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Case studies in summative assessment: an investigation

By Claire Whitehouse


This paper reports on a qualitative study that explored the features of a good case study for use in summative assessment at GCSE and GCE. The study consisted of two focus groups and two interviews conducted with examiners, two focus groups with teachers and two focus groups with students. It established that the purpose of a case study in summative assessment is to provide a context. For example, a business undergoing change in business studies, or a place that demonstrates geological processes in geography. The context is used to assess the higher order skills associated with application.

These higher order skills include analysis, selection, evaluation, judgement and decision-making. The participants suggested that a successful case study has seven essential features: a realistic contemporary context; an understandable context; a neutral context; a dynamic storyline; the creation of choice within the case study; sufficient detail; and, coherence of examination materials (case study, questions and mark scheme).

Examiners, students and teachers were unanimous on the first three features. Examiners and teachers articulated the second three features with greater clarity than the students. Only the teachers suggested the coherence of examination materials as a desirable feature of case studies. All of the features are consistent with the characteristics required of any assessment, namely, that it should be valid, accessible, fair, able to differentiate across the ability range and pitched at the correct level.

How to cite

Whitehouse, C. (2009). Case studies in summative assessment: an investigation. Manchester: AQA Centre for Education Research adn Policy.


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