National external moderation summary reports

560 Business Communication - 2014, Semester 2


This report provides a national perspective on the moderation of 560 Business Communication.

Assessment materials from 34 Tertiary Education Organisations (TEOs) were moderated for this prescription. 

Of the 34 submissions:

  • four met all key assessment requirements
  • a further 12 met key assessment requirements overall, but require some modification before next course delivery
  • the remaining 18 did not meet key assessment requirements and modification/redevelopment and post-assessment resubmission is required.

 Areas where modification or redevelopment was required were:

  • Submission of materials: submissions need to be checked to ensure all the assessment material required is included.
  • Assessment activities: these need to align with the prescription requirements. This version of the prescription (Version 2) contains some significant differences from the previous version. It is important that providers review their assessment activities to ensure they meet the requirements of the revised prescription.
  • Assessment schedules: assessment schedules need to align to the requirements of the prescription and provide sufficient guidance to ensure consistent marking. Questions that are worth more than 1 or 2 marks need marking schedules that specify the criteria to be met for awarding partial marks (e.g. what is required to score 4 out of 6 marks).

Presentation of assessment materials

The majority of assessments were complete with correctly labelled learner samples. 

Care should be taken in selecting learner samples.  Suitable ones are complete or nearly complete, and legible, both in terms of handwriting (if a test) and copying quality. Learner samples should be based on learners who have attempted all (or nearly all) aspects of the assessments. Colour copying helps moderators to see the assessor’s comments and marks more clearly. Some submissions included peer assessment sheets which the moderators cannot check mark. 

Many submissions included significant case studies. These case studies were developed in-house or taken from an external source, and in order to model good practice to learners the source should be stated in a correct accepted reference style such as APA.

Most course outlines were complete, although several did not include reading lists.  At level 5, learners are expected to access a variety of resources and guidance should be provided.   The vast majority of TEOs used Barnett and O’Rourke’s Communication: Organisation and Innovation (3e) as a text.

This prescription requires learners to write correct clear business documents. This should be modelled to learners in the course documentation.  It is important that documents are checked for errors of grammar, spelling and expression.

Assessment grids

All submissions included an assessment grid; however these need to be checked to ensure accuracy with the assessments and that all calculations are correct. 

Assessment grids that demonstrated good practice included the following:

  • The correct number, type and weightings of assessment tasks.
  • Identified where each learning outcome and key element is assessed, along with its weighting. Raw marks may or may not be included: weighted percentages are necessary. Linking each assessment task or question to the key element it assesses, guides moderators, and assists them to understand how the assessor has interpreted the prescription.
  • Any variances from the prescription weightings were correctly calculated.

Assessment activities

The key considerations for moderators were whether tasks:

  • assessed all prescription learning outcomes, with appropriate weightings
  • were at the appropriate level.

Learning outcomes

Learning outcomes indicate assessment outcomes and specify what learners need to know and be able to do.  Key elements indicate assessment coverage and specify how the related learning outcome must be evidenced.  Key element assessment evidence must be provided in the context of the learning outcome, not in isolation.  

This was the first moderation round since version 2 of the prescription was introduced. TEOs need to ensure that all assessment tasks relate to version 2 of the prescription and all prescription outcomes are assessed with appropriate weightings and at the appropriate level.

Assessments focus on the learning outcome itself, rather than the key elements. The learning outcome provides the context in which the key elements must be assessed.

Learning outcome 3

The most significant issue was assessment of learning outcome 3. In prescription version 2, the learning outcome states learners must ‘apply effective interpersonal skills in business situations’. This requires practical assessment activities: written analysis of a case study is no longer appropriate. For example each learner must demonstrate appropriate interpersonal skills while participating in, chairing and recording a meeting (key element e).  This means that each learner must be practically engaged in three separate meetings. In most cases these will be face-to-face; however mediated meetings would still allow this engagement. This is in contrast to version 1, which only required learners to ‘demonstrate and apply an understanding of interpersonal communication skills’, which could be assessed using a case study and written tasks.

