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Course Design Blueprint: Assessment types

A variety of assessment types?

Courses are expected employ a variety of assessment types that:

  • Provide students opportunities to develop, practice and demonstrate academic and work ready skills and attributes.
  • Are scheduled through the course to enable students’ development to be progressive, with assessment tasks at levels four and five preparing students for the tasks at the higher levels.
  • Enable all students to achieve to their potential given their talents and passions.

The inclusion of a variety of assessment types within a course will require students to demonstrate their learning in multiple ways, employing different skills in communication, higher order thinking, and self-management. 

It is expected that all courses will provide students with assessment components that involve students communicating using academic and non-academic writing, employing oral/visual communication, and working in groups.  Assessments should be manageable and designed to use a range of assessment formats, enables student personalisation choice of assessment format where appropriate or relevant. 

Choosing assessment types

There are many potential assessment types, and the key is to deliberate the the suitability of the assessment type in relation to the subject content,  measurement of progress in relation to the learning outcomes, and variety for inclusive and progressive assessment.    


Assessment tools in Brightspace

There are a variety of tools within Brightspace which can be used for assessment and for automating marking and feedback. [Link for UOS staff only]


Academic writing assessments take a variety of forms. While essays are the mainstay of many courses assessment strategies, and most courses will require students to produce a prolonged dissertation, report or similar prolonged piece of academic writing, there are other formats that might be employed. In some subject areas there are specific forms of writing that need to be produced by students such as lab reports in some science subjects, and the variety of formats employed in both academic and professional journals and magazines can inspire alternative student assessment component formats. It is important that students are prepared for their engagement with the forms of academic writing they are required to produce, and course teams are expected to embed opportunities for students to receive guidance and learning for, gain experience of, and receive feedback on their work for each of the skills required by students to produce academic pieces. Consequently, course teams are encourages to provide opportunities for students to produce partial academic pieces both as formative opportunities and as summative assessment components early in their students' learning plan. Possible partial academic pieces include:
  • essay plans
  • an abstract for a provided academic journal article
  • single sections of an essay or report based on already completed sections (a conclusion, an introduction, analysis
  • a brief literature review accompanied by a references and bibliography.
For many students, writing in a formal academic style can form a barrier to their ability to express themselves freely and expressively.  Employing reflective writing styles can allow students to effectively produce written evidence of their higher order thinking, particularly in relation to practice and the application of theory to practice, without the need to spend significant time proofing or polishing their work.  Many courses require students to compile reflective diaries that record their experiences, thinking, learning and decisions as they engage with either study activity through a module or with particular learning situations such as work placements, field or prolonged lab work, or research projects. Reflective writing can form the basis for assessment pieces on their own, or can be utilised in the collection of evidence for more formal assessment pieces:
  • Students can be asked to submit reflective diaries in full, or to select a number of the entries they have collated in evidence of their learning and achievement.
  • Reflective entries can form a commentary to a learning journal or portfolio where a students documents a developmental process such as could form a central element of a more creative subjects
  • Students can be asked to provide a formal written piece in which that are required to discuss their learning and achievement against a module's learning outcomes, with them expected to draw from their reflective diary entries as evidence of their learning journey through the module.
  • Students can be required to share reflections through discussion boards and further reflect in response to their peers' contributions, with their submissions forming the basis for assessment judgements or being collated as evidence for a more formal written submission.
A portfolio is a means by which a variety of different pieces of student work, possibly including some emergent from group activity, can be collected together as a single assessment component. Portfolios are particularly useful as a means by which student can curate evidence that demonstrates their achievement of learning outcomes whilst allowing each student to employ materials that are pertinent to their individual situation, context or talents. By specifying portfolios as an assignment component for a module, teams can allow themselves flexibility to vary the precise elements that students are required to include depending on the approach taken in the module or the variety or nature of case studies employed within the module's learning activities. Some possibilities that portfolios can offer include:
  • The ability to have a highly structured guided learning experience through which students are required to engage with a number of tasks and collate evidence of these for assessment.
  • The use of a portfolio to collate evidence of a prolonged engagement with a particular problem, project or work experience.  This could be marked directly, or could form an evidence base that each student will reflect on and draw upon within an assessed piece of work that is submitted along with the portfolio.
  • Reflective work can sometime take a more varied form than collections of written text, with some students finding the ability to express themselves pictorially or through other expressive mediums very powerful. The use of portfolios can emphasise the freedom students can be afforded in their nature of their reflective outputs and recording (see also the separate tab on reflection).
Particularly suitable for more creative subjects, but often very powerful in opening students up to different ways on thinking in other subjects, there are a number of other assessment formats that involve students curating and commenting on collections of artifacts. Examples include:
  • Photograph collections with accompanying commentaries or reflections.
  • Sketchbooks that document students design or creative processes and associated decision making.
  • Scrap books collating excerpts from publications (the press, social media posts, professional journals, government publications...) along with a critical commentary.
In recent years a few courses have introduced assessments based on vivas, interviews with tutors where students' understanding and learning is tested through questioning.  Such assessments remove the need for students to spend time preparing assessment for submission, and ensure that it is the students' own learning that is assessed. Vivas can be quite stressful for some students and so care will need to be taken to minimise this. Some other points worth considering include:
