Effects of a change to more formative assessment among tertiary mathematics students


  • Mary Ruth Freislich UNSW Sydney School of Mathematics and Statistics
  • A. Bowen-James




Formative assessment, scaffolding, SOLO taxonomy, tertiary mathematics.


A change in teaching delivery at a large Australian university, from two semesters to three trimesters, was the occasion for using more formative assessment in a core first-year mathematics unit. This study compared evidence about learning outcomes for two cohorts in adjacent years. Cohort 1 was the last taught over a semester, and Cohort 2 the first taught over a trimester. There was no change in overall workload, and no change in the unit's total teaching hours, syllabus or materials. Assessments were changed for class tests during the teaching period by giving Cohort 2 access to unlimited practice and computer-assisted feedback on the questions in the test database, followed by doing the tests under examination conditions. For Cohort 2, a written assignment was also added, focused on giving a clear solution to a mathematics problem, and awareness of the need for appropriate evidence, both background and internal to the problem. Learning outcomes were compared using closely comparable tasks from the final examinations, and examining students' answers in the examination scripts. Outcomes were assessed by a method derived from the solo taxonomy, which afforded a common scale to measure the quality of learning outcomes observable in final examination scripts. Results on separate tasks, plus those for a composite score, favoured Cohort 2. The effect size for the composite score was 0.457. This indicates that the unlimited practice with computer feedback for class tests, and the writing assignment, were functioning as intended in promoting learning with understanding.


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Author Biography

Mary Ruth Freislich, UNSW Sydney School of Mathematics and Statistics

Honorary Senior Lecturer, Mathematics and Statistics, UNSW Sydney





Proceedings Engineering Mathematics and Applications Conference