TIMED ESSAYS ON PRE-SESSIONALS

Steve Issitt, University of Birmingham

SUMMARY

Here I describe how the management team of the University of Birmingham Pre-sessional Summer Course Programme introduced a series of timed essays in order to monitor the students’ progress and give us information on the effectiveness of our teaching.

The course itself had grown considerably in terms of student numbers with over 220 in 2001.This required an increase in the number of contract teachers and sensitised us to issues of monitoring student progress and teacher input with such a large course.

It was decided to introduce three themes for the 10-week course and to provide a large range of course material to be taught in the morning general EAP sessions. Teachers were given flexibility in the way they introduced and developed the materials and a timed essay was completed at the end of each teaching block. It was felt that timed essays provided many advantages in the assessment and monitoring process. They were of standard length, relatively easy to implement in class and provided a coherence and point of focus for the whole course. In addition the large numbers of IELTS candidates on the pre-sessional would, we considered, benefit from writing practice under controlled conditions. This aspect was remarked upon in the follow up student questionnaire.

Three topics, education, science and development were used and an essay set on each. The essays were undertaken in class simultaneously by all the students and marked as soon as possible afterwards by the management team. Marks were awarded from 1 to 5 for analysis and language, the results tabulated and fed back shortly after in large plenary sessions. The students were given the distribution of marks for each score for the whole ten or five week course and also given advice and suggestions as to what constituted a good essay and how to improve grades.

Taking the 10-week course as an example we found an improvement in analysis scores to be the most significant, with numbers scoring 3 increasing from 23.34% to 57.8% over the period. Students scoring 1 decreased from 23.34% to 1.11% (please see performance points below) Language scores did not increase so markedly with the numbers scoring 3 increasing from 55.56% to 62.22%.

Issues also arose concerning student and teacher perceptions and despite increased pressure on all concerned the exercise was felt to be beneficial with 65% of returned student questionnaires giving a positive rating to the question “Do you consider the timed essay exercise on the pre-sessional to have been helpful?” We plan to develop this exercise in coming summer programmes.

OHTs


1

OVERVIEW

The Birmingham Presessional

Students

Teachers

THE CHANGES

Curriculum

Reasons for timed essays

IMPLEMENTATION

Titles

Feedback

Materials

PERFORMANCE

Marking

Scores

EVALUATIONS

Managementteam

Teachers

Students

CONCLUSIONS


2

BACKGROUND

Students

The 2001 pre-sessional had 221 students

96 on the ten-week course

125 on the five-week course

The countries represented were

Argentina

2

Bangladesh

1

Brazil

2

Chile

2

China

86

Ecuador

1

Indonesia

3

Iran

1

Japan

55

Korea

12

Libya

1

Malaysia

1

Mexico

3

Morocco

1

Oman

1

Saudi Arabia

2

Taiwan

36

Thailand

10

Yemen

1

Total number of countries 19

Vast majority from East Asia

203 postgraduates

18 undergraduates (as part of SAP)


3

BACKGROUND

Courses taken by students

Number of students

10 week

 

(221)

(97)

     

Business

56

18

Immunology

   

Civil Engineering

7

3

Theology

   

Electrical Engineering

8

5

Political Science

6

6

Education

9

6

History

   

CURS

   

Social Policy

   

Accounting and Finance

11

5

Cancer Studies

   

Commerce

   

Geography

   

Biochemistry

   

Economics

20

7

Psychiatry

   

English

7

5

Law

   

Computer Engineering

   

TEFL

   

Computer Science

8

2

Chemical Engineering

   

Cultural Studies

   

Local Government

   

European Studies

   

CWAS

   

Earth Sciences

   

International Development

   

CREES

   

Cultural Studies

   

Marketing

   

Mechanical Engineering

4

0

Byzantine Studies

   

Metallurgy

   

Biological Science

   

Sport

   

Environmental Chemistry

   

Psychology

   

Medicine

   

Maths

   

Out of a total of 221 students, 87 were doing an economics/business/finance related course.

Of 97 ten-week students, 30 were doing an economics/business/finance related course.


4

BACKGROUND

Students with unconditional offers
(includes exchange students and Study Abroad programme)

110

Ten week students

42

   

Students with conditional offers

111

Ten week students

55

   

Students needing to take the IELTS exam
(common requirements 6/6.5/7)

81

Ten week students

40


5

THE TEACHERS

Total

19

Ten week

9

Five week

11

Where from

Regularly abroad

6

 

Recently returned

3

 

UK based

10

Fully freelance

4

Series of contracts

13

Full time

2 (continental universities)

Age range 27-56

20s

1

 

30s

3

 

40s

9

 

50s

6

15 from 19 over 40

Men

10

Women

9

Locally based

6

In University accommodation

13


6

THE CHANGES

Situation

Increase in student numbers

Increase in numbers requiring IELTS scores

More clustering of nationality groups

Responses

A reduction in the number of themes

More direction over the teaching materials

More focus on performance and monitoring of progress

More attention to teacher input


7

REASONS FOR TIMED ESSAYS

Why essays?

