Written paper

A written paper is an assignment to be completed, unsupervised, within a timeframe of various durations (usually between 24 hours and 14 days). The timeframe can, however, also cover the entire course. The assignment may be a response to a formulation of a problem that the teacher has set, or that the student has formulated independently or the response to one or more questions.

Depending on who set the question, how the question was posed and how much time was available for completion, this type of exam can thus test knowledge, abilities and skill-sets.

This assessment method is also suited for group examination.

Learning objective that can be addressed using this assessment method
Knowledge of theory, method and practice (X)
Understanding and reflecting on theory, method and practice X
Applying methods and tools X
Assessing problem definitions and selecting solution models X
Communicate and discuss academic issues  
Dealing with complex situations – in the context of studying or work X
Ability to independently initiate collaboration  
Taking responsibility for personal learning and development (X)

X indicates that this assessment method is suitable for testing the learning outcome. (X) indicates that this assessment method is of only limited use for this.

Evaluating the method of assessment

Assessment Criteria
Validity Since one question or problem is usually set, high content validity is difficult to achieve. With lengthier assignments, however (e.g. 14 days), there is the possibility of answering more than one question or addressing broader problem definitions; this can boost content validity considerably.

Conversely, this type of exam provides ample opportunity for high construct validity, as the period of time allows the student to deal with the subject matter in depth. The types of questions asked help to determine whether the exam tests the taxonomic level demanded in the learning objective.
Reliability As a general rule, the more questions asked, the greater the reliability. Thus, the written paper with its traditional focus on a simple, relatively open question (possibly with sub-questions) makes achieving reliability difficult.

In the effort to make the type of written paper consistent in order to distinguish between good assignments and poor assignments basically the same question/problem must be put to all students. If the question/problem is formulated independently by the student or if students are set various questions, e.g. on the basis of different interests or at random, the actual question also needs to be included in the marking in order to ensure reliability.
Backwash effect from testing to teaching The written paper sets the scene for deep reflection and in-depth understanding in general. This can motivate students to take copious, useful notes throughout the course.

Open questions/problems can give students a sense of ownership of the assignment, and this can stimulate and boost their learning.Throughout the teaching process, it is important to discuss/go over the quality criteria on which the written paper will be marked. For this you can use various tools, e.g. rubrics (1).

If students formulate their own problem, there is a risk that they will opt out of dealing with content that is not directly relevant to their problem definition. Thus, they can choose to avoid reading texts outside their chosen topic area or cease to turn up for teaching altogether.
Resources The wording of the assignment may not take very long to produce, but the other side of the coin is that the assignment takes a long time to correct.
Digitisation Opting out of invigilation paves the way for plagiarism. In this context, electronic solutions can be used to check the originality of the assignments retrospectively, for example via the SafeAssign function in e-learn.sdu.dk. Nevertheless, it is not possible to ensure that students have not received assistance from others in completing their assignment.
Acceptance The written paper is regarded as an authentic type of exam closely resembling a real-life work situation.


Additional reading


  • Andrade, H. G. (2005). Teaching with rubrics. The good , the bad and the ugly. College teaching, 53 (1), 27-30.
  • Reddy, Y. M., Andrade, H. (2010). A review of rubric use in higher education. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 35 (4), 435-448.