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Cambridge Centre for Teaching and Learning


This page explores two sets of terms which are often used interchangeably at Cambridge.


'Assessment' and 'Examination'

  • An assessment task is any item of assessment whether test, coursework, placement observation, etc.
  • An examination (exam) is one kind of assessment task, delivered under controlled conditions most often at the end of the teaching period.

Currently, the most comon term in use at Cambridge is 'examination', which is sometimes used as an umbrella term for all assessment conditions and modes (see below). The Framework for Assessment now models the use of 'assessment' as the preferred global term. However, 'examination' is still present in Faculty and Department communications about assessment to students and staff, as well as in the University Ordinances. This may impact understanding of the connection between teaching and learning activities, and the academic knowledge and skills which students need to develop in order to demonstrate their learning in summative tasks, which might be exams or another mode of assessment.


'Modes' and 'Conditions'

  • A mode of assessment is the approach or type of assessment offered, such as an essay, presentation, project or examination.
  • A condition (or 'method') of assessment is how the assessment is experienced, such as the timeframe within which the task must be completed, whether the task is open- or closed-book, and whether the assessment is completed in-person or online.

At Cambridge, examinations are the most usual mode of assessment, although the Framework for Assessment encourages diversification of assessment (S28). 'Coursework', for instance, is an approved assessment option that is particularly capacious as it encompasses a range of discipline-specific, innovative and inclusive assessment modes and conditions (S21a).