“Can I have a model answer please sir?” A question I sometimes get asked in Psychology lessons from my students. I am pretty reluctant to simply just give them the model answer just like that and without working for it!
This activity helps students to think about essay structure, logic and coherence. It gets learners working with the material and picking and choosing points of description and evaluation for themselves. Firstly, a bit of background literature on why model answers or using exemplar work is useful.
Giving students access to past test and exam questions provides helpful clues on what kinds of questions are likely to be asked about which topics and themes. By accompanying such resources with how questions have been interpreted and answered or what routes were taken to tackle particular questions would amplify its impact and be more useful (Hounsell et al, 2006). Therefore revision sessions that explored with students what might constitute good answers tospecific questions could be a useful strategy that could help to refine structure and technique in answering essay based questions. As defined by Huxham (2007), a model answer is an ideal, tutor-generated response to a question that would receive full marks, and which is made available to all of the students. Huxham sees four advantages in model answers:
- They can be given much more quickly than individual comments, hence speeding up feedback.
- They do not involve personal comments from the tutor, hence avoiding the dangers of negative feedback.
- Model answers require some active engagement of the student with the feedback; the student needs to read his/her own work and compare it with the answers given.
- They can (and should) be explicitly linked to marking criteria, hence making a clear demonstration of standards required.’
Huxham’s own research compared Biology student responses and performance after receiving two types of feedback, that provided by model answers and that provided by personal comments. The results suggested that the best approach might be a hybrid one, drawing on the strengths of both and so that model answers seem to work best in conjunction with individual feedback comments (Huxham, 2007).
According to Sadler (2002), ‘exemplars convey messages that nothing else can’, by not simply telling students but showing them what counts as excellent. But unlike model answers, which are usually crafted by teachers, exemplars are authentic instances of students’ work which represents what can feasibly be accomplished by a student, rather a perfectionist ideal.
The idea with either model answers or exemplar work is that it would enable students to grasp what counts as work of a high standard in the subject area concerned. In Psychology it is used as part of the process of feedback in conjunction with exam questions and mark schemes helping all students to view the high standards and expectations in the work produced. It allows the weaker students a way to help them with structure but also allows those high achievers the ability to further refine their work and to even work towards suggesting improvements to exemplar work that is shown to them. So here is one suggestion of many that makes the process of using model answers and exemplar work in an interactive way.
In looking at model answers and exemplar work, have used the following Cut & Paste activity in the following way in Psychology (modify to your needs as necessary):
- Have a model answer ready.
- Divide answer into paragraphs, with a mixture of Description and Evaluation points. These could be in the form of text boxes, but mixed up on a page of A3 paper.
- Students (individually or in pairs) are asked to cut up the text boxes.
- Students then attempt to create an essay picking and choosing appropriate text boxes of content. It would be a good idea to have a variety of different points (maybe more then needed), not all points have to be used. The idea is that students have a choice of which points they use but anything they use is correct in terms of content but the structure and organisation needs consideration and planning.
- They can then check with mark schemes and with the teacher (who can offer personal feedback) to identify if there is enough content and whether further amendments are necessary.
- Provide opportunities for students to be able to suggest improvements and alternative answers to the model answer. This can be gained by having blank text boxes that students can write on and these can be slotted into the essay.
- Once done (students and teacher are satisfied that an essay has be constructed), instead of sticking the text boxes on a sheet of paper, learners can simply layout their created essay on the table and take a picture on their phones (it saves paper and provides a valid reason for them to use their phone in class!).
- I managed to get learners to send me photos of their work in class and I was then able to put them up on the projector during the same session and this allowed for further whole-class discussion, feedback and reflection on the experience.
The above could be delivered in a variety of ways, for example:
- Using different model essays for each table, having different graded essays representing a high middle and low mark to construct and then using the mark scheme to grade each one with the assistance of the teacher.
- Using text boxes on different colour paper to identify description and evaluation content may be useful.
- If they are laminated text boxes they can be used over again with different classes and by different teachers in a department.
So by all means give a model answer or exemplar work to students, but get them to work for it!
Hounsell, D., McCune, V., Hounsell, J. & Litjens, J. (2006). Investigating and enhancing the quality of guidance and feedback to undergraduate students. Paper presented at the Third Biennial Northumbria/EARLI SIG Assessment Conference, Northumbria, 30 Aug – 1 Sept 2006.
Huxham, M. (2007). Fast and effective feedback: are model answers the answer?Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 32.6, pp. 601-611.
Sadler, D.R. (2002). ‘Ah!…So that’s “quality’. In: Schwartz, P., and Webb, G. ,eds. Assessment: Case Studies, Experience and Practice from Higher Education. London: Kogan