A fly in the soup? The role of ambiguity in student assessment

Document Type


Publication Date




Publication Title

The International Journal of Management Education


Accurate assessment of student learning goals is challenging because situational or individual characteristics can give some students a disproportionate advantage that is not due to their knowledge and skills. Many assessments have elements of uncertainty, novelty, and ambiguity, and in these situations, students with a higher tolerance of ambiguity (TA) may perform better. Because ambiguity can be unavoidable in assessment, we asked if trust mitigates negative effects for students who cannot tolerate ambiguity well. We conducted an assessment activity with 101 students in 24 teams to judge attainment of AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) learning goals for accreditation. We manipulated the activity to have either high or low levels of ambiguity. Affective trust moderated relationships between TA and two outcomes—selfefficacy and knowledge sharing. High affective trust compensated for low TA in a highly ambiguous task, but cognitive trust did not. These results suggest that ambiguity is a potential source of criterion contamination when assessing students in groups and that affective trust can play an important role in reducing negative effects. We present implications for classroom practices, student assessment, and future research.

Link to Published Version