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How will we assess students in the future?


Proudly telling the world about our philosophy in our 50th anniversary year


By Paula Wilcock

The first official examinations for IB Diploma Programme (DP) assessments were taken in 1971 by just 29 students. Fast-forward to today and more than 200,000 students will take an IB assessment this year alone. We asked Paula Wilcock, Chief Assessment Officer, to tell us how she and her team ensure that they deliver assessments that provide a meaningful experience for IB students.

Our assessment models for the DP, Career-related (CP) and Middle Years (MYP) Programmes include a combination of coursework and summative exams, so that students can demonstrate their application of knowledge and where/how they make judgements. And through service learning students have further opportunities to evidence their skills.

We make sure that our approach to assessment is truly international by collaborating with authors and examiners all over the world. This ensures that our assessments have a global perspective and standard. This also means that universities and employers know that wherever in the world that a student has achieved their diploma or certificate they will have developed and demonstrated the same skills and attributes.

But we must keep evolving. As we fully realize the fourth industrial revolution our assessments need to prepare our students for this change. Their careers are beginning in a changing economy so we must continuously question why and what we assess. How can we provide education that prepares students for non-traditional pathways with assessments that measure what is relevant and important?

By harnessing technological advancements, we can continue to provide opportunities for developing point-in-time formative, interactive and authentic assessments in the classroom with real-time feedback and adaptive learning, and we will be able to gather and share a student’s personal learning journey throughout the programme.

In an age where the answer to any question is available at the touch of a button and content is freely available, I can see a point in time where we have open-book assessments where it will be acceptable to use the internet as part of answering an exam task. Our challenge will be in understanding how that content will be used and applied so that we know what we will need to assess.

A bigger challenge for us will be the ability to share and access examination content at the touch of a button too. By ensuring that an IB education is about more than achieving the highest marks in a singular summative assessment we can reduce the burden on students which can lead them to dishonest actions.

When we have the privilege of going to an IB classroom, we see the joy of learning, the joy of inquiry and critical thinking. We see problem solving, debate, group work and the teacher as a facilitator of that learning. It’s our job to provide the opportunity to evidence that personal journey of learning.


About Paula: As a young graduate, she travelled from the UK to Zimbabwe to work at a startup sixth form offering A levels for students aged 16-18 years in a rural village. It was this experience, of seeing the power of education to broaden opportunities, that inspired her to become an educator. And it is this core principle that continues to guide Paula as she heads up the IB’s Assessment Division.