MCQs Assessments in Large-Class Teaching

MCQs Assessments in Large-Class Teaching

Drs Helen Pierce and Mary Pryor, Divinity History & Philosophy (History of Art)

Drs Helen Pierce and Mary Pryor, History of Art share their experiences of online MCQ assessments to support first year, student learning and course engagement.


Over the past decade, History of Art has incorporated regular online assessments delivered through MyAberdeen into its Level 1 courses, HA1004 Introduction to Art History and HA1508 Modern Art, most recently co-ordinated by Dr Helen Pierce and Dr Mary Pryor. HA1004 is a 15-credit course assessed through essay assignment (60%) and online assessment (40%); HA1508 is a 30-credit course assessed through essay assignment (30%), online assessment (20%) and visual-based exam (50%). As well as extending types of course assessment beyond the more traditional essay and exam formats, the use of online assessments has enabled us to efficiently track student engagement and attainment on courses with a high ratio of students to teaching staff in comparison to other levels in the discipline.


Five online assessments based around lecture and tutorial content are released at regular intervals across each course. The first online assessment is formative, giving students unfamiliar with this format a ‘practice go’; marks achieved for the subsequent online assessments are summative and contribute towards the student’s overall course grade. Three attempts are allowed for each online assessment; after each attempt, feedback is provided on how many correct answers have been given, and incorrect responses are indicated, with students encouraged to return to their course materials and try again. The highest mark from three attempts is recorded. A range of question types are used from the selection provided by Blackboard, including multiple choice, multiple answer, and fill in the blank, supported by relevant visual materials. Each assessment is made available to students via a link in MyAberdeen for a period of eight days, with the dates of availability listed in the Course Guide and reinforced through online announcements. Students are expected to attempt all the online assessments, and a C6 is issued if one is missed.


Allowing students three attempts to achieve a possible score of full marks has proven to be an incentive to check/research the relevant course materials and try again.  As the majority of our Level 1 students are new to History of Art as an academic discipline, this approach seems to build confidence rather than discourage it, although some students are surprised that they are permitted to do this!

We have found the online assessments highly effective as an indicator of the required student engagement with course materials in MyAberdeen, flagging up at an early stage in the course those students who are not doing so. Non-completion of the first online assessment, which is released in Week 2 of teaching, results in the course co-ordinator making contact, via email, with students who may not be engaging with the course for a variety of reasons, before the C6/C7 monitoring system commences. Non-completion of any of the subsequent online assessments results in a C6; for History of Art courses, a student’s C6 status must be resolved with a face-to-face meeting with the Course Co-ordinator, which again helps us to flag up issues which may otherwise have been missed.


Since their introduction to HA1004 and HA1508, the online assessments have received near-universal positive feedback from students, in both their end-of-course feedback forms and Staff-Student Liaison Committee discussions, as a form of “cementing” knowledge of an often-unfamiliar subject. External examiner reports have routinely acknowledged their positive contribution to the learning and retention experiences of our students at Level 1.

History of Art, as part of the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy (DHP), does not yet use Blackboard Ultra, and we acknowledge that the content and format of assessments may have to be adapted to the functionality of Ultra in the future.


History of Art’s use of online assessments at Level 1 has been highlighted as good practice within DHP and has contributed to their wider adoption by other disciplines within the School. Their longer-term use in History of Art has also given us the confidence to adapt and develop this form of assessment for postgraduate taught distance learners, with more advanced and challenging online assessments being introduced to HA552U Scottish Visual History, which forms part of the School’s online MLitt in Scottish Heritage.