abby with self-portFor many of us, this is more or less the last time that we will be thinking about “studio work” and the “investigation workbook” – certainly in those terms – because in a few weeks the visual arts course that started in 2009 will be just a fading memory.

Personally speaking, as a course I felt it was far from perfect, but over the years I think most of us got used to it.

One major flaw that frequently exasperated teachers in training workshops was the complexity of the assessment descriptors. What on earth did they mean?

Often during workshops we would spend a session just trying to simplify and translate the descriptors so that teachers could understand what examiners wanted.

I’m not just talking about teachers who did not have English as their first language – the confused also included teachers whose first language was English and who really tried to understand the complex and convoluted language of those descriptors.

It quickly became apparent to the visual arts assessment and curriculum team that the language used in the new (in 2009) assessment criteria was causing real problems, so in 2010, along with the Chief Examiner, the Visual Arts Subject Manager and another Senior Examiner, I spent a few days in Cardiff trying to decipher the descriptors.

It was an intensive and rewarding few days and we ended up with something that was called the “Visual arts Assessment clarification, June 2010”.

It’s a 15 page pdf document that seems to have been downloaded, read and appreciated by many teachers.

It has been on the OCC since 2010 and if you want to look at it you will find it in the “General documents” section, 8th document listed from the top.

So – there are definitely things that the examiner will be looking for, either in the multiple files submitted for the studio work or the single file uploaded for the investigation workbook.

Below is a list of these things.

Feel free to share with your students.

The deadline for the upload to IBIS is April 20th.

In the remaining ten (more or less) weeks these simple bullet points may be a more useful guide than those good old assessment descriptors (!?)


Clarification of assessment descriptors


In studio work the examiner is looking for evidence of:

  • experimentation and the development of ideas in artwork leading to successful resolution
  • the selection and use of a variety of artistic and cultural strategies, media and styles
  • an ongoing process of review, modification and refinement
  • inventive approaches to experimentation and exploration using diverse strategies, ideas, techniques and media
  • the ability to select and employ materials appropriately leading to coherent use of materials
  • the development of a sense of self in relation to other people, places and times
  • cultural and historical sources being used appropriately to inform and construct artwork
  • knowledge of how to make informed reflective, critical judgments, and use them when evaluating their own studio work (HLA/SLA) or the ability to pose questions and work towards solving their own problems (HLB/SLB).



In investigation the examiner is looking for evidence of:

  • depth and breadth of ideas in relation to exploration of arts in historical and cultural contexts
  • coherent, focused and individual investigative strategies into visual qualities
  • the use of diverse strategies for investigating artworks through theory and practice, examining visual qualities, ideas and contexts
  • the ability to use vocabulary and language accurately in relation to discussing art and artmaking
  • clearly communicated ideas presented via text and image in an effective and aesthetic manner
  • work presented articulately, thoughtfully, coherently and comprehensively
  • a range of primary and secondary sources included in the sample pages and fully referenced
  • practical use of varied skills, techniques and processes, using experimental and sustained approaches in order to develop art-making ideas
  • the application and use of a variety of skills, techniques and processes when writing, discussing, interpreting and responding to artworks and presenting reasoned opinions
  • the practical application of studies of selected topics both in depth and in breadth
  • connections between the student’s work and the work of others
  • a variety of skills, techniques and processes that demonstrate the relationship between investigation and studio.


Image: student working on self-portrait.