Blog post – Am I over-assessing my students? Finding the balance for optimal learning

Assessment workload is a difficult and complex issue. We know assessment drives learning and regular assessment not only helps students keep up but aids deeper learning. Too much assessment, however, makes time management difficult and can lead to undue pressure on, and anxiety in, students.

A study into student workload and assessment by Scully and Kerr (2014) found students were frustrated by the competing assessment requirements across their courses, with anxiety about submission clashes and end-of-semester clusters of high-stakes assessments. 

Students also have increasingly busy lives with work, family and other commitments. Busy lives, poor time management, stress and anxiety can contribute to students making decisions that can lead to misconduct and failure in their courses. Over-assessment is one institutional practice that can contribute to these negative consequences and is something within our power to change. 

As a principle, the weighting of a task should be commensurate with the workload involved and "reasonable effort within the context of a full-time workload" (PPL Assessment). Tasks that are new for students often have a higher workload, as they learn what is involved in the task and how to perform these tasks at suitable levels. Ability and speed vary among students, for one student reading an article and writing a reflection could take an hour, but other students could take many hours to finish this task. Academics were almost universally the most successful students, we enjoyed and succeeded in our studies, this can make it difficult to estimate how long most students will take to complete tasks.
To provide some guidance around assessment load, the UQ Academic Board endorsed a new Assessment Procedure setting a maximum of four assessment tasks, one of which can be a sequence in a two-unit course. A sequence is defined as:

An assessment sequence is a set of two or more assessment tasks of similar nature or common purpose, which may be used as developmental learning opportunities for students or to comprehensively assess a particular learning outcome. The sequence may be used progressively or at significant points in a course or module within a course. Where necessary, equitable options (e.g. late submission, alternative assessment) should be provided for a student who is unable to undertake the task/s at the allocated time.
This procedure will be a requirement for UQ courses from Semester 2 2022. Course coordinators will need to consider their assessment regime against this new rule and reduce the assessment load if necessary. It is recognised that UQ is a diverse institution and some courses will need to take a different assessment workload approach, which can be approved by your Associate Dean (Academic) for pedagogical reasons. For other staff, changing assessment practices to meet these requirements will be challenging.

Staff in ITaLI are available to support you in changing your assessment design and we are planning workshops and discussions about these changes.

How do you estimate how long it takes students to do assessment in your course? Share your ideas


Scully, G & Kerr, R (2014) ‘Student Workload and Assessment: Strategies to Manage Expectations and Inform Curriculum Development. Accounting Education, Vol. 23, No. 5.

All members of the UQ Teaching Community are welcome to contribute a blog to be published on the ITaLI website and shared in our UQ Teaching Community Update newsletter. Contact to contribute or for more information.

Last updated:
3 April 2024