The research tradition at Cambridge Assessment

The research tradition at Cambridge Assessment

Although research projects have been carried out at Cambridge Assessment since the 1930s, it wasn't until 1967 that a permanent research unit was established. Our archivist Gillian tells the story of how three examination boards came together to make it happen.

50 years IBM computer photoOn 1 August 1967 a meeting between representatives of three examination boards, the University of Oxford Delegacy of Local Examinations, UCLES and the Oxford and Cambridge Schools Examination Board, agreed to the joint establishment of a research unit. A Cambridge location was chosen so that the unit could access the Cambridge Syndicate’s IBM 360/30 computer (pictured left) – for one hour a day, possibly three, if evening work could be accommodated. The Test Development Research Unit (TDRU) was subsequently installed at 11 Station Road, Cambridge (pictured at the bottom of the page), on a five-year lease.

50 years BERA Insight red book cover photo

After a great deal of fruitful research, TDRU was disbanded in 1985 as the tension between carrying out test development at speed, and research at a sensible pace, proved too much. However, a new research department was established within UCLES: the Council for Examination Development (CED). CED existed in the heady era of the development of the GCSE (introduced in 1988) and the Cambridge IGCSE (introduced in 1989). Even the CED did not really go far enough in terms of pure research as the organisation wished, so a study into research in assessment was commissioned. The result was a book, Assessment and Testing: A survey of research, by Robert Wood (pictured right), and the establishment of the Research and Evaluation Division (RED) in 1994. RED was followed by its successor, Assessment, Research and Development (ARD) in the mid-2000s which still operates today. This saw the first publication of Research Matters, our free biannual publication which allows us to share our research with the wider assessment community.  

50 years BERA Insight old street photoIn 2015 the burgeoning possibilities of ‘Big Data’ led the division to establish a Data and Analytics team, tasked with operationalising analytics for the Group’s exam boards and pioneering new applications of data science within Cambridge Assessment. The team introduced our series of ‘Data Bytes’ to provide accessible visualisations of research findings to the wider public.

Just three years in, the TDRU Director reflected on his aim for ‘no innovation without investigation’. It was always a commendable ambition, and what is certain is that it set a strong tradition for research within Cambridge Assessment which has continued ever since.


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