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Student Responses to a Tough Early Assessment: A Useful “Kick up the Bum”?


First year is a delicate time for students. Many have little idea what to expect of university, and their sense of identity as tertiary students is fragile. A diagnostic assessment early in first semester may reassure students that they have chosen the right path. However, some academics, particularly in engineering, argue that this early assessment should be very demanding – so tough, in fact, that some students fail - in order to alert students to the hard work required to pass the course. This study uses a mixed methods design (weekly surveys and in-depth interviews) to explore the effects of a purposefully tough early assessment on first year engineering students at an Australian university. We find that, across the cohort, the high failure rate was not associated with a significant slump or spike in motivation. Although some students were initially dismayed by their results, most went on to address their study with resilience, and appreciated the “kick up the bum”, as they described it.

Published: 2019-08-23
Pages:28 to 40
How to Cite
Wilson, K., & Wilson, K. F. (2019). Student Responses to a Tough Early Assessment: A Useful “Kick up the Bum”?. Student Success, 11(2), 28-40.

Author Biographies

University of Canberra
Australia Australia

Dr Kate Wilson is an adjunct associate professor of the University of Canberra. Her research interests include the first year experience in higher education, academic literacy, and critical thinking in the teaching of English as a Foreign Language. She was formerly Head of the School of Languages and International Education, and Director of the Academic Skills Program at the University of Canberra.

UNSW Canberra
Australia Australia

Dr Kate F Wilson (SFHEA) is a senior lecturer and Scientia Education Fellow at UNSW Canberra (ADFA) in the School of Engineering and IT. Her research focusses on student experience and student learning in physics ad engineering, and she is an author of five textbooks at tertiary and secondary level. Kate also runs a primary school science enrichment program.

Open Access Journal
ISSN 2205-0795