TEOs who assessed learning outcome 3 well followed common strategies. Generally, they involved learners in group activities where they had several meetings and used the skills required in key elements a), b), d) and e).  An interview (key element c)) may also have been included.  Assessment occurred either by direct observation (by the assessor, supported in some cases by peer assessment); or by written reflections where specific examples of the application of the skills by the learner and their group members were discussed. In some cases there was an effective combination of these two approaches

The group tasks that allow assessment of learning outcome 3 can, with a carefully integrated approach, lead to assessment of other learning outcomes.  For example the group can share researching information related to another learning outcome (1, 2 or 5 are all suitable); this could then lead to a group oral presentation where each learner is assessed individually, or to an individual written report.  Such an integrated approach then includes assessment of learning outcome 4, key element a) or c).

Learning outcome 1

A small number of TEOs had not adapted their assessments from version 1 where process elements could be assessed outside the context of a theory. However, most submissions did focus on the application of three theories in business contexts.  The majority of assessments required learners to discuss the theories outlined in their text book (Barnett and O’Rourke’s Communication: Organisation and Innovation). Social penetration theory and uncertainty reduction theory were also discussed in a small number of assessments.

Learning outcome 2

Learning outcome 2 in version 2 requires learners to discuss the influence of a range of intrapersonal factors ‘in business situations’. These last three words show a different emphasis from version 1, and need to be specified in the assessment. Many submissions included assessment tasks that required learners to write about the factors listed in the key elements, but ignored the need to explain their influence within business contexts.

Learning outcome 4

Most TEOs adhered to Assessment note 2 which requires learners to demonstrate writing and oral skills individually. This applies most significantly to learning outcome 4. The best examples of assessments for key elements a) and c) challenged learners with tasks that related to other learning outcomes, for example researching and writing a report on content relating to one of the key elements in learning outcome 5.

Some TEOs chose to provide a case study or scenario providing some or most of the information required for a formal written report.  This is not good practice for two reasons: 

  • At level five, learners should be required to gather their own information and demonstrate the skill of selecting and organising this into a formal report structure with accurate references.
  • In a business context, any report is based on factual information.  Where learners are required to invent detail, or draw conclusions based on limited information to complete a report based on a scenario, they are demonstrating a practice that is inappropriate and even unethical in business.

Key element b), business correspondence in version 2 requires assessment of one letter and one email. Good business practice would allow learners time to draft, edit and proofread such written documents to ensure they are at final draft stage and demonstrate the high level of accuracy accepted. Several submissions included four (or more) items of correspondence, including a persuasive letter, reflecting version 1 of the prescription.  Some TEOs assessed both the email and letter in a test or exam context, with time pressure to complete the tasks.

Mark allocation should focus on writing that was ‘clear, concise, courteous and correct’, as stated in learning outcome 4, and for the ‘high standard of accuracy’ required in assessment note 2, rather than structure, format and content of written documents. 

Learning outcome 5

As with learning outcome 1, most TEOs had adapted their assessment tasks to reflect version 2 of the prescription.  A small number used assessments that echoed version 1 including assessing legal issues, no longer a specific part of the prescription.

A small number of submissions assessed 60% of the prescription in one final examination. This resulted in large numbers of separate tasks to ensure coverage of all elements, and did not provide learners with sufficient opportunity to demonstrate their skills and knowledge.

Tasks that went beyond the requirements of the prescription were evident in a small number of submissions, including writing about web design and correctly keying in and formatting electronic documents under test conditions.

A 10% aggregate variance is allowed in assessment weightings. That is, the percentage variation in total across all learning outcomes should not be more than 10%. Three submissions exceeded the permitted 10% aggregate variance from the prescription.


Assessment tasks at level 5 are expected to require learners to apply skills or content rather than just identifying or describing, and completing reports and business correspondence where all information and / or a detailed template was provided.

Assessment conditions and instructions

The key consideration for moderators was whether assessment conditions and instructions were clear, appropriate and fair to learners.