  • Students could be asked to prepare an initial presentation or discussion piece which they could practice in advance. This would allow them to relax and have a sense that they have made a good start to their assessment. This also facilitates tutors initial questioning by giving a focus that the students have prepared for.
  • It would be normal to have both the marker and the moderator present at a viva, allowing any non-scripted questioning to be tailored to allow both tutors' considerations to be accounted for. The vivas should also be recorded for the purpose of external examiner review.
  • While it would seem fair to employ the same set of questions for all students, this can significantly disadvantage the studnets who undertake their viva first, with the probability that those having later vivas will hear from their friedly peers the questions being used and be able to prepare.
It is normal to include opportunities for students to make presentations to their peers and possibly other audiences in our courses. Presentations can take a number of forms, ranging from short verbal statements through to prolonged multimedia presentations.  It is important that students get sufficient opportunities to develop presentation skills, receiving feedback on their performance on formative opportunities before being required to deliver presentations as summative assessment. In planning assessment based on presentations, the following points are worthy of consideration:
  • Where presentations are to be made in person to an audience, this will need to be recorded to enable the external examiner to view them.  It is usual to also have both the marker and moderator present for the presentations rather than to rely on recordings for the moderation process.  It is good practice to share the recordings with the students to support their consideration of feedback provided and to further support their development.
  • Students should be provided with clear guidance in the assessment brief as to the resources they will be able to deploy in making their presentation particularly in respect to the technological and IT equipment will be available.
  • Some students are granted reasonable adjustments in respect to presentations and module teams will need to take care to accommodate such students' needs carefully.
  • Rather than requiring presentations to be made in person, many course teams encourage studnets to create presentations in digital form and submit these.  There are a number of advantages to this approach, including the relieving of the stress on students that in-person presentations can induce, allowing students the opportunity submit their best work, and enabling marking processes to be completed at times that are most convenient to the tutors.  However, to enable such submissions, course teams will need to ensure that their studnets are all sufficiently equipped (both in terms of their skills sets and technical resources) to allow them to create the presentations effectively.
Some creative subjects and computing based courses require students to submit digital artifacts such as pieces of software, films and sound recordings. Where such digital artifacts will be employed in modules throughout a course, the course team should develop standard processes and instructions for students on how the artifacts should be submitted and include these in the students' handbook. Consideration will need to be taken to ensure all students have sufficient opportunity to develop their work including ensuring that they all have access to required tools,  systems and facilities, and adequate training in how to use these effectively.
  • Course teams will need to ensure that students are afforded fair and ample opportunity to access specialist or general resources required to complete the assessment tasks.  In particular, requirements for students to purchase resources or materials should not form a significant barrier to engagement or achievement for students, and care should be taken to ensure that students with personal access to greater levels of resources and materials will gain an advantage in terms of achievement.
  • It is important that the assessment brief makes very clear the basis on which marks will be allocated, and that this relates to the learning outcomes of the module.  For example, in a module focussed on the development of ideas or the application of particular theory to inform designs, the marking might be better allocated to the quality of these aspects of the studnets work rather than the polished quality of the artifact submitted, and so studnets can be encouraged to focus their efforts accordingly.
The use of time constrained assessment components can have a number of advantages:
  • The production of carefully constructed assessment components will involve students in significant effort associated in polishing and refining their work. These are key skills that need to be assessed in most courses, but need not be assessed in every module.  The use of time constrained assessments such as short answer response papers, can require the students to demonstrate key cognitive skills (problem solving, critical thinking, theory application) without having the additional load of refining a complete work.
  • The use of time constrained assessment components acts as an effective barrier to many forms of academic misconduct, providing a degree of assurance that it is the students' own work that is being assessed.
  • Where a module is delivered in a Block structure, a time constrained assessment can be set at the end of the modules' learning, thus allowing the whole of the block to be employed in the delivery of content rather than requiring much of the latter parts of the module to be set aside for assessment activity.
  • Students with concessions will often require further time beyond the extent of a block to complete their work.  This can then disadvantageously distract students from their learning activities set out in the initial days of the subsequent Block. Although such students are often afforded additional time to complete time constrained assessments, the assessment will be completed by the end of the block's allotted duration, and thus will not impact on their ability to engage with a following block of learning.
Traditionally, time constrained assessments have taken the form of exams. While there is a place for exams, particularly when courses are meeting the expectations for PSRBs or need to prepare students for their engagement with professional exams post graduation, course teams are encouraged to explore other forms of time constrained assessment. Such alternatives can benefit students by reducing the stress involved, minimising the mystery over what the questions will be, and removing unnecessary time limitations. Time constrained assignments can be either synchronous or asynchronous.  Synchronous time constrained assignments usually involve students completing one or more tasks at the same time in a particular physical location,  For example, a student group could be required attend a  given time to complete some practical IT based tasks in a computer lab, or to complete a design and prototype process in an appropriately equipped workshop. An asynchronous time constrained assignment give students flexibility over when they engage with the set tasks within a limited period. For example, students might be asked to produce written responses to a set of questions or resolve some set problems. These tasks might be expected to take around two hours but students are allowed to do the work at whatever time is most convenient to them within a twenty-four hour period.


