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Assessment and Feedback Essay

Assessment drives the choices students make about their learning. It is widely recognised that assessment and feedback contain the strongest potential to change how, and what, students do to succeed in their learning (Ramsden, 2003). This Effective Teaching Guide on Assessment provides practical suggestions on assessment and feedback.

Assessment of Learning and Assessment for Learning

David Boud, a recognised researcher and scholar of assessment in higher education, suggests that assessment has many purposes, but particularly to help students to improve their learning and certify students’ learning. These two purposes lead to different ways of thinking about what, how, and when to assess students:

According to Boud and Associate’s Seven Propositions for Assessment Reform in Higher Education (2010), assessment has most effect when:

1. Assessment is used to engage students in learning that is productive (including the need for assessment to be designed to focus students on learning); 2. Feedback is used to actively improve student learning; 3. Students and teachers become responsible partners in learning and assessment; 4. Students are inducted into the assessment practices and cultures of higher education; 5. Assessment for learning is placed at the centre of subject and project design; 6. Assessment for learning is a focus for staff and institutional development; and, 7. Assessment provides inclusive and trustworthy representation of student achievement.

The power of feedback

Feedback plays an important role in improving students’ learning. A useful summary is that provided by Gibbs and Simpson’s (2004). In their meta-study of the research about how assessment and feedback support student learning, 7 of their 10 identified conditions relate to feedback, and students’ understanding of feedback. These are:

• Sufficient feedback is provided, both often enough and in enough detail;
• Feedback focuses on students’ performance, on their learning and on actions under the students’ control, rather than on the students themselves and on their characteristics;
• Feedback is timely in that it is received by students while it still matters to them, and in time for them to pay attention to further learning or receive further assistance;
• Feedback is appropriate to the purpose of the assignment and to its criteria for success;
• Feedback is appropriate, in relation to students’ understanding of what they are supposed to be doing;
• Feedback is received and attended to; and,

• Feedback is acted on by the student.

Hounsell (2004) also makes the following points about feedback:

• It can be extrinsic (assessment-focused) or intrinsic (activity and practice-based);
• It can be immediate and verbal (in order to address the potential lack of engagement when it arrives after an assessment);
• It can be provided to be a whole class;

• It can be many to many where students are involved in identifying the strengths and weaknesses (peer feedback); and,
• Feedback can be a loop – it can be offered on unfinished work.

Another useful idea is feed-forward. Feed-forward encourages students to use something like a marking rubric (also captured by the idea of criteria and standards) to help plan their approach to an assessment. While a marking rubric is routinely used by university teachers to mark/grade students’ work (as an expression of what a student needs to demonstrate (and the level they need to achieve) to receive a particular grade), the idea of feed-forward is about encouraging students to use that same information in the rubric to plan their work, and perhaps even, to self-assess it before submitting it for formal feedback. In summary:

Feedback example: Develop a marking rubric as a cover sheet. The rubric identifies the elements of the assignment, together with a breakdown of marks for each element or a description of the standard for an A, B, C, D, P etc.

Feed-forward example: Provide the marking rubric to students before the assignment is due so that they clearly understand what’s expected, the levels of achievement, and can plan their approach accordingly.

In marking student work, you’ll need a suite of feedback techniques. Remember, if you’re going to be spending a lot of time providing feedback, you want to make sure that students read, use and engage with your feedback to improve their next assignment. The best way to do that is to have a range of techniques that you can draw on, when you need to. The table below describes some feedback techniques.

One observation you might make about each of these techniques is that they are focused on: (i) engaging students with the criteria and standards, and (ii) with what the student does with the feedback they receive. If you’d like to read more about these two ideas (and others like them), two articles may be especially useful to you: Rust, Price & O’Donovan (2003) and Price, O’Donovan & Rust (2004).

Consistency and fairness in marking and feedback

Consistency in marking, or moderation, is aimed at ensuring fairness in marking, and requires finding or establishing agreement between markers. Making sure that assignments contain criteria and standards is a good start because the expectations involved are clear to the student and clear to the marker. Although this does not absolve the marker from interpreting students’ work, without criteria or standards, the job of marking ends up being much harder.

The procedures for marking are set out in the University’s Assessment Procedures (an excerpt of the principles is below):

Where there is more than one marker, selected pieces of work from each assessment task should be reviewed by the subject coordinator to verify the level and consistency of the marks allocated by the marker.

This process, called moderation, increases the reliability of the assessment process and application of standards, promotes consistency, supports objectivity and establishes a shared understanding of standards and fairness in assessment.

The university also has a grading schema with a range of Pass grades.

Graduate capabilities

Alongside the conventional grading schema, from 2012, all commencing first year students will receive a result on the achievement of the university’s six graduate capabilities at the end of the year:

• Writing
• Speaking
• Inquiry/Research
• Critical thinking
• Creative Problem-solving
• Teamwork

There are some subjects which have been designated cornerstone, mid-point and capstone status. This means that their curriculum has been designed to teach, assess, provide feedback and report specifically on these graduate capabilities. For each graduate capability, students will receive one of three results: exceeded expectations, met expectations or did not meet expectations. Each faculty has carefully crafted a description of what these standards look like. It may be the case that you will be asked to provide feedback to students about their graduate capability achievement as well. Because faculties will have already done substantial work outlining those standards, it is likely you will be asked to offer students that feedback.


When considered together, assessment and feedback are incredibly powerful levers for influencing the direction of students’ efforts, and their learning. For many students, the assessment in the subject is the actual curriculum. It is largely students’ reading and perception of what the assessment demands of them which is a key determinant in how they spend their time in a subject. Therefore, the messages that students take away about assessment from the documents; the Subject Guide; from interaction with other students, are important considerations. In the second week, you will discover just how crucial feedback is to this process and how the adoption of standards and criteria will help you mark and grade more efficiently and effectively.


Gibbs, G. and Simpson, C. (2004). Conditions Under Which Assessment Supports Student Learning. Learning and Teaching, Issue 1, pp: 3-31.

Hattie, J. & Timperley, H. (2007). The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81-112.

Hounsell, D. (2004). Reinventing Feedback in the Contemporary Scottish University. Scottish Quality Enhancement Workshop on Assessment, University of Glasgow [available online at: www.enhancementthemes.ac.uk/documents/events/20040604/Hounsellpaper.pdf].

O’Donovan, B., Price, M., & Rust, C. (2004). Know what I mean? Enhancing student understanding of assessment standards and criteria. Teaching in Higher Education, 9(3), 325-335.

Orrell, J. (2006). Assessment beyond intuition. Central Queensland University [available online at: http://www.learning.cq.edu.au/FCWViewer/view.do?page=8896, accessed Feb 2011].

Price, M., O’Donovan, B., & Rust, C. (2004).Know what I mean? Enhancing student understanding of assessment standards and criteria. Teaching in Higher Education, 9(3), 325-335.

Ramsden, P. (2003). Learning to teach in higher education. (2nd edition). Routledge, NY & London.

Rust, C., Price, M., & O’Donovan, B. (2003). Improving Students’ Learning by Developing their Understanding of Assessment Criteria and Processes. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 28(2), 147-164.

Taylor, J. (2008). Assessment in First Year University: A model to manage transition. Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice, 5(1).

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