
  • Word limit for assignments is calculated by reference to all text in the assignment. This excludes citations and references in the footnotes, but includes discursive text within footnotes. You must record the actual word count on the assignment cover sheet.

Marking criteria for problem questions:

In general terms, problem questions are marked against the following criteria:

Identification of material facts

  • Mention of all facts relevant to resolution of legal and policy issues set out
  • Areas of uncertainty noted

Issues of law

  • Areas of law raised by the facts identified
  • Elements required for liability set out

Issues of policy (if relevant to question)

  • Policy issue/s raised by facts are identified.

Identification of legal Rules

  • Rules for resolving legal issue identified
  • Hierarchy of sources of authority applied (statute, case-law, etc)
  • Relevant conflicting authorities noted and resolved

Application of legal rules to material facts

  • Succinct application of rules to relevant facts
  • Positive or negative outcomes for each rule where possible
  • Evidence of reasoning when outcomes not clear
  • Recognition of plausible counter conclusions and succinct explanations as to why that conclusion not applied

Discussion of policy implications (if relevant to question)

  • Different policy approaches to issues identified
  • Implications of each approach assessed

(Tentative) Conclusions

  • Conclusions given for all identified issues.
  • Reasons given for conclusion.

Prioritisation of issues

  • Appropriate concentration on issues most practically relevant to resolving overall scenario
  • Logical order of discussion of issues where relevant

Citation and referencing

  • All sources acknowledged
  • Correct and consistent citation of authorities

Appropriate written style

  • Formal English and grammar is used throughout – no colloquialisms
  • Paragraphs and headings are used to clearly identify discrete issues

Essays and Writing

There are five main types of writing assessment task used in the Law School. Essays, research essays, thesis essays, cases notes and court reports. Individual courses may have additional formats.

The three types of essay progressively reduce the amount of scaffolding, and thus adapt well to students increased knowledge and skills. The essay types provide opportunity to assess and build on a student’s growing capability over the degree program. The most basic form provides considerable structure for the student, while the later forms require more advanced skills.

Case notes and court reports are focused on developing legal knowledge and legal understanding. The focus is on concise, clear and accurate writing. They provide significant opportunity for interaction with the legal ‘system’, and for providing depth of insight into legal issues. Furthermore, they provide opportunity for considerable feedback and student reflection on law and practice.

1.     Essay

In this foundational type of essay, the questions are provided to the student along with most if not all the research material required by the student to complete the task. This material can include a specific or extended reading list including books, journals, cases and legislation. The emphasis in this form is to introduce students to the basics of legal research and develop their writing and comprehension skills.

 2.     Research Essay

In this type of essay the topic is usually provided, but most research is conducted by the student. Any direction as to source material is secondary or minimal only. In other words generally no set ‘reading list’ is provided. The focus here is on a student developing independent research skills, while still fine tuning general writing and comprehension ability.

 3.     Thesis Essay

In this final essay type students define their own topic and conduct wholly independent research. All formal scaffolding is removed. The emphasis is on higher level abstract thinking, research skills and conceptual understanding.  Thesis essays generally have longer word limits than research essays.

 4.     Case Note

Students are provided with a specific legal case. The general format of the task is to provide analysis of the case, such as by identifying the legal issues, the reasoning behind the judge’s decision and any other significant comment on other pertinent matters. The case note also requires ‘commentary’ by the student. This is the student’s own analysis of the significant issues raised by the case. The student discussion may include suggestions as to possible law reform, or as to why the student agrees or disagrees with the judgment made. Secondary sources may be used in this commentary. The case note assessment provides considerable opportunity for students to develop critical legal thinking, for student reflection and deep learning.

 5.     Court Report

Combining significant aspects of ‘experiential learning’ the court report assists in developing a student’s conceptual understanding of the law. The assessment task can be both specific and general, meaning it can be adapted to different stages of the program. In a general approach, students are invited to think about various aspects of ‘the trial’ for example, or ‘court processes’ or other aspects of the adversarial system of justice. Many of these approaches may have been discussed in class, and there may be considerable primary and secondary source material available. Students attend courts and describe their observations within the context of the class themes. A more specific approach would be for students in a particular course to attend a particular type of court or tribunal  then to report on the specific operation of that  body in the context of their specific course, or even in relation to a particular legislative or common law provision (for example a section of the Evidence Act).  There are often further detailed instructions issued to students.

