Types of assessment currently used in Saudi Arabia

Types of assessment currently used in Saudi Arabia

The department of education in Saudi Arabia changed the way that assessments were carried out over five years ago. There are two main types of assessment currently used in Saudi Arabia.


In primary school there are no final exams, rather a rubric is used throughout the school year to continually assess the level of knowledge and understanding that the students have in an ongoing process. This can cause some difficulties as parents and the wider public can assume this to a less valid assessment as there is no final percentage grade for students. Teachers also complain about this type of assessment as it is time consuming and difficult to accurately apply with large classes as it depends on teachers closely analysing the work of every single student to be accurate. If some students are struggling the teacher must then create a treatment plan for the student to help them to improve their knowledge, which can be incredibly time consuming for the teacher.

The use of a rubric to assess students can be very beneficial to both the teacher and the student because it gives students a clear understanding of what is expected of them. The use of rubrics as an assessment method can positively affect student outcome, “Learning increases, even in its serendipitous aspects, when learners have a sense of what they are setting out to learn, a statement of explicit standards” (Huba & Freed, 2000, p.151). Students who are aware of their learning goals will be far more likely to achieve them as they will understand what they must work towards. In my opinion this method of ongoing assessment and feedback are very useful for students as they have access to information and support for their improvement. The success of this assessment practise depends on the teacher’s use of effective feedback practice (Nicol & MacFarlane-Dick, 2006). If done effectively, feedback will clarify what is considered good performance; facilitate the development of self-assessment; deliver high quality information to students about their learning; encourage both dialogue and motivation; provide opportunities for students to close the gap on actual and preferred performance and provide information to teachers to shape teaching practises (Nicol & MacFarlane-Dick, 2006). If all of the criteria for effective feedback are met it can have the effect of significantly improving student outcome.

In my opinion the use of rubric assessment in primary was effective because not only did it remove the stress associated with exams, but also helped students to discover their areas of weakness and take steps to address them. Also, this type of assessment allowed teachers to measure knowledge and skill rather than the ability of students to pass exams. It is my view that the majority of teachers who objected to this type of assessment do not have the necessary experience or understanding of this type of assessment. Teachers need the support and leadership of other professionals and teaching colleagues in order to successfully carry out the rubric style of assessment (Cooper & Cowie, 2008). For example, when I was a teaching supervisor my colleague would regularly visit schools to train teachers in the use of rubric assessments. This usually happened when the curriculum or learning goals were modified. After the necessary training the ability and confidence of the teachers greatly improved, as did the students’ abilities.

However it must be said that this style of assessment is open to some level of inequality because it is somewhat subjective. Teachers can have very different beliefs about the nature and purpose of assessment, and can implement them in different ways (Remesal, 2010). This can lead to significant variations of assessment practise between schools and even classrooms.

The issue of fairness and equality must also be mentioned. The notion of fair and equitable assessment had become increasingly important (Parker & Rennie, 1998), as assessments must provide every student with an equal opportunity to display their skill and knowledge. Rubric style assessments are subjective in nature, as the markers often operate in private without sharing their criteria, and rely upon the subjective knowledge of each individual teacher. For example, it is possible for a teacher to allow their personal knowledge and experience of individual students to affect their assessment. The personality, previous performance and perceived effort can all influence a teacher’s ability to objectively assess their students. In this way it may be said that the rubric on its own is not a completely reliable means of assessment. In order to improve the rubric assessment format, I would suggest that teachers educate themselves and practise their ability to objectively assess their students. I would suggest conducting an informal classroom test to compare with the rubric assessment to ensure that their markings are consistent with the academic achievements of the students.


