Why long essay assessment is important?

Recently, I read that “Dean of FASS Professor Annamarie Jagose said she believed the faculty should move away from its over-reliance on long-form essays as a method of assessment“. This comment soon became a discussion in the University of Sydney, of whether long essay will no longer available for assessment.


The main argument of moving away from the essay-focused model is the so-called “cost-saving measure”. The dean claimed that essay marking is less cost and time efficient than exams and quizzes.

Indeed, in the past 12 months, Australian universities have been claiming of losing revenues from travel restriction of overseas students. Therefore, cost saving is required — job losses, budget cuts etc.

However, watch out when universities play around with words: “loss of revenue”; they are not having an immediate financial crisis, but only losing some of the enormous profits from the education industry in the last decade.

More ridiculously, the university has introduced new HR system, timetabling system, multi-authentication login, and they also employed a new Vice Chancellor. I am not saying that these are not important for the university from the administrative perspective. However, the university perhaps needs to consider what is more important to them.

Improvement of writing style

Again, this comes back to the debate of what does university exist for? education? research? development? knowledge? profit? Most likely a bit of all of the components. However, I assume that all institutions are supposed to make best decision for their consumers. In this case, students.

Long essay assessment is important to students’ learning in arts and social sciences. The more you write, the better your writing is. Writing is one of the most important skills in the industry even they do not work in academia. Long essay assessment never limits to research essays. It also includes briefing papers, policy analysis, literature reviews, reports etc. There is a big gap between high school and work, where university is a place where students learn how to write. In other words, students need long essay assessment as part of job training. 

Learning of research skill

Another attribute for long essay assessment is that students can actually spend more time to research on the topics they like. This cannot be learnt from exams and quizzes, which only testing your knowledge. I am not sure about others, but when I was a student, I prefer essays than exams because I learn more from them.

Research essay provides some freedom of learning and applying what they learnt from lectures. It is an encouragement of generating new knowledge and perspectives. Not to mention, research and critical thinking skills are still very important in the job market. Many students still do not know the difference between journal reporting and research by the time they graduate. If the university decides to eliminate long essay assessment, it is likely that our next generation has knowledge, but not critical thinking. 

Unfortunately, because assessment marking needs to be more “time efficient”, topic-free research essay is more rare in universities than before. Essay writing becomes more structured. This limits our students’ potential. As an educator and a marker, I like reading what students have spent their time researching on, and I always learn something from them. I do not want to see such little freedom of learning being eliminated just because of the so-called cost efficiency.

Wage theft

Wage theft — a term that becomes more popular last year. Universities have been treating their staffs, both full-time and casual, as slaves. As academics, we are definitely working more than what we usually paid. When other unions are fighting for extra hour pay, university staffs work overtime just to get the job done: the load of administrative work, unpaid peer review, research and conference. And now, the university is changing the assessment model, so that staffs can claim even less than their actual workloads. What a capitalist.

More to come. 

Leave a Reply