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How do you assess student learning?

“Setting appropriate assessment tasks is a principle of good teaching” (Ramsden, 2003, p 96)

Five Important Messages to consider when you are planning how to assess your students

Five Important Messages to Consider 

1. Different assesments drive different types of learning

A variety of assessments allows students to demonstrate different types of learning.  Giving students a choice of assessment methods within a module empowers students to play to their strengths and is often described as an inclusive approach to assessment. UCD has developed a series of resources and publications to assist staff in implementing this approach, based on the UCD ‘Choice of Assessment Methods’ project:

  1. APractitioner's Guide to Choice of Assessment Methods within a Module encompasses seven UCD case studies, research publications, evaluation tools and implementation suggestions.
  2. A Choice of Assessment Student Questionnaire  devised for evaluating this approach to capture students’ views on choice of assessment methods (including the PEAMC scale)
  3. A Student Information & Equity Template : is available to assist in designing in equity and communicating the choices to students.
  4. The Seven Step Quick Guide , 7 Steps to Implement Choice of Assessment Methods within a Module: A Quick Guide for Lecturers.
  5. The Supporting Equity Subscale.  Following factor analysis, this sub-scale of the PEAMC, in 2 above, specifically measures students’ views on the equity of their assessment choice.

It is vital to link the assessment methods to learning outcomes.  It is useful to think about the abilities or graduate attributes that you would like your students to demonstrate.  Assessment rubrics assist in making the assessment expectations transparent.  One over-arching UCD rubric is the UCD Level Descriptors.  For more on assessment rubrics, see this workshop resource: Developing Assessment Criteria & Rubrics.

Matching Learning Outcomes to Assessment Types

Types of Learning:
Learning outcomes 
What is required from students? Examples of Assessment 
Thinking critically and making judgments Development of arguments, reflection, judgment, evaluation Essay
Book review
Solving problems/developing plans Identify problems, define problems, analyse data, review, design experiments, plan, apply information Problem scenario
Group Work
Work-based problem
Analyse a case
Conference paper (or notes for a conference paper plus annotated bibliography)
Performing procedures and demonstrating techniques Take readings, use equipment, follow laboratory procedures, follow protocols, carry out instructions  Demonstration
Role Play
Make a video (write script and produce/make a video)
Produce a poster
Lab report
Demonstrating knowledge and understanding
(can be assessed in conjuntion with the above types of learning) 
Recall, describe, report, identify, recognise, recount, relate, etc.  Written examination
Oral examination
Short answer questions
Mini tests
Managing/developing yourself  Work co-operatively and, independently,  be self-directed, manage time, manage tasks  Learning journal
Learning Contracts
Group projects
Peer assessment
Designing, creating, performing Design, create, perform,  produce, etc.  Design project
Assessing and managing information  Information search and retrival, investigate, interprete, review information  Annotated bibliographies
Use of bibliographic software
Library research assignment
Data based project
Communicating  Written, oral, visual and technical skills  Written presentation
Oral presentation
Discussions /Debates/ role plays
Group work

( Adapted from Nightingale et al. ,1996)


In light of the students’ previous experiences of assessment, when introducing new forms of assessment, remember that you need to:

  • Communicate to students how these forms of assessment work and what type of knowledge they are assessing.
  • Consider the transition between second level and third level education.

2. Be careful that you don’t over-assess!

  • Too much assessment may lead to superficial approaches to learning (surface learning )
  • Consider your assessment tasks as part of the overall assessment workload for the student (students are doing several modules, not just your own module)
  • Use both formative and summative assessment, combined in continuous assessment to assess student learning. Formative assessment involves giving feedback during the module so that students can continuously develop and improve. Summative assessment sums up achievement and counts towards the final grade
  • Too much assessment may not allow you to provide constructive and timely feedback to students on the assessment task.

3. Consider assessment for your module in the context of the whole programme

Get a picture of students’ overall assessment for each year of the programme. Look at the assessment of all modules. We advise you to make a table which clearly shows the students and lecturers the variety of assessments, the timing of assessments over the year and the overall student workload. This can be easier where there are a large number of core modules.

4. Use a variety of methods of assessment as students have different learning styles

There are many approaches to assessing student learning, each with advantages and disadvanatages. Phil Race examines the advantages and disadvantages of 15 types of assessment. See Assessment Compendium, (pp 37-77)

5. Reviewing asessments can help you as a lecturer to plan your future teaching

For example you can review which questions do most students choose or avoid, what asesssments do students learn a lot from completing, what concepts do students still find difficult etc. This review is about both reviewing your assessment strategies and learning outcomes.



General Resources on How to Assess Student Learning

  • REAP Project Scottish Higher Education 

Case studies focusing on strategies for embedding new thinking about assessment into institutional policies and quality enhancement processes.

  • The FAST Project.

Assessment and Feedback webcasts


  • Effective practice with e-assessment-JISC

The focus of this guide is on practice in a broader institutional sense, including the potential impact of e-assessment on learning and teaching.

  • Effective practice with e-portfolio -JISC

Current good practice in the use of e-portfolios as a support to learning and as an aid to progression to the next stage of education or to employment.


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