Assessment design is a complex and iterative process. This page provides guidance, processes and questions to support your decision-making about assessment.

It is informed by the framework developed in the Assessment Design Decisions project, in alignment with the Higher Education Learning Framework, UQ’s Curricula and Assessment Policy and UQ's Teaching and Learning Plan 2018–2021.

Principles and purposes

Assessment at UQ is based on the principles outlined in PPL 3.10.02 Assessment Policy, that assessment is:

  • a developmental learning activity for students
  • a mutual responsibility between teachers and students
  • criterion-referenced (i.e. student performance is judged by reference to explicit or predetermined criteria and standards rather than the achievement of other students)
  • transparent, so students can see that the assessment tasks align with the learning objectives and marking criteria
  • valid, by meeting the intended learning outcomes, and providing a consistent and reliable indication of the quality of the student's performance
  • fair and equitable
  • a purposeful and academically professional activity
  • sustainable and workable for both teachers and students.

All assessment tasks have a range of purposes. When designing an assessment task, you need to consider how the task:

  • engages students in productive learning
  • enables feedback to guide improvement
  • informs teaching and learning decision-making
  • provides evidence of learning outcomes and graduate attributes
  • provides defendable certification of student achievement, and
  • maintains professional and disciplinary standards.
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Contexts

The assessment you design has to work in your context. Consider how the different aspects of context will influence how your assessment will function and impact student learning. The Higher Education Learning Framework identifies that ‘Learning occurs in context, and context can be leveraged to enhance the learning experience.’

Course

  • Course assessment plan – how do the assessment items in your course work together? How will students see the different assessment tasks fitting together?
  • Consider the course learning environment – class size, mode (online/blended), teaching spaces and tools.

Technology

  • The University supports a variety of tools for assessment. eLearning assessment tools provides a list of assessment types matched to available technologies for task delivery.
  • The team can advise you about online assignment submission and marking tools to facilitate efficient and reliable assignment submission for students, and more efficient assignment marking for teaching staff.

Programs

  • How does your assessment task fit into the overall program? Think about the role of your course within this program or major. The Higher Education Learning Framework recognises that learning is built on connecting new understandings to prior knowledge and engages students in deep and meaningful thinking and feeling. 
  • Do you have to meet any professional, vocational or employment-related requirements?
  • Consider the horizontal and vertical integration of the task into students’ studies. What else are students working on at the same time? How do the tasks work across the program in terms of genre, type, and timing of tasks?

Learners

  • Think about your students. How will they respond to the task? Will they see the task as relevant to them? Will different students respond differently to the task? Will the task advantage or disadvantage any students in your cohort? Do you have to plan extra support to make the task fair and successful?
  • Do students have experience doing similar assessment? Providing students with practice assessment in this context may enable more students to succeed.

School and discipline

  • Does the task meet your school, disciplinary and personal expectations and ideas? Are you doing something tried and proven or something innovative? 
  • Is the assessment task reflecting authentic and real world contexts and scenarios? It may be worth consulting with industry or members of society more broadly to refine a task to match their contexts – their stories and contexts may be powerful to explain the relevance of the task to your students. 

UQ 

  • Is your assessment aligned with institutional priorities such as authentic, progressive and fair assessment?
  • Can you use the grade descriptors and other policy supports to enhance your assessment?
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Learner outcomes

Constructive alignment (Biggs & Tang, 2011) is built into how we develop our courses at UQ. Setting the right level of challenge and difficulty in our assessment is not only critical for our academic standards but also our students learning (see more in the Higher Education Learning Framework).  

  • How will students see the alignment of the task with the learning objectives and activities within your course and their programs of study?
  • Does the task help students become the type of graduate you want to see in your discipline? Does the task support students to develop and demonstrate any of UQ’s graduate attributes?
  • Should the task contribute to professional, vocational or employment-related requirements?

Refer to the ITaLI Learning outcomes resource (PDF, 305.3 KB) for more information on developing learning outcomes to support your design of assessment tasks.

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Academic integrity

Course coordinators are required to give due regard to assessment integrity and security, and minimise the possibility of impersonation and cheating. Careful selection of the assessment tasks you administer allows you to consider where misconduct is likely to occur and take measures to minimise the risk of it happening.

Previously used assessment items, whether they be exams or assignment topics, risk the integrity of both the assessment process and outcomes so it is expected that assessment tasks should be substantially different for each offering (PPL 3.10.02 Assessment Policy).

Visit What can I do to strengthen academic integrity? for more information on improving the integrity of your assessment.

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Types of assessment

Diagnostic assessment

When designing your course you will have an expectation of what your students should know when they arrive. Conducting a diagnostic test in Week 1 will let you know how accurate your assumptions have been.

Knowing your students’ prior knowledge and experience will help you decide the appropriate point at which to start your teaching so your learners are able to connect with the new content, and your teaching time is used effectively.

Diagnostic testing also allows you to identify any common misconceptions students may hold, helps you identify individuals who may require additional support and gives you the opportunity to provide student feedback to positively influence their learning at such a critical time.

Formative assessment

Formative assessment are low stakes tasks that typically do not contribute to the students’ grades. They are designed to allow students to get a feel for their learning progress through both the process of the assessment task and the feedback they receive. Completion of the tasks should inform the student of their strengths and weaknesses and identify where they should concentrate their efforts.

Correspondingly, the tasks should provide you with feedback on your students’ progress so you can identify and address common areas where students are struggling and improve the effectiveness of your teaching.

With formative assessment, students can:

  • Evaluate their own learning
  • Improve their knowledge and understanding
  • Recognise their strengths and weaknesses
  • Enhance their learning
  • Target their learning.

With formative assessment, staff can:

  • Gauge student learning
  • Determine cohort progress
  • Check student understanding
  • Adjust teaching accordingly.

Summative assessment

Summative assessment is the assessment that contributes to students’ grades and is usually positioned at strategic points across the course of study. It informs students of their performance and to what degree they have achieved the learning outcomes of the course at that point