Student views on the assessment medium for General Certificates of Secondary Education in England: Insights from the 2020 examination cancellations

Kevin Woods, Tee McCaldin, Kerry Brown, Robert Buck, Nicola Fairhall, Emma Forshaw, David Soares

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) has been for the last 35 years the most common qualification by which students’ attainment at age 16 has been measured. As such, the GCSE has over this time represented a high-stakes, school-leaving qualification for the great majority of students within these jurisdictions. The range and balance of processes by which the GCSEs’ programmes of study have been assessed have varied over the decades, to include both teacher-assessed coursework and modular or end-of-programme timed written assessments (examinations). On account of school closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the necessary replacement in 2020 of GCSE written examinations with teacher-led assessment provided a unique opportunity to explore students’ perceptions of the validity and utility of both examination and teacher-led assessment media for this high-stakes award. This research reports part of a survey that explored the experiences of GCSE candidates in 2020, with a particular focus upon students’ perceptions of preparing for written examinations, and then for teacher-led assessment. 216 students responded to a mixed quantitative/ qualitative methods survey that invited opinion and reflection on the relative affordances and shortcomings of written examinations and teacher-led assessment, both for the individual respondent and for the wider student cohort. Responses were analysed using content analysis and revealed a balance of both positive and negative evaluations of both assessment media, with an almost equal preference for either, albeit many respondents indicated consideration of some other assessment medium (e.g. modular assessment; combined assessment media). We re-emphasise the attested value of ongoing ‘dialogue’ and consultation with student stakeholders to inform planning for optimisation of assessment utility and validity.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAssessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice
Publication statusPublished - 28 Mar 2024


  • Assessment
  • examination
  • test
  • experience
  • GCSE
  • high-stakes
  • school


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