In designing time constrained assignments, the following should be considered:
  • Realistic tasks: which can be reasonably completed within the allotted time.
  • Preparation and practice: use formative TCAs to familiarise your students with the experience.
  • Develop question banks: students have access to a significant bank of questions and their solutions which can also be drawn on for formative assessments.
  • For numerical and statistical assessments, students can be provided the assessment questions in advance but will be provided with the data to be used on the day.
  • Case study: students can be provided with a case study in advance of a TCA, and then be required to perform some cognitive or critical activity based on the case study in the>
  • Open book: unless the assessment is specifically designed to provide assurance of students' memory of key facts or knowledge, exams are best designed with the assumption that students will be able to refer to resources, and thus design questions that will require students to apply critical thought and subject skills rather than simply reproducing course content.
  • Excess time: where possible, course teams are encouraged to provide students with more than ample time to complete time constrained assessments. This also allows for students who have concessions for specific learning difficulties for whom these concessions will not be needed.


An Example TCA

On a computing course a tutor required students to demonstrate their ability to complete an analytical process to a case study involving a sequence of steps.  The tutor decided to set a time constrained assessment (TCA) at the end of the module in which students would be required to perform this process. The tutor shared with the students the TCA at the start of the modules' delivery within the module guide, and also provided a number of example case studies. Through the modules' delivery the tutor referred to the TCA and encouraged students to explore the provided case studies as examples within their independent learning. At the end of the module the students were encouraged to complete two further case studies which the tutor subsequently worked through with them. Through this, all students had ample opportunity to prepare for the TCA, and were fully informed on what they would be expected to do.