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How do you assess student learning?

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

Here are six important characteristics of assessment to consider when you are planning how to assess your students.

1. Objective-led

Link the Assessment Methods to Learning Outcomes

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 Designing Grading and Assessment 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)

2. Varied

Use a variety of Assessment Methods 

A variety of assessment methods allows students to demonstrate different types of learning.  Think about your 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.
  • Consider the transition between different stages of the programme.

It may be appropriate to use technology-enhanced learning.  The Assessment and Feedback page in the E-learning section of this website outlines a variety of technology-enhanced approaches which can be taken.

Giving 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. Practitioner's Guide to Choice of Assessment Methods within a module encompasses seven UCD case studies, research publications, evaluation tools and implementation suggestions.
  2. Choice of Assessment Student Questionnaire  devised for evaluating this approach to capture students’ views on choice of assessment methods (including the PEAMC scale)
  3. 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.

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)


3. Moderate in Workload

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
  • The workload for both students and the lecturer or tutor should be considered.  Too much assessment may impede the provision of constructive and timely feedback to students on the assessment task.


4. Holistic

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.  There is a facility within UCD's Curriculum Management System for module coordinators to record the timing, type and % final grade module for each assessement.  This information is visible in the "Curriculum Map by Programme" InfoHub report.  You can navigate to it in InfoHub via Home\StudentsCurriculum & Timetables\Curriculum Review & Enhancement  

It is important that those delivering the programme are aware of 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.  Early feedback and planning of assessments across modules in programmes is important to avoid clustering of assessment which creates pressure points for students during the semester.  

5. Clear

Set student expectations

It is important that students can see the goals that they are working towards and develop the judgement skills to monitor and regulate their own progress towards those goals.  Early, low-stakes assessment, which is either ungraded or low-weight assessment is valuable in helping students to gauge their progress.  In addition to outlining all assessments, workload and timing, it can be very helpful to make rubrics available to students for individual assignments.  This showcase Assignment rubrics for supportive feedback and consistent grading which includes sample guides, illustrates an example of how rubrics are being used in UCD to bring clarity for students and tutors.  The objectives in the showcase were:  

"To use rubrics to facilitate students to:

  • Understand the key deliverables for high quality assignments
  • Recognise that both content knowledge and writing skills are important in written work
  • Review and progress their academic and writing skills as they advance through the programme

To use rubrics to facilitate tutors to:

  • Understand and communicate the key deliverables for high quality assessment
  • Have a scaffold to communicate assignment requirements consistently across tutorial groups
  • Grade consistently across tutorial groups using pre-defined skill and content-driven standards."


6. Iterative

Review assessments to plan future teaching

Reviewing assessments can help you as a lecturer to plan your future teaching.  For example you can review to discover which questions most students choose or avoid? Which asesssments do students learn most from completing? What concepts do students still find difficult etc. This review is about both reviewing your assessment strategies and learning outcomes.


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