Language (and other) assessments in the time of COVID-19

Many UK universities have moved their teaching online in record time. Course design that would normally take some years has instead been done in a week. Many colleagues have already taken necessary measures to re-design their assessments in the new situation, but some are still working on it, and many may still have specific choices to make within the new parameters set by universities and departments.

CUCD has therefore gathered some materials from colleagues who have been working on and thinking about these issues. Many thanks to all who have contributed at this very busy time, and I hope this is helpful in giving a sense of what others are doing and what possibilities are available.

Cressida Ryan teaches biblical Greek at the University of Oxford and has put together a very useful blog post with many ideas for alternative beginners’ and intermediate language assessments, and some thoughts on translation comparison here.

Magdalena Ohrman has run online Latin teaching for Trinity St Davids at Lampeter, along with Fiona Mitchell (now at University of Birmingham) who designed the Greek assessments. Their report shows how they handled online assessment. As these courses were prepared over a much longer time period, some of these solutions may be impractical, but general principles and things learnt from the experience could still be useful.

Maria Pretzler from Swansea University contributed the tactics adopted by her and her colleagues.

Darcy Krasne of Columbia University shared her plans for new assessment in her Latin module.

Staff at St. Andrews are planning in depth translation comparison exercises:

We’re experimenting with an alternative ‘translation’ exercise for the our routine ‘set text translations’ (which we’ve been unhappy with for years, but stuck to as a way of ensuring the students do read the texts in Latin/Gk): we’re giving them a short passage, with a couple of published translations of that passage, some excellent notes on the art/theory of translation from an expert on this (Emma Buckley!) and asking them to comment on the translators’ style, accuracy, etc. Treating it as an experiment which we might use more often in future, and giving the students lots of advice/support (perhaps including a video-walk-through), and making it low-risk in terms of the percentage of marks attached to it.)

Others are using take home exams (open book over 48-hrs), but avoiding any new exercises that students may not feel sufficiently prepared for, swapping set text translations for extra discussions of passages (gobbets), and using obscure texts for unseen translations, or translation comparison exercises.

Some suggestions from me:

Keep it simple where possible. If you can use existing assessment with only slight changes, do that.

Think about how the changes will feel from the student end, and try to think inclusively. What about people with caring responsibilities? What about people in rural areas who have slow network connections (or none)? What about people who live in crowded accommodation?

Nottingham has set a mandatory minimum time for take home exams of five working days (a week in total). This means all exams are by definition open book. It is still possible to use translation as an exercise, either marking it with different criteria, reflecting on it in different ways, or finding passages that do not have published or online translations. Many Neo-Latin or late antique texts are suitable for these purposes, and the Latin library has quite a range online for free.

If anyone else has ideas or practices to share, please do comment or drop me a line (


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