What is the future of GCSE assessment?

How utilising multiple modes of assessment at GCSE would allow all students to demonstrate their strengths and reduce stress

Anisa Farook Student at Northampton School for Girls

Assessments motivate and reward students when they do well, inform them where they need to improve, and evaluate the curriculum and teaching methods. But as technology develops and information becomes more accessible, and new skills more necessary, are current examining methods still effective?

When the opportunity arose for me to take part in the EPQ, I decided to undertake research into the relationship between assessment outcomes, the mental attitudes of students, and whether our current processes of assessment are successful in determining a student’s ability. This blog is a summary of the research, which included a survey which was sent to 900 students in Years 11-13 and teachers, and the conclusions I came to.


The first method of assessment I will address are essays in literary subjects. They allow students to identify issues, be analytical and express new viewpoints covering more depth than short answer questions.(1) Writing, however, is considered an intimidating exam style for many students.

Freewriting, a technique that encourages students to focus on ‘what’ they are writing and not ‘how’ they are writing it, permits the free flow of ideas without the editorial mindset that usually accompanies essays; and with the development of online SPAG programmes, these skills are becoming less essential.

Combining freewriting with regular essay exams could suit all learners and reduce stress. In the future, students may also type or scan their work onto computers if they wish, enhancing digital skills and being more eco-friendly.

High stake v low stake testing

A 2015 study comparing infrequent high-stake and frequent low-stake exams favoured frequent low-stake assessments overall, perhaps relating to a decrease in exam anxiety due to multiple chances for improvement. The researcher also suggested that the ‘persistent incentives to study’ the low-stake exams caused and its’ repetitive ‘practice and retrieval’ style allowed a steady retention of information, optimizing the students’ learning. 

Open-book exams

At 66.3%, open-book exams were the most requested assessment method on my survey. Students claimed they encourage manipulation and analysis, rather than just data memorisation, and more accurately reflect the working world with reduced pressure. Additionally, information can be easily looked up online, therefore comprehension skills are increasingly important.

In a 2007 study, the control group only took closed-book exams, had a higher attendance to lectures and submitted more extra credit assignments than the experimental group (who took both open and closed-book assessments). This suggests that open book exams relax students, making them less motivated to revise. In the final exam both groups took closed-book assessments with the control faring significantly better, showing that closed-book exams assist the long-term retention of knowledge since they encourage better academic behaviours and preparation. Open-book exams can prove successful, but the technique should be utilised with care.(2)


39.9% of students requested coursework in my survey. They reasoned that relieving pressure by working at their own pace would allow them to perform to the best of their abilities and having a bad day would not jeopardise their final result. Transferable skills such as management will be tested with more realistic timeframes, and teacher guidance can be offered, benefiting those who do not perform well under exam conditions. 

An Ipsos MORI study(3) found only 7% of teachers perceived students do not benefit from coursework and claims that it allows them to understand their students and their work better, improving their rankings and assessments. However, students find coursework time-consuming compared with its grading weight and some students lack resources, unfairly disadvantaging them. 

Take-home exams

Take-home exams are another feasible option. Assignments are set with a time limit to research, write and submit their work. These exams can allow students to use individual learning strategies, enriching motivation and producing positive results. They also promote employability skills such as time-management, efficiency and self-evaluation. Short deadlines reflect fast-paced careers as does the development of IT and research skills.(4) 


Group-exams may also relieve stress. These exams are taken in teacher or student selected groups and grades can be given on an individual or collaborative basis. The positive interdependence accommodates multiple learning styles and is favoured by students. 

A study found that students who sat group-exams scored higher than individual sitters in previous years. They had a better retention of knowledge and would actively apply critical thinking skills, using content rather than just memorising it. Students also reasoned that group-exams reflect the working-world where they have colleagues to turn to if in doubt however, in the future, an individual element should be included as well.(5) GCSE-aged students are not always cooperative and are usually of different abilities. Teachers would have to ensure all students are pulling their weight to make these exams successful.

Online & video games

Online and video game exams are the newest methods of assessment that I will address. Already being used by ACCA (The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) for online teaching, online exams closely reflect hard-copies. Time limits can be set and they can be easily marked using both automatic digital and manual expert marking.(6) Question types like: MCQs, drag and drop, and objective, scenario-based questions can be used; additionally teachers can mark and review all working-out.(7) They can also enhance ‘blind-marking’ and reduce any possible discrimination or bias.

Some video game features can be modified to replace exams and coursework. Games are mainstream and appealing nowadays, simulating real-life scenarios and addressing real-world issues with visual graphics. Unfortunately, they may disadvantage students from less-privileged backgrounds. Allowing students to actively experience scenarios and add context to their learning will help them retain information and engage in classes more, the competitive element motivating students to practise and improve for their exams. They will also cater for different types of learners and subjects, especially practical.(8)

Andre Thomas, a founder of Triseum, an educational game developing platform, claimed that using gaming in education could decrease learning time, increase the mastery of subjects and potentially reduce the overall cost of education.(9) As new programmes develop and technology advances, online and video game exams become a definite and appropriate possibility for the future, so long as measures are taken to ensure all students have similar opportunities. 


I have concluded that no single assessment technique is suitable for all students; therefore, combining methods in the future would allow students with different strengths to succeed whilst helping them develop a variety of transferable skills. Multiple low-stake exams throughout the year may relieve student pressure, allowing them to do better in exams by knowing that their futures are not determined by a single paper. Relieving pressure from students will encourage innovation, ensure they perform to the best of their abilities and produce the best results.

After the events of 2020/21, there may be adjustments made to the GCSE assessment process, and I hope this will bring success to future students.

You can read my full EPQ essay here


(1) Hegland, KF, (2006) On Essay Exams, Vol. 56, No. 1, America: Association of American Law Schools

(2) Moore-Jensen, R-PA, (2007) Do Open-Book Exams Impede Long-Term Learning in Introductory Biology Courses?, Journal of College Science Teaching-Vol. 36- No. 7 pp. 46-49, Virginia-Arlington: National Science Teachers Association

(3) (2006) Teachers’ Views on GCSE Coursework, UK: Qualifications and Curriculum Authority

(4) Dagilyte-Coe, E-P, (2019) Critical Perspectives on the Scholarship of Assessment and Learning in Law, Volume 1: England, Take-home exams: Developing professionalism via assessment, Australia: ANU Press

(5) Morgan-Rothaupt-Cameron-Williams, K-J-BA-KC, (2007) Group Exams in the Higher Education Classroom: Strategies and Support for Successful Implementation, NACTA Journal – Vol. 51 – No. 4, North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture (NACTA)

(6) ACCA, (2017) The Future of Exam Taking – Session CBEs, YouTube

(7) ACCA, (2018) Your guide to ACCA session CBEs, ACCA

(8) Lindl, J, (2015), Are Video Games the future of Education?, YouTube

(9) Thomas, A, (2018) The Effective Use of Game-Based Learning in Education, YouTube

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