Assessment Design: types of assessment task

Objective Structured (Clinical) Examination

What is it?

An Objective Structured (Clinical) Examination, or OSCE, is typically an examination where students move around between different ‘stations’, each of which has a short assessment task which will be completed in front of an examiner. They are often used in healthcare courses to assess clinical skills, but they could be used for any subject where you want to test a series of knowledge and practical skills together, in which case they would be OSEs.

Recommended levels:


Suitable for groups?


Things to think about

The ‘O’ in the name stands for ‘objective’; to try to make the marking objective, a detailed marking scheme which is focused on small tasks is very often used, rather than trying to mark a whole piece with a single grade. Each task may be assessed on a pass/refer basis, or graded. A rubric will be needed to support decision-making and to provide feedback on the performance of each element of the skill. This is often called analytical marking, rather than holistic marking. The examiner usually marks the student performance on the spot, and then the marks from each station are combined to make a grade for the whole examination. The stations need to be designed to allow quick and accurate grading of the student’s performance at that task.

As with all event-based marking, consider whether you need to have two people at each assessment station, or whether you can sample marking at each station by having a moderator circulating during the examination.

Students may be unfamiliar with this kind of examination, so some formative practice and support for preparation will be needed.

Assignment length

Tasks should usually take 5-10 minutes each. Students move round from one station to the next, so each station should be the same length to avoid bottlenecks.

Group work

OS(C)Es are usually completed as individuals, but it could be possible to design short group tasks if that would be better for demonstrating achievement of the learning outcomes, for example, if team-work was appropriate.

Plagiarism Issues

As with all examinations, there are unlikely to be plagiarism issues with an unseen OS(C)E. Stations usually test a student’s ability to apply their knowledge to a particular situation, rather than testing recall of knowledge, so the chances of plagiarism are further reduced. Oral questioning may be used to support decision-making; a framework for this is recommended, to ensure all examiners are using it equitably.


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