A measure of progress for students

A means of monitoring teacher input

A focus for students

A focus for teachers

Course cohesion

Why timed?

Writing practice under controlled conditions

University examinations

IELTS

Practical concerns

Standardisation


8

ESSAY TITLES

All essays one and a half hours.

1

What are the possibilities and problems of interpreting data in order to make international educational comparisons?

Illustrate your answer with reference to tables A and B on science education

(There are 2 tables for use with this task)

2. What is a scientist and what is the role of the scientist in modern society?

You may wish to illustrate your point with practical examples.

3.

Is a solely economic definition of development adequate? Illustrate your answer with reference to one or more of the following areas:

  1. poverty and debt
  2. gender and human rights
  3. culture and religion

9

FEEDBACK

ASAP after essay completion

Plenary sessions

10 and 5 week

results for language and task

discussion of typical answers

suggestions for improvement


9a

MATERIALS

Here are some of the references used for the topic of development

Economic Development Todaro M. (2000) Longman

Economics for a Developing World Todaro M. (1992) Longman

Poverty and Development in the 1990s eds Allen T. and Thomas A (1992) OUP

The Globalisation of World Politics eds Bayliss J and Smith S (1997)

Understanding Global Issues 93 The Debt Burden

Social Investment and Economic Growth P Watt (2000) Oxfam

OD1 Poverty Briefing 8/7/00

Human Development Report 2000


10

MARKING

Scripts marked immediately after completion

Two scales ANALYSIS and LANGUAGE

Score

1 to 5

Markers

Management team

 

2 markers per topic

 

Every fifth script swapped and any large differences checked and standardised

 

A third marker present who inspected scripts at random


11

PERFORMANCE POINTS

Significant points

Analysis

Some clear improvement

1. An increase in numbers of students scoring 3

Topic 1

21/90

23.34%

Topic 2

11/93

11.93%

Topic 3

52/90

57.78%

This is given the sample size, statistically significant

2. A decrease in the number of students scoring 1

Topic 1

21/90

23.34%

Topic 2

21/93

22.58%

Topic 3

1/90

1.11%

3. Poor performance at level 5

Topic 1

4/90

4.45%

Topic 2

0

0

Topic 3

1/90

1.11

Although this is clearly a drop in scores, other factors render the figures of low significance. For example marking error, prior knowledge

Language

Improvement is far less marked

1. Number of students scoring 3 has improved

Topic 1

50/90

 55.56%

Topic2

58/93

62.37%

Topic3

56/90

62.22%


12

10 WEEK TIMED ESSAYS AND PROGRESSION

ANALYSIS

TOPIC

1

2

3

4

5

Education

21/90

33/90

21/90

11/90

4/90

 

23.34%

36.67%

23.34%

12.23%

4.45%

Science

21/93

46/93

11/93

15/93

0/93

 

22.58%

49.46%

11.83%

16.13%

0%

Development

1/90

18/90

52/90

18/90

1/90

 

1.11%

20%

57.78%

20%

1.11%

LANGUAGE

 

1

2

3

4

5

Education

1/90

26/90

50/90

12/90

1/90

 

1.1%

28.9%

55.56%

13.34%

1.1%

Science

1/93

17/93

58/93

17/93

0/93

 

1.08%

18.28%

62.37%

18.28%

0%

Development

1/90

20/90

56/90

13/90

0/90

 

1.11%

22.22%

62.22%

14.44%

0%


14

EVALUATION

Teachers

Generally favourable

helped to focus classes

 

motivated students

 

beneficial for IELTS candidates

Concerns expressed

too prescriptive

 

teaching mainly for the timed essays

 

subjects not of interest to some students

MANAGEMENT TEAM

Course Director

Assistant Directors

Senior Teacher

Three areas emphasised:

ratings were positive in these areas

general consensus of satisfaction

some concerns regarding teacher


15

CONCLUSIONS

Positive points

Questionnaire responses were clearly favourable from students

Performance in terms of ANALYSIS improved

The management team were able to identify poor performing classes

The feedback sessions provided a point of focus and coherence for the course

Negative points

Some teachers felt under pressure

Some teachers felt that their performance was being overly scrutinised

There was increased pressure on the management team

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