Competence is determined more by the questions we ask than the answers we find (Ulrich, 2001, p. 7)

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 assignment or written paper:

  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?

Creating Appropriate Assessment

Consider a wide range of methods against the learning outcomes to be assessed. It is important to decide when to use any particular method individually or in combination.

Brown (2001, 11-14) identifies the key characteristics of 23 different assessment methods that can potentially be used within an assessment strategy.

Keep in mind the big picture. Identify the link between the assessment and the topic, the topic and the course and the topics within the course. This also reduces the necessity for students to be assessed in all relevant skills in each topic. Rather, it allows assessment to be spread through out the course as a whole. This is particularly significant in relation to Flinders Graduate Qualities, which need to be developed and assessed throughout a course and cannot be effectively developed and assessed comprehensively within a single topic.


Assessment should change throughout the whole course i.e. from first year level through to third year level. It is not necessary to assess all skill levels for every skill needed every year. The assessment demands should help to increase complexity and develop expertise across the whole course.

Entry competency tests

Having a formative assessment of expected entry competencies at the beginning of a course is an efficient means of knowing what students bring into the course. Such an assessment also clarifies for students the types and levels of the skills and knowledge needed to be able to engage with the learning experience with some likelihood of success, and for staff what existing capability the students bring with them and creates a mutual starting point. An entry competency test also assists the design of targeted support for those students who need to further develop the expected competencies.

Timing and time: when to assess and how much to assess

Both the timing of assessment tasks in relation learning experiences and the time required for students to complete particular assessment tasks are important considerations in choosing assessment methods and designing particular assessment tasks.

Flinders assessment policy and procedures state:

  • The total effort required of students in assessable activities should be commensurate with the unit weighting of the topic. The amount of effort required for each activity should be commensurate with the proportion of marks allocated to that activity (this is not intended, however, to preclude competency testing for which, in some instances, there may be no marks to be awarded).

Care is needed in design to ensure that the time allocated for an assessment task is sufficient for students to effectively demonstrate their learning but not excessive for the unit weighting for the topic or the proportional weighting of a specific task within the structure and workload for the topic.

Ensuring the methods assess what is intended to be assessed

Key issues here are to ensure that the assessment scheme, assessment tasks and criteria do not assume or assess particular competencies or characteristics of students that are not explicitly linked to the learning experience (this might include assuming knowledge of local popular culture, assumed expertise in particular writing conventions such as business report formats, assessing students' command of academic conventions (e.g., referencing) when they have not been taught, having criteria for quality of written English which are not central to the discipline and/or the particular assessment task).