Assessment affects people's lives. (Boud and Falchikov, 2007)

"the effects of bad [assessment] practice are far more potent than they are for any aspect of teaching. Students can, with difficulty, escape from the effects of poor teaching, they cannot (by definition if they want to graduate) escape the effects of poor assessment." (Boud, 1995)

Assessment is a central element in curriculum development: it is the critical link between learning outcomes, content and learning and teaching activities.  Assessment not only gauges what students have learned, it shapes how many students approach learning. Often assessment is the first thing to be considered by many students in planning their engagement with a topic.

Planning assessment is planning for student learning. The design of assessment tasks, the ways in which the tasks are assessed and the ways in which the assessors give feedback to students all determine the ways in which students will approach their learning at university. Assessment then needs to focus on encouraging learning and measuring progress towards intended learning outcomes.

Assessment can serve both summative and formative purposes, that is, making judgements about student learning for certification/communication purposes and helping to prompt and promote further learning.

Boud and Falchikov (2007) argue for the development of schemes of assessment tasks that progressively promote the development of students' abilities to make increasingly sophisticated judgements about their own learning. Such approaches to assessment place assessment as a crucial element in developing students' capacity to learn for the longer term.

Some guiding principles (Boud, 1998):

  • Assessment should always be judged in terms of its consequences for learning 
  • Assessment must be viewed through the eyes of students
  • Time on task is important
  • Avoid communicating to students in code
  • Assessment should not be distracted by the technicalities of grading.

Consequently assessment schemes should maximise the use of assessment tasks that:

  • involve students in meaningful learning and encourage students to adopt deep approaches to their learning
  • encourage learning from each other and
  • provide rich detailed descriptive feedback about progress in relation to intended learning outcomes.

Designing assessment is a process of careful, considered questioning.

While assessment is usually designed in relation to a particular topic, it also needs to be designed to fit within the aims of the course, the development of Flinders Graduate Qualities and to promote learning that is likely to be useful beyond the course.

Well-designed assessment:

  • Links assessment tasks to the world beyond the course. Tasks should be authentic and set in a realistic context. By anchoring assessment in real life situations, students are more likely to understand the relevance of a particular topic and the associated assessment methods
  • Makes assessment tasks worthwhile learning experiences in their own right
  • Constructs assessment tasks as part of a holistic approach rather than fragmented stand-alone activities (This is particularly important in relation to Graduate Qualities which need to be integrated across course assessment.)
  • Ensures assessment-related work is a productive use of time for all involved (students and assessors)
  • Prompts student self-assessment to develop their capacity to make informed judgments about their own learning now and in the future
  • Is flexible enough to enable students to customise assessment tasks to their own needs and interests
  • Clearly communicates the characteristics of the task, and criteria and standards for judgments to students in a way that is not likely to be interpreted by students in a fundamentally different way to that intended by the designers
  • Does not make assumptions about content or the learners which are irrelevant to the task.

Brown (2001) identifies seven questions that lecturers might ask when designing an assessment task:

  1. What are the outcomes to be assessed?
  2. What are the capabilities/skills (implicit or explicit) in the outcomes?
  3. Is the method of assessment chosen consonant with the outcomes and skills?
  4. Is the method relatively efficient in terms of student time and staff time?
  5. What alternatives are there? What are their advantages and disadvantages?
  6. Does the specific assessment task match the outcomes and skills?
  7. Are the marking schemes or criteria appropriate?

A further design question is:

  1. Who should make judgements about student learning - the teacher, the student, the student's peers or others?

Designing assessment tasks

While selecting an appropriate assessment method is important, the design of the specific task is even more important. The quality of the questions we ask or the specific activities we design to assess students is a key factor determining the quality of their answers.

This resource has been extracted from resources on the Flinders University Assessment website.