Information essential to any clear assessment includes:

  • Clear submission dates for assignments, and the date and time allowed for a test or exam.
  • Clear conditions for a test or exam, for example closed or open book, and, if open book, exactly what materials learners may have with them.  For this prescription, a print-based dictionary is appropriate regardless of whether it is open or closed book.
  • A clear indication of which learning outcomes are being assessed, and the weightings of each.
  • A clear indication of the allocation of marks for each assessment task.
  • For larger tasks, the breakdown of those marks for individual parts of a task.
  • Some guidance as to the standard or detail of the response required.
  • A simple, transparent numbering system for tasks.  Some assessments have multiple sections often leading to several questions with the same number or sub-number. Using consecutive numbers throughout makes reference to a particular task easier.

Many tests and exams included substantial case studies.  Good practice suggests these should be provided to learners in advance to allow them to read and consider the issues involved.  It would be helpful to moderators to indicate on the assessment whether this has occurred.

In a small number of cases, printed answer books for tests or exams contained insufficient space for learners to write their answers.  This meant learner answers were less likely to be legible as they ran over onto margins, or writing became very small. 

Robust internal moderation should also include checking of assessment conditions and instructions, as well as proof reading. Errors not only provide a poor model, but create noise that can impede a learner’s understanding of the tasks.

Assessment schedules

The key considerations for moderators were whether schedules:

  • provided statements that specify evidence expectations that meet prescription requirements (e.g. sample answers and/or a range of appropriate answers, and/or quality criteria for answers)
  • provided a sufficiently detailed breakdown of marks to ensure consistent marking.

Assessment schedules are important for these reasons:

  • They assist assessors in designing assessment tasks by linking questions and answers to the prescription and their assessment grid.
  • They provide markers with a guide for consistent marking of learner work.
  • Where a breakdown of marks is provided, they guide learners to achieve the assessment requirement. 
  • More detailed schedules that accompany returned marked work can provide valuable feedback to learners.   

Marking schedules that meet good practice have:

  • a clear breakdown of marks. This does not require that every individual mark is accounted for; rather if a task is allocated say, 20 marks, the breakdown may be in 5 mark chunks.
  • clear guidance for the expected content, and/or clear, specific judgement statements or quality criteria.

Issues with marking schedules included:

  • model answers that were not good practice, or incorrect, or differed in part to the question asked
  • limited or no breakdown marks for tasks
  • judgement statements that were too broad and not specifically related to the tasks.

Some submissions included assessments where the number of marks allocated was the same as the percentage value of the task, so a test weighted at 20% may be allocated just 20 marks.  This reduces flexibility for markers to differentiate between responses of differing quality.  Assessments where the total marks add to a rounded number that relates to the weighted value provide more transparency for learners.  For example an assessment weighted at 30% might be marked out of 60, 90 or 100. 

In a small number of submissions, assessment schedules referred to a chapter or pages in the textbook or other resources.  This is not good practice: suggested content of answers needs to be clear and specific.

Peer assessment contributed to the final grades for some assessment tasks, particularly relating to group assessment activities.  This is acceptable provided it is clear to assessors, learners and moderators how the peer assessment is calculated and the total percentage it contributes. 

Assessor decisions

The key considerations for moderators were whether:

  • marking rewarded a similar quality of work with similar marks
  • marking rewarded learner work in a manner consistent with prescription requirements.

In submissions that demonstrated good practice, detailed marking schedules accompanied marked learner work, so it was clear to the recipient how they earned the marks awarded.

The major issue in some assessor decisions was generous marking, with this most evident in writing tasks relating to learning outcome 4, key elements b) and c), where poorly expressed documents were awarded more marks than they merited.  In other cases, marking schedules were insufficient or not followed.


There were some excellent examples of clear and innovative assessments that challenged learners in an interesting manner and conformed to the prescription. However the majority of submissions did not comply with the prescription requirements in one or more ways.  This may be partly explained by TEOs adapting to a new version of the prescription.

Most issues could be rectified by careful analysis of the prescription and developing a comprehensive assessment grid that aligns both learning outcomes and key elements. This would ensure that assessment tasks reflect both the ‘big picture’ of the prescription, and the detail embedded within it.

Communication is a core component of the NZDipBus Graduate Profile, and central to every business context.  It is essential that the Business Communication paper demonstrates and assesses good communication practice.

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