Format requirements

The default style requirements for essay style assessments in the Law School are:

  • Assignments should be typed and provide sufficient margin areas for markers comments. 
  • There should be double or 1 ½ spacing between lines.
  • Assignments should be fully referenced using the Australian Guide to Legal Citation (3rd Ed), http://www.law.unimelb.edu.au/mulr/aglc
  • Assignments should include both footnotes and bibliography.  Failure to appropriately reference may amount to plagiarism.
  • Word limit for assignments is calculated by reference to all text in the assignment. This excludes citations and references in the footnotes and the bibliography, but includes discursive text within footnotes. You must record the actual word count on the assignment cover sheet.

Marking criteria

In general terms, essay style assignments are marked according to the following criteria:

Structure

  • Clear introduction, body, and conclusion.

Topic definition

  • Clarity of scope/delineation of scope of essay.

Argument

  • Logical flow of proposition and evidence.
  • Integration of evidence.
  • Consideration on contrary positions.

Research

  • Evidence of sufficient independent research to adequately address issues in topic
  • Use of appropriate sources for topic – eg primary where available, peer reviewed
  • Evidence of awareness of any relevant issues arising from class readings

Citation and referencing

  • All sources acknowledged
  • Correct and consistent citation
  • Bibliography 

Analysis/critical thinking

  • Demonstrated understanding of primary and secondary material analysed
  • Reflection - essay engages with the material.
  • Reflection – essay demonstrates independent thought.
  • Conclusions are drawn.
  • Different perspectives are evaluated.
  • Identification of knowledge gaps.
  • Ability to weigh sources by evaluation and judgment.
  • Awareness of the ambit of sources.

Style

  • Use of own words as appropriate
  • Grammar, sentence, paragraph structure etc.
  • Appropriate tone/voice – minimal verbosity.

Group Work

There are three main types of ‘group work’ identified in the Law School. There are some similarities between them; however, like the essay types identified above, the different types of group work can be scaffolded. They lend themselves to be deployed across the program strategically to develop and then build upon students growing ability.

1.     Ad-hoc

This type of group work is the most ‘foundational’; it can be used across all courses in the program, and often forms the basis for an effective class participation strategy as well. Ad-hoc groups are formed as part of the class, or an extension of it, and lasts only for the length of the task assigned to the group.  Most often they are short small group discussions held within a class examining an issue that is then reported on back to the class.  There is usually no grade awarded for ad hoc group work –it often goes towards part of a student’s class participation grade. Ad-hoc groups are useful for adding variety to teaching techniques, building student’s inter-personal skills, broadening perspectives on issues, and acclimatising them to later formal groupwork.  Ad-hoc groups need not be seen as merely introductory forms of group work.  As students become more proficient at group discussion, ad-hoc groups can be given more complex tasks.

2.     Cooperative

These are more formal group activities structured by the teacher that generally include summative assessment.  The assessment of a collective learning task often includes the process and not just the final product. While the focus of the tasks is on developing group skills, learning to support each other and on developing a ‘unified’ approach through a final essay or presentation, the emphasis, at least in terms of assessment, still remains very much on the individual’s mastery of skills or content in a group setting. Consequently the task is structured in such a way that there is a significant component completed individually, such as written papers following a group presentation, or individually assigned sections of a final paper to the group collectively researched.  The aim of co-operative group work is to introduce students to group responsibilities with a safety net of individual assessment.  It can be useful for tasks too complex for an individual student to easily complete in the required timeframes, or to help raise the level of achievement or engagement across a class. The teacher is also quite involved with a cooperative project, providing guidance where necessary.

3.     Collaborative

This can be considered an ‘advanced’ or ‘capstone’ type. Under a collaborative learning approach, students work together in a small team creating a piece of work that they have developed and planned together and for which they are overwhelmingly assessed collectively through a group mark. All students in the group receive the same mark. Collaborative learning focuses much more on the group process and often assessment will also involve individual members of the group reflecting on that group process. Collaborative learning is also suited to a group work task where the emphasis is on the group themselves coming up with a problem and a subsequent solution (similar in many ways to the thesis essay type discussed above). In other word it can be beneficial for developing students capacity to ‘problem pose’ not just ‘problem solve’. In this type, there is considerable student autonomy, with teachers providing minimal, if any, direction.  One form of collaborative group work, Team-Based Learning, involves groups or “firms” being formed for an entire semester and being the focus of much of the learning outcomes in the course.

