Skip main navigation

Issues in learning and teaching: Assessment

In this step we look at some of the basic principles of assessment.
© UNSW Sydney
Learners do not always learn what is taught. That is why the most important assessment does not happen at the end of learning, it happens during the learning, when there is still time to do something with the information. Formative assessment is an aspect of teaching that is underpinned by some basic principles (Wiliam, 2011).
Since assessment is such an important aspect of quality education institutions will often have policy and/or procedure to inform and guide students and teachers. At UNSW the basic principles underlying good assessment practice are stated in the university’s policy document. They are:
  • 2.1. Assessment is designed to guide and enhance student learning.
  • 2.2. Student learning is assessed against learning outcomes and expected standards of performance.
  • 2.3. Assessment provides credible information on student achievement.
  • 2.4. Assessment is fair and provides all students an impartial opportunity to demonstrate their learning.
  • 2.5. Assessment develops students’ abilities to evaluate their own and peer’s work.
(UNSW, 2017)
Let’s explore the first item above. It acknowledges that assessment has a profound influence on student learning – prior to an assessment and subsequently. However, a student’s motivation and approach to learning is affected by the anticipated requirements of an assessment task and their perception of its value and demand is relative to other activities. Completing an assessment task does not usually promote learning although immediate assessment tasks within learning activities e.g. an online quiz interspersed within an online lecture, can enhance retention of learning. The provision of timely and effective feedback after an assessment is essential for promoting further learning.
In the second course on educational design you will be introduced to the idea of constructive alignment and the way it may be used to design effective assessment. It is an important and necessary way to effectively assess.
Assessment should be viewed as a learning opportunity for students. It helps them apply their knowledge, and exercise the skills you are teaching, as well as demonstrate the development of their capabilities. Ideally, assessment is embedded in all aspects of a course rather than something that just happens at the end.
There are two types of assessment:

Formative assessment

  • Provides constructive feedback to students on their learning, for example by identifying strengths and weaknesses in their understanding and/or performance.
  • Provides feedback to teachers about what students know and identifies misconceptions and difficulties students might be facing in their learning.
  • Encourages and motivates learning.

Summative assessment

  • Passes judgement on the standard of a student’s learning generally in terms of assigned marks and grades.
  • Typically relates to a final submission, where students demonstrate the achievement of their intended learning outcomes.
  • Has a role in credentialing students for degrees and professional practice.
An assessment task is not intrinsically formative or summative. All assessment depends on how the feedback from the assessment is used. Summative assessment can also perform a formative role if it provides substantial feedback to students, and guides them to improve their learning.
Formative and summative assessment are sometimes also described as ‘assessment as learning’ and ‘assessment of learning’. Feedback is introduced in the following steps.

Students value

In terms of assessment, students value
  • Clear expectations and transparency
  • Clear links between lectures, tutorials, content and assessment tasks
  • Timely and useful feedback
  • Authentic tasks
  • Autonomy – possibilities for negotiation (James, McInnis & Devlin, 2002)

Different types of assessments

Selecting the right type of assessment to include in your course depends on a number of factors such as the course learning outcomes, the student cohort, the program structure, your discipline and more.

Talking point

  1. Name your discipline and list the most common types of assessment you use.
  2. Skim the list of assessment types that your co-learners have generated. Adopt one type of assessment from the list (that you do not normally use in your course) and propose how you could use it in your own discipline.
(Inspired by Takayana, 2012)
James, R., McInnis, C., & Devlin, M. (2002). Assessing learning in Australian Universities. Ideas, strategies and resources for quality in student assessment. Melbourne: Centre for the Study for Higher Education, the University of Melbourne..
Takayana, K. (2012). Cultivating connections throughout the academe: Learning to teach by learning to learn_. HERDSA 2012 Keynote, 3rd July, Hobart, Australia . (Brown University).
UNSW Australia (2017). Assessment Policy.
Wiliam, D. (2011). What Assessment can – and cannot – do. Pedagogiska Magasinet, Sept, 2011

Want to know more?

If you would like to more about this topic of assessment there are additional resources listed in the Want to know more.pdf document for this step.
© UNSW Sydney
This article is from the free online

Introduction to Learning and Teaching in Higher Education

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education