Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl



The exam is the final documentation of the individual student's learning outcomes. Exams are of great importance for the students’ choice of study strategies and for their involvement in specific teaching activities because they tend to focus on exam requirements from the very beginning of the course.  The exam should therefore also be seen as part of the student's overall learning process.


Coherence between objectives, activities and exams

The exam must test the extent to which the students have achieved the academic objectives. The teaching activities must therefore provide the students with an opportunity to practice what will they will be tested in at the exam, and what they will be tested in at the exam must match the academic objectives for the course. In other words, there must be "alignment", i.e. correlation, between the academic objectives for the course, the teaching activities during the course, and the final examination of the extent to which the student has achieved the academic objectives.  It is important to consider alignment in the concrete formulation of examination papers, examination questions etc., which must relate to the academic objectives.   

Students focus on exams

Teachers and students tend to view exams in two different ways. The students typically focus on the exam from the beginning of the course, and their expectations regarding exam requirements have an impact on their study choices and priorities from the beginning of the course. The teachers, however, tend to view the exam as a final activity which is more or less disconnected from the teaching itself.

Figure: Teacher’s and students’ view on exams (awaiting translation)

Exams wash back into teaching activities

Students adapt their study strategies to the form and requirements of exams. This means that exams and the chosen method of evaluation wash back into teaching activities. It is referred to as the "backwash effect". Teachers must therefore choose teaching activities which are of clear relevance to exam requirements, and which give students an opportunity to meet academic objectives. The backwash effect can lead to both desirable and undesirable study strategies:

  • Here is an example of a positive backwash effect: a portfolio exam motivates the students to work intensively and systematically during the entire semester, and not only in the exam period.

  • And here is an example of an undesirable backwash effect: an oral exam or a written exam on a topic of the student’s choice motivates the students to read only a selection of the syllabus thoroughly.

Teachers should ask themselves the following questions:

  • Which learning activities may prepare the students for the testing of academic objectives?

  • How does the concrete method of evaluation correspond to the academic objectives of the course? 

  • How is it possible to make the coherence between academic objectives, scheduled teaching activities and form of examination clear to the students?

  • Which desirable and undesirable study strategies are encouraged by the form of examination?



Examples of practice

Further reading

Boud, D. (2010). Assessment 2020. Seven propositions for assessment reform in higher education.

Andersen, H. L., Dahl, B., & Tofteskov, J. (2013). Eksamen. In L. Rienecker, P. S. Jørgensen, J. Dolin, & G. H. Ingerslev (Eds.), Universitetspædagogik (1. udgave ed., pp. 369-408). Frederiksberg: Samfundslitteratur.

Andersen, H. L., & Tofteskov, J. (2016). Eksamen og eksamensformer : betydning og bedømmelse (2. udgave ed.).

Keiding, T. B. (2016). Didaktiske perspektiver på og vejledning til udarbejdelse/revision af studieordninger.

Keiding, T. B., & Felby, L. C. (2016). Notat om prøveformer.


Please contact the editors at AU Educate if you have any questions about the content of the platform or if you need consultation on your teaching from one of the many skilled professionals at the Centre for Educational Development