Marking criteria for group-work

Formally assessed groupwork often has a written product of the collaboration and that work is marked according to the criteria appropriate for that style of writing.  Where the process of collaboration in group work is assessed, in general terms, it is assessed against the following criteria:

Group assessment / Individual assessment

•      Individual rating of the performance of the group as a whole and a member’s individual performance.  The ratings may be different.

Planning of work and goal setting

•       Work plan is developed through consensus.

•       Work plan is reviewed.

Group meeting organisation

•       Group meetings are structured.

•       Organisation of group meetings by consensus.

•       Group meetings are held face to face.

Member roles

•       Each member has a specific role.

•       Roles arrived at by consensus.

•       Members are responsible for their role.

Work distribution

•       Work is distributed equitably.

•       Distribution arrived at by consensus.

•       Members are responsible for their work.

Diversity of opinion and decision making

•       Group members encourage different viewpoints.

•       All decisions by group are based on consensus.

Issues dealt with appropriately

•       Potential or real issues identified.

•       Appropriate responses to real issues.

•       Preventive management of potential issues

Exams

There are two basic types of exams used in the Law School: formal exams and take-home exams. Some teachers also utilise ‘online’ quizzes and in class tests.

1.     Formal exams

This is the traditional exam type, held during the formal examination period at the end of semester, and centrally invigilated by the university. All examinations in the Law School are ‘open book’ unless otherwise notified to students.  This means students can bring any printed or handwritten materials they wish into the examination room.

There is some variety amongst the different formal exam types, however the most common formal exam consists of problem based questions and essay based questions. There are also a number of formal exam which contain only one of these question types.  Problem based questions can require either multiple ‘short’ answers (often the case with foundational subjects) or require a longer considered answer, depending on how they are worded and the scenario provided. Sometimes students may get a choice of problem scenarios to choose from.

Similarly students will often have a choice of essay topics to choose from. Some exams let students choose how many problems or essays they will undertake. For example there may be three problems posed and three essay topics. Students could choose 2 problems and 1 essay or 2 essays and 1 problem. Some exams may have a compulsory essay (or compulsory problem) that may discuss the wider themes of the course, or require students to provide a considerable reflection.

While there is no requirement for full citation, some citation is still required. For example a case may be referred to by its popular name or the names of the parties and then underlined without the need for a full medium neutral citation. Students are expected to bring sufficient printed materials into the examination to be able to adequately cite sources.

The more specific structural aspects of the formal exam types in order of scaffolding (from foundation to mastery) include:

a. Problems

  1. Multiple short fact scenarios with question/s. Provides students substantial help in identifying legally relevant facts and in structuring response.
  2. Long fact scenario, but broken up into different sections, with question/s for each. Provides students with some help in identifying legally relevant facts and substantial assistance in structuring answers.
  3. Long fact scenario/s followed by specific questions which structure nature of answer. Provides students with average degree of help identifying legal issues and in structuring answers.
  4. Long fact scenario/s followed by one general question. Students are given minimal help in structuring a response to the questions
  5. Long fact scenario/s followed by highly specific questions.  Students are directed to certain legal issues to the exclusion of others and given minimal help in structuring a response to the questions.

b. Essays

  1. Long form. Choice of essay topics. Students complete one or two essays (they may be given a choice of topics). Students have around 30 mins for each answer
  2. Short form. Choice of topics. Students complete three or more. (they may be given a choice of topics). Students have around 15 minutes for each answer.

Essays usually take either of the following structural forms as their basis:

  1. A quote from a case or author is provided and the student is asked to critically discuss it.  Further structure may be provided in foundational courses by requiring discussion of particular aspects of the quote, and marks may be awarded separately to components of the answer.
  2. Students are asked to critically discuss an area of law, social issue or proposition.  No guidance as to source materials or structure is provided.  One holistic mark is provided.

Essay topics are generally be based on one or more of the following:

  1. Critical evaluation of the current law, including analysis of case law or legislation.
  2. Theoretical issues.
  3. Broader social impacts of law.
  4. Law reform issues.
  5. Practical considerations of law and regulation.

2.     Take-home exams

The exact form of a take-home exam will vary from course to course, but in essence it will be a paper released to all students at a particular time with a short time frame for submission of answers, typically 48-36 hours. There may be word limits for answers.  Take-home exams are a hybrid of a formal exam and an in-semester essay or fact scenario analysis.  There is usually a requirement for full citation and printed answers.