In middle and high schools in Saudi Arabia assessments take the form of exams. Students must complete two exams per semester, and a total of four exams per year. Five years ago the government stopped using standardised national exams designed by the ministry of education focussing on the information of the final year of high school. The government chose to stop using these exams because teachers had begun to teach their students how to pass the exam rather than giving students an in-depth knowledge of the subject. Also, students were only motivated to work hard in their final year in order to pass the national exam and consequently did not leave school with a well-rounded understanding of their subjects. The alternative to the national exam is an exam designed by an association of university professors which is conducted in specialised examination centred that students have to attend. This exam has different content every single year and as a result it is impossible for teachers or students to predict what it will consist of. This exam is designed with extremely high quality standards, encouraging schools to consider ways in which to improve their teaching to meet these standards.

It is my opinion that these exams significantly contribute to the improvement of the educational system in Saudi Arabia, but also have several disadvantages for students. As these exams are conducted on set days in a controlled environment it is possible that this could cause problems for some students. For example, they could be sick, have family problems or trouble travelling to the centres which could impact upon their ability to perform in the exam.

Remesal (2010) identifies four different types of assessment. A tool for the improvement of teaching and learning; assessment driven by school accountability; assessment driven by student accountability and as a meaningless practise (Remesal, 2010). The assessments in Saudi Arabia are primarily used for the purpose of student accountability, to ascertain the level of knowledge and understanding that students have achieved as a result of their education. However, these assessments can be used by successful teachers to improve their teaching style for the better, though this in not the main purpose. These assessments can also be used to make the school accountable for student performance. If students achieve poor grades across the board it is clear that it is the school that is failing the students rather than the students failing themselves, and measures can be taken to improve the school so as to better support students in their learning.

This method of assessment fits the “factory model” (Taylor & Nolen, 2005, p.153) in which students are viewed as unfinished products moving along a conveyor belt to have knowledge given to them by their teacher and periodically tested to evaluate whether or not they have successfully grasped the required information (Taylor & Nolen, 2005). In my opinion this model of assessment can only be used to measure the final level of knowledge of the students, which can be easily forgotten once the exam is over. There is also no chance for students to receive meaningful feedback on their work throughout the year, and as such they cannot take the necessary steps to improve their abilities before the exams. As these exams are always conducted at the end of a semester or year there is no chance for them to improve their grade, except in very particular circumstances such as sickness or mitigating circumstances. This model of assessment also does not focus on providing students with lasting knowledge or skills, instead it encourages students to focus on passing the next exams. Furthermore, I think that it is unfair that the final exams are designed in such a way that students and teachers have no way of knowing what will be on the exam. This causes a great deal of stress for the students, and is very difficult for them to study for. Indeed, if a student fails two units in the exam they must repeat the year and the final exam for all units and not just the two units that they failed.

In order to improve this assessment model I would suggest that teachers take a more active role in supporting the individual learning needs of their students by providing meaningful feedback, so that they have the chance to improve themselves. I would also divide the final exams into different parts, such as practical exams and coursework so that all students have the opportunity to fully showcase their abilities. If an entire grade comes down to student performance on one day, there are too many factors which can negatively influence their grade which are currently taken into account.

When the government tried to develop and improve the curriculum they must also consider ways in which to develop assessments. When the curriculum guidelines are changed, it is important that teachers are provided with the necessary training and support to effectively teach and assess the new material. Indeed, when developing assessment tools factors such as font type and size, the clarity and variety of the questions and the expected standards must be taken into consideration. These factors can be overlooked as insignificant to anyone lacking training in the development of assessment tools, but can have a major impact on the ability of students to understand and complete the test. By taking the time to properly train teachers in how to develop assessment tools, both teachers and students stand to benefit significantly. During my time as a teacher I discovered that when developing assessments it is far better to design the assessment prior to teaching the subject to ensure that I provided all of the information and support to the students that would eventually help them to meet the standards of the assessment, as having an assessment that is “built into the design of teaching” (Shepardson & Britsch, 2001, p.121) will ultimately be more useful to the teacher and student. Testing must be seen as an integral part of teaching (Shepardson & Britch, 2001) aligned with instruction rather than viewed as a separate task. In this way teachers must be aware of what students will likely be assessed on so that they can effectively support them in their learning and understanding of the subject. Without this knowledge, the role of the teacher becomes much harder.



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