To end examination cheating, let us embrace authentic assessments

Security Officers countercheck exam materials after being opened at the Kibra Deputy County Commissioners Office on February 23, 2022. [Samson Wire, Standard]

A mentor once told me that ‘why’ is often the elusive, if not the most uncomfortable question, yet the most illuminating, if approached with sobriety and objectivity.

As the national exams trudge on, cases of runaway irregularities abound.

The suits from the Ministry of Education are talking tough, but the tough talk doesn’t seem to cool things down one bit.

Could this be the perfect point to ask the pertinent ‘why’ question? Why are we perennially witnessing this embarrassing habit that is first becoming a subculture? Why are we cheating in exams?

Exam malpractices involving collusion, impersonation, unauthorised access to assessment materials, etc have been common vices on academic assessment over the years in Kenya.

We seem to have dropped the ball on the very essence and purpose of assessments.

The essence and purpose of assessments are to gather relevant information about student performance or progress or to determine student interests to make judgments about their learning process.

Marking scheme

Could it be time to discard the traditional assessment model in favour of an authentic assessment one?

Traditional assessments are basically prescriptive. Prescriptive in the sense that students are typically expected to provide answers that match a given marking scheme.

Conversely, authentic assessments ask students to demonstrate understanding by performing a more complex task usually representative of more meaningful application.

Traditional assessment is contrived but authentic is in real life.

The traditional assessment says recalling or recognition, it is teacher structured and indirect evidence is put, but authentic one is construction or application, it is student structured and direct evidence is set.

Authentic assessment has played a pivotal role in driving curricular and instructional changes in the context of global educational reforms.

Since the 1990s, teacher education and professional development programmes in many education systems around the globe have focused on the development of assessment literacy for teachers and teacher candidates, which encompasses teacher competence in the design, adaptation, and use of authentic assessment tasks or performance assessment tasks to engage students in in-depth learning of subject matter and to promote their mastery of the 21st-century competencies.

Are our modes of assessment wrong? Are we assessing the wrong things?

What exactly does KCSE measure/assess? Is it the students’ intelligence, aptitude, or achievement?

Intelligence, is general cognitive capability, while aptitude is the ability to learn or develop certain specific skills like working with numbers, writing, engineering, or computer programming. Basically, aptitude is a talent.

A student can’t quite prepare for an aptitude or an intelligence test; it’s a test of that which is inherent in someone.

Achievement tests, on the other hand, are about gauging how much one has learned.

Therefore, a student must prepare by mastering content beforehand in order to triumph. Pointedly, KCSE is most certainly an achievement test.


This distinction of national exams being achievement tests is the main reason why we are witnessing cases of irregularities.

Being an achievement test, results are 100% dependent on preparation.

Looking closely at the current state of our schools, various factors contribute to varying preparation levels among students countrywide; inequality in the distribution of learning resources, quality of teachers, name them.

So, what exactly does this mean? Every year, hundreds of thousands of students are chronically underprepared and consequently judged to be poor students.

Maybe we should revisit what our exams are assessing? We ought to transform KCPE and KCSE from exams that exclusively measure achievement to exams that also measure aptitude and intelligence.

By doing this, the natural ability will be measured alongside achievement, and good students, irrespective of their school level disadvantages, will shine through.

When considering how to assess student learning in a course, most instructors would agree that the ideal assessment would be one that not only assesses students’ learning; it also teaches students and improves their skills and understanding of course content.

One fundamental aspect of such assessments is that they are authentic.

An authentic assignment is one that requires the application of what students have learned to a new situation, and that demands judgment to determine what information and skills are relevant and how they should be used.

Authentic assignments often focus on messy, complex real-world situations and their accompanying constraints; they can involve a real-world audience of stakeholders or “clients” as well.

Test anxiety

The goal of authentic assessment is to enhance the learning process and help students gain knowledge while completing tasks that are beneficial to their “real-world” experiences.

Unlike taking an exam, students work on the authentic assessment over a period of time and they are not limited to filling in bubbles on scannable test papers to demonstrate what they know.

Authentic assessments let students show what they are really capable of without the pressure of having to perform well on a traditional test, so they are great options for students who suffer from test anxiety.

According to Grant Wiggins, President of Authentic Education, a consulting, research, and publishing company, an assignment is authentic if it:

  • is realistic.
  • requires judgment and innovation.
  • asks the student to “do” the subject.
  • replicates or simulates the contexts in which adults are “tested” in the workplace or in civic or personal life.
  • assesses the student’s ability to efficiently and effectively use a repertoire of knowledge and skills to negotiate a complex task.
  • allows appropriate opportunities to rehearse, practice, consult resources, and get feedback on and refine performances and products.

Authentic assessments can be contrasted with conventional test questions, which are often indirect measures of a student’s ability to apply the knowledge and skills gained in a course.

Conventional/traditional tests have an important place in school subjects but cannot take the place of authentic assessments.

Real-world tasks

Authentic assessments have several advantages over conventional tests.

They are likely to be more valid than conventional tests, particularly for learning outcomes that require higher-order thinking skills.

Because they involve real-world tasks, they are also likely to be more interesting for students, and thus more motivating.

And finally, they can provide more specific and usable information about what students have succeeded in learning as well as what they have not learned.

However, authentic assessments may require more time and effort on an instructor’s part to develop and may be more difficult to grade.

To address the difficulty of grading authentic assessments, it is often useful to create a grading rubric that specifies the traits that will be evaluated and the criteria by which they will be judged.

Why exactly should educators use authentic assessments?

Authentic assessments help students analyse what they’ve learned and apply it to their own experience.

They don’t have to memorise facts for a test, so they can use their creativity to show what they’ve learned.

For older students who can use a combination of writing and speaking, authentic assessment helps them refine their writing and oral presentation skills.

Authentic assessment works great for groups, so students can get experience collaborating on projects with their peers.

There is, therefore, an urgent need to normalise authentic assessment, where students feel a connection to the learning and assessment process. This is a sure way of curbing malpractice.