It’s August, which means that most final year visual arts students – and their teachers – now know how they did in terms of DP grades. I hope all went well. All the following relates to the current/-‘old’ course (Final exams 2015).

With our subject in particular I think it’s important to acknowledge that it may be impossible to avoid all discrepancies in assessments – e.g. variations between what you think the correct mark is and what the examiner thinks.

There a couple of issues that sometimes come up when teachers discuss the marks their students’ work achieved.


Virtual Assessment

I think an understanding of the assessment issue can be muddied/muddled by the belief that some teachers still hold that the visiting examiner did a better job than the virtual examiner.

I was a visual arts visiting examiner for more than 25 consecutive years and I interviewed hundreds of students in schools all over the world.

It was a great experience, I enjoyed all those visits, and I know that overall the students I talked to and the teachers I met also enjoyed the experience. As an experience for the student – setting up their show, preparing for the interview and then having the chance to talk about their artistic journey and explain their art to an examiner coming in from another country or at least another city – it was fantastic.

However, as an assessment process it was flawed, because the moderation process was compromised (for one thing, the moderating team never saw what the examiner saw).  Moderation is integral to IBDP assessment and both assessment and moderation are now consistent in a way that they never were before.

OK, in general ‘encounters with art’ terms it’s always best to experience the real thing – I get that, that’s why we go to galleries etc.

But for a consistent and reliable process of assessment, we need more than one person’s opinion, which means moderation, and realistically the moderator must see exactly what the original examiner saw…

One way for the teacher to improve the accuracy of his/her predicted grades may be to look at and assess the on-screen versions of the work rather than the actual work, because you will be seeing exactly what the examiner sees.

I realize that this idea may exasperate teachers who understandably stress the importance of experiencing the real thing – I also value the importance of the real thing – but in assessment terms it makes sense.


Contemporary Art

Jonas_Burgert_painting_admirers_at_Denver_Museum_of_Contemporary_ArtContemporary art can be provocative, exciting and stimulating, and of course, some teachers focus on teaching a visual arts course that reflects issues in contemporary art – and some teachers seem to worry that their results might reflect a lack of understanding of contemporary art by some examiners.

I suspect that visual arts examiners do in general understand contemporary art issues and ideas – but examiners live and work all over the world, come from a range of backgrounds and have a wide variety of interests and passions, and their artistic interests may lie in art ideas, concepts and media other than contemporary art. 

In assessment terms they are looking for achievement that matches assessment descriptors in the various markbands.

Successful visual arts students frequently show excellent exploration of ideas reflecting cultural and historical awareness and artistic qualities: sometimes that exploration of ideas involves contemporary art, but it doesn’t have to.

Atlanta_Contemporary_Art_Center_2Many successful exhibitions have a far wider range of ideas than being restricted to exploring a single kind of art.

Others include reference to conceptual art; Pop Art is hardly contemporary but still fascinates many students; Surrealism is even older but examiners still see surreal ideas appearing in exhibitions.

 Cultural and historical awareness and artistic qualities covers a huge range and is definitely not limited to art from the last few years. (There is also the issue of what “contemporary art” means – art made over the last 10 years? Emergent art movements? Socially conscious art?  Art reflecting issues such as feminism, multiculturalism, etc.?)

Success is often more to do with how well the student explores cultural/historical/artistic ideas rather than a specific type of art.

It is highly likely that you as a teacher will discuss recent/contemporary art in terms of artists, issues and ideas. It’s usually a great discussion (and may feed into related Theory of Knowledge ideas) and it often inspires some art-making.

But just because the student artwork has links to a contemporary art idea does not automatically mean it’s going to get good marks, and not getting good marks does not automatically means that the examiner does not have a good understanding of contemporary art.

And just because art is ‘contemporary’ doesn’t mean its good, or relevant, or even interesting.


What to do if your IB results are below expectations?

Visit and read the useful advice and guidance provided by Peter Gray through this link.


(Atlanta Contemporary Art Centre)

(Denver Museum of Contemporary Art)