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Assessment & Feedback

Getting Started with Assessment and Feedback

These pages are a resource for you in designing, developing and reviewing your assessment and feedback approaches.  

A good starting point, set out below, is to consider the question: Why do we assess students?  It sets out some of the purposes, initial terminology and underlying principles of assessment and feedback. 

Having considered ‘why do we assess students’, the following pages should help in the next steps of your assessment and feedback design. These pages are therefore divided into:  How do I assess?  (including, how to explore your students’ assessment journey; align your assessment; use diverse approaches; empower students in the assessment process; be careful not to overload students or yourself). Key Assessment Types (including, 16 key online and in-person assessment types used in UCD; explanation of different types;  advantages/disadvantages, consideration for design (including online design); related resources). How do I grade students? (including grading matters; what approach should you use?; improve your grading; develop the assessment standards in your module). How do I give feedback to students? (including, what is meant by the term feedback?; UCD feedback strategies; How do you give feedback to students?; Ideas to support incremental development of feedback). How do I support my students’ academic integrity? (including, academic integrity; plagiarism; education, prevention and detection).

Why Do We Assess Students?

Assessment Purpose and Terminology

Assessment is key to the learning process in higher education, but what do we mean by the term 'assessment' and why do we assess students?

We assess students for many different and, sometimes, overlapping reasons. In addition, feedback can be used to achieve different purposes (see Figure 1)


Figure 1: Assessment & Feedback Purposes and Some Terminology (National Forum, 2017)


Some of the key reasons and related terminology that were developed by a national expert group are (National Forum, 2017):

  • 'to demonstrate learning achievements at points in time...':
    Staff need to know how well students are performing and what they have achieved. Students need to progress in their learning pathway. Graded assessment assists in this purpose. They can be high stakes as they have consequences when not achieved. These can be called: Summative Assessment or Assessment Of Learning (See Figure 1)

           For more on this see How do I assess?

  • 'to get and give feedback...':
    In order to know how well they are doing we need to give and engage students with feedback to improve their learning. This can be called:
    Formative Assessment or Assessment FOR Learning.

Assessment also give staff some feedback on their teaching impact. For more on this see How do I give feedback to students

  • 'to empower students to self-regulate their learning and critically evaluate their performance'

    Students also need to engage with the feedback purposes, including engaging in activities that help them to judge and regulate their own work. This is also called: Formative Assessment, and by the different term Assessment AS Learning

    For more on this see How do I give feedback to students?

Figure 1 also presents some examples for these approaches in practice and how assessment moves from high stakes to low stakes, where students have more responsibility and become more involved in their decision making (National Forum, 2017).

What are the underlying principles of assessment and feedback?

To help in the design of your assessments, you should consider the key principles that underpin assessment and examine which principles(s) is most important for your assessment. For example, do you want particular emphasis on the validity of the assessment?

  • Assessment principles can help to guide both programme and module assessment practices. Their emphasis will vary according to the context and purposes of the assessment. 
  • Some assessment principles are more relevant to different levels in a programme and will require a judgement as to their balance.

The two most common assessment principles are validity and reliability, which are interrelated: 

  • Validity is a complex term, but simply means that your assessment measures what it is intended to measure; 
  • Reliability means that your assessment is consistent and is comparable when used across different graders and over time. The unseen examination and MCQs are considered to be reasonably reliable measure but can be challenging in their validity in some contexts. 

The following are three sets of principles that you should explore. You can see that there is some overlap in these principles:

  • Validity: Assessment task assesses the stated learning outcomes.
  • Reliability: Assessment task should generate comparable marks across time, markers and methods.
  • Effectiveness: Assessment task should be designed to encourage good quality deep approaches to learning in the students.
  • Equity: Students enjoy equal opportunity to effectively demonstrate learning.
  • Practicability: Assessment tasks should be practical for both staff and students in terms of the time needed for completion and marking.
  • Transparency: Information, guidance, rules and regulations on assessment should be clear, accurate, consistent and accessible to all staff, students, practice teachers and external examiners.
  • Attribution: Task should generate evidence that the work has been produced by the candidate.

In addition to being Valid and Reliable:

  • Assessment and feedback should be clear and understandable by staff.
  • Students should experience a diverse range of assessment methods.
  • Assessment and feedback approaches should foster a partnership between staff and students.
  • Assessment and feedback should empower students to become self-regulated learners.
  • Assessment and feedback should be manageable for staff and students.
  • Decisions on assessment and feedback should be guided by a programme-level approach.
  • Assessment and feedback should be enhanced through staff engaging in related professional development.

Assessment and feedback should be supported by enabling policies.

Assessment has most effect when:

  • assessment is used to engage students in learning that is productive;
  • feedback is used to actively improve student learning;
  • students and teachers become responsible partners in learning and assessment;
  • students are inducted into the assessment practices;
  • and cultures of higher education;
  • assessment for learning is placed at the centre of subject and program design;
  • assessment for learning is a focus for staff and institutional development;
  • assessment provides inclusive and trustworthy representation of student achievement.