Students are generally presented with a complex problem scenario, though the take home exam may also consist of short answer ‘essay’ type responses instead. There is often more than one question relating to the same scenario/s, such as focusing on different participants (there could be multiple plaintiffs or defendants). The length of the answers will be determined by the number of questions asked. The take home exam may also require a short ‘essay’ or ‘commentary’ or ‘reflection’ by the student on a specific topic.  

3.     Other – online quiz and in class test.

Some courses administer an online quiz, particularly in the early weeks of the course. Generally worth around 10% they take the form of randomly generated multiple choice questions. Other courses include a short in-class test/quiz which may involve short answer questions. These usually have both formative and summative aspects. They help students focus in the early weeks of the course, provide early feedback to the teacher about students who may be having difficulties and provide early feedback to the student as to their understanding.

Other Forms of Assessment

The Law School also uses other forms of assessment in addition to the types already mentioned. Many of these share features with the above key mentioned typologies, but are often focused towards a certain specific learning outcome desired by the teacher. The Law School encourages the development of different forms of assessment activity, acknowledging that a diverse assessment regime leads to better student engagement, deeper learning and hence improved learning outcomes. New assessment activities and formats are regularly discussed and trialled. Some examples of formats used recently are below.

1.     Poster

In this task students are required to present material in the format of an academic poster. This format has been used by some teachers for students to present a court report or case note. Students engage with presenting materially visually, within the constraints of the poster format. They must also think about the audience, getting complex information to them in a clear, yet engaging manner, which adds a significant dimension to the deep learning potential of the task.

2.     Video or other multimedia

This method of assessment has been used in the context of a cooperative or collaborative group work task. Students are given a topic and then present their response such as through a role play, a ‘mash up’, or an audio interview where they take on the role of a radio reporter or presenter. Many of these may then be uploaded to Youtube or Moodle for other students to then see. The multimedia format of assessment has been used in the context of a court report. The emphasis again is on students taking a different perspective to the issue – essentially thinking about a response ‘outside the box’.

3.     Scrapbook

This is an assessment activity that is often used in foundational courses (such as ILJ and Torts). It can form the basis of a class participation strategy. Each week students are required to examine the newspapers and other media sources for stories that relate to that weeks class, or the topic and its themes more generally, and place these in a ‘scrapbook’. These form the basis for class discussion (students may be required to choose just one article per week). Each week in the scrapbook students write a short summary of why the article they choose is relevant or important etc. This is short, usually only 200 or so words. By relating the law to real current events, students are provided with context, and deeper learning opportunity. At the end of the semester students hand these scrapbooks in and receive a mark for them.

4.     Reflective notes

This is similar in some ways to a scrapbook, but differs in some key respects. For example while the scrapbook notes may relate to an understanding of the law generally (or specifically as the case may be), the reflective notes seeks to encourage a more personal consideration of the topic or subject, quite often free from the constraints of a particular methodology or structural bias. The emphasis is on eliciting a more personal, nuanced and emotional response. It seeks to encourage the students to think beyond their own present material experience and to consider the impact of the law on others for example. Furthermore, reflective writing is quite often designed and utilised to encourage students to think about themselves in terms of their ‘practice’, not just as students but as professionals, for example in relation to ethical behaviour.

Reflective writing is used in a number of different contexts in the law school and is adaptable to the whole range of a student’s learning as they progress through the program from foundational to capstone experiences. Students may be asked to keep a reflective journal throughout the semester, or may be asked to provides short reflections on individual topics.  It may be used as an ‘ongoing’ task to facilitate class participation. It may be used as a mid semester exercise, as part of an exam or accompanying groupwork. It is often a significant aspect of student’s assessment when undertaking an internship and other experiential learning activities, and will take the form of a larger piece of writing (for example up to 2000 words).

 5.     ‘Mini moots’

In this format, a problem is presented. The class may be divided into those ‘for’ and those ‘against’. Discussion then flows back and forth as each side presents their argument. This is often a good use of the ‘ad-hoc’ group work strategy discussed above. The different sides discuss the issue as groups and then present to the class. Some teachers may make the mini moot more formal and structured depending on the course and the content. For example a judge may be elected (sometimes the teacher who may be able to direct evidence proceedings) and a defence and prosecution panel who will be responsible for presenting the argument. There may also be witnesses who have been given certain instructions resulting in potential entertaining cross examination.