Mary McGee Wood - Assessment and Feedback - Training and Consultancy

Answers: objective or subjective?

Is the answer to a question a matter of objective fact, or of subjective judgement or opinion? What are the implications for marking and feedback?

Even the simplest of correct objective answers can be expressed in a dazzling variety of ways. For example, we looked at the term "rhesus positive" in a first-year biology exam. The 281 student answers produced 52 distinct versions of this phrase. 15 were mis-spellings, leaving 37 different completely acceptable representations. What is more, analysis revealed six parameters of variation, giving 288 possible correct variants.

One skill you may be testing for is students' ability to discriminate bwetween fact and opinion. Compare "VAT is currently 17.5%, which I think is too high" with "VAT is currently too high at 17.5%".

Needless to say, a marker must also be able to discriminate between the validity of the argument in a subjective answer, and their own subjective view of its conclusion. "I don't agree with you" seldom gives helpful feedback. "This is a flaw in your argument" usually does.