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Queen Mary Academy

PGCAP project: Improving employability through authentic assessment

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Daniel Gover profile picture

Dr Daniel Gover

Lecturer in British Politics

This project will examine the effectiveness of ‘authentic assessment,’ that is, forms of assessment that are designed to reflect the kinds of tasks students would perform in a professional setting as a way of promoting student employability. Empirical studies indicate that authentic assessment can be effective not only in developing employability skills, but also in achieving other benefits. The study will therefore also pay attention to these wider side-effects as components of ‘effectiveness'.

The concept of ‘employability’ centres primarily on students’ preparedness for employment. While some have understood the term narrowly – for example focusing on the question of whether students enter well-paid employment – for others employability is also about the acquisition of wider skills and attributes that may be useful in the workplace and ‘in life’ (Cole and Tibby 2013: 5). Rees (2021), for example, proposes focus on the development in students of an ‘entrepreneurial spirit’, which is central both to academic development and employment preparedness.

Authentic assessment

‘Authentic assessment’ is closely connected to employability. One study defines it as a form of assessment that requires students to demonstrate ‘the same competencies, or combinations of knowledge, skills, and attitudes, that they need to apply in the criterion situation in professional life’ (Gulikers, Bastiaens & Kirschner 2004: 69). Authentic assessments have been implemented across a wide range of academic disciplines. One recent systematic literature review uncovered 26 studies published between 2010 and 2019, the vast majority in highly vocational disciplines such as business, medicine, law, engineering and education (Sokhanvar, Salehi & Sokhanvar 2021). A limitation of the literature, therefore, is that the approaches studied may potentially be less easily transferrable to less vocational academic disciplines such as political science, where students are not being trained for specific careers. 

Preparing students for the workplace

The context for my interest in this issue is my teaching about the UK parliament, and specifically two third-year modules. In semester 1, the main Parliamentary Studies module provides students with an introduction to the theories and practices of the UK’s legislature. In semester 2, some of these students go on to take the Parliamentary Studies Internship module, allowing them to put their academic learning into practice and to reflect on their experience in light of the academic theories. These modules have thus given me two key rationales for the study. The first is to better prepare students for work, including in the work placement module.

A key justification for offering work placements within an academic qualification is to enable students to apply academic theories and to reflect critically on their experiences (Domakin 2014). Analysis of a similar scheme elsewhere similarly concluded that students required both ‘academic’ and ‘practical’ preparation to succeed on placement (Norton 2008: 4). Authentic assessment – if it is properly aligned with the module curriculum (Biggs & Tang 2011) – may help to meet these goals. A second rationale is to improve the effectiveness of the module assessments more broadly. Authentic tasks may be designed to, for example, foster the development of higher-order cognitive skills associated with Bloom’s Taxonomy, such as ‘evaluation’ and ‘creation’. Academic studies also suggest that there may be wider benefits of authentic assessment, not only in improving students’ employability skills (e.g. communication, collaboration, and critical thinking), but also in improving their learning experiences (e.g. engagement and satisfaction) (Sokhanvar, Salehi & Sokhanvar 2021). 

Benefits for a wide range of stakeholders

The proposed intervention may therefore have positive effects for a broad range of stakeholders. The most obvious potential beneficiaries are students themselves. Both of the rationales identified above are clearly connected to student needs. If the intervention is successful in promoting employability – for example through the skills and knowledge required for the workplace – this will benefit students. More generally, if the assignments are well designed they may have wider positive effects for students, for example by facilitating strong engagement and attainment in academic study.

A second beneficiary is Queen Mary. Employability is central to Queen Mary’s public profile, as reflected in its statement of Graduate Attributes and its 2030 Strategy. Research conducted by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Sutton Trust rated Queen Mary as the top institution in the country for social mobility, describing it as a ‘remarkable exception’ to relatively limited social mobility across the university sector as a whole (Britton, Drayton & van der Erve 2021: 3).

A third set of beneficiaries comprise disciplinary stakeholders. For example, the QAA Subject Benchmark Statement for Politics and International Relations emphasises the need for graduates to be able to ‘apply employability skills’, with teaching methods including ‘contact with political actors through… experiential learning such as internships [and] placements’ (QAA 2019: 9, 11). A final set of stakeholders is government policymakers and regulators (e.g. as reflected in recent proposals by the Office for Students, and metrics within the Teaching Excellence Framework).

While there may be problems in uncritically accepting such targets and approaches to employability, promoting employability through authentic assessment is nonetheless consistent with these policy objectives. 

Contributor profile

Dr Daniel Gover is Lecturer in British Politics in the School of Politics and International Relations. 

Daniel joined Queen Mary University of London as a lecturer in 2019. His research focuses on British politics, with a particular emphasis on the UK parliament and constitution.

Prior to taking up this position he has held a number of research roles. Between 2011 and 2015, and again in 2019, he worked at the Constitution Unit at University College London. His research there included a major investigation of the UK parliament’s policy impact on government legislation, resulting in his co-authored monograph Legislation at Westminster (OUP, 2017), and parliament’s role on Brexit. Between 2015 and 2016 he worked at the Mile End Institute at Queen Mary, researching the introduction of ‘English Votes for English Laws’ in the House of Commons. He also completed his PhD at Queen Mary, on the topic of Christian pressure groups in UK policymaking.

Daniel’s research has been cited in the media, parliament and other policy contexts, and he has appeared before several parliamentary select committees to give evidence based on his findings.



Biggs, John and Catherine Tang (2011) Teaching for quality learning at university: What the student does, 4th edition (Maidenhead: Open University Press). 

Britton, Jack, Elaine Drayton and Laura van der Erve (2021) ‘Which university degrees are best for intergenerational mobility? Research report’, accessed on 29/01/2022 at 

Cole, Doug and Maureen Tibby (2013) Defining and developing your approach to employability: A framework for higher education institutions. York: Higher Education Academy. 

Domakin, Alison (2014) ‘Are we making the most of learning from the practice placement?’, Social Work Education 33(6): 718-730. 

Gulikers, Judith T.M., Theo J. Bastiaens and Paul A. Kirschner (2004) ‘A five-dimensional framework for authentic assessment’, Educational Technology Research and Development 52(3): 67-86. 

Norton, Philip (2008) ‘Parliamentary placements: the benefits and challenges’, Enhancing Learning in the Social Sciences 1(1): 1-9. 

QAA (2019) ‘Subject benchmark statement: Politics and International Relations’, 4th edition, December 2019, accessed on 14/11/2021 at 

Rees, Sian (2021) ‘Re-imagining employability: an ontology of employability best practice in higher education institutions’, Teaching in Higher Education 26(5): 663-678. 

Sokhanvar, Zahra, Keyvan Salehi and Fatemeh Sokhanvar (2021) ‘Advantages of authentic assessment for improving the learning experience and employability skills of higher education students: A systematic literature review’, Studies in Educational Evaluation 70: 1-10. 


About PGCAP projects

PGCAP is the Postgraduate Certificate Academic Practice, delivered by the Queen Mary Academy to staff teaching Queen Mary students.

The final module of PGCAP is Action (practitioner) Research. As part of this module, participants develop an Action Research Project Proposal. This is an excerpt from one such project proposal.

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