Assessment Design: types of assessment task

Seen Exam

What is it?

A seen examination is a time-constrained assessment task, presented to students at some time in advance of the assessment. The actual exam is still taken under strict conditions, with no external material allowed into the exam room and a time limit for completing the answers. Seen examinations are sometimes used to reduce student anxiety about exams and to allow the inclusion of more complex analytical questions which need some preparation.

A variation on the seen examination may be to provide some material ahead of the examination, such as a case study, and to say that questions will be set around that case study.

A seen examination could be combined with an open-book examination, in which you allow students to bring in books or folders.

Recommended levels:


Suitable for groups?


Things to think about

The timing of the release of the question(s) is important. If you want students to think about the question throughout the module, then it could be released right at the beginning of the module and referred to regularly during the course. If you want students to work to a time constraint, as they might have to in the workplace, then you could release the question one to six weeks before the exam.

Students will of course be able to discuss the question in advance of the exam, and this may lead to some similarity of answers, just as you might find for a coursework assessment.

Students who need extra time for writing, or who have difficulty in hand-writing and need to type their assignments, will need special arrangements to be made in advance.

Assignment length

The usual rule of thumb for an exam question is that students should be able to sit and write the answer in half the time available for the question (the other half of the time being for thinking and planning). In a two hour exam, students might be able to write 1500 – 2000 words in total but this is very variable depending on discipline and level. With a seen exam, there would be less reflection required on the day, so you might increase your expectations of the length. This would clearly have an effect on the time needed to mark the exams, which needs to be factored in.

Group work

Not applicable

Plagiarism Issues

Plagiarism could be a problem as students with excellent recall may be able to use the words of others to answer questions; such cheating would be difficult and time-consuming to detect as papers are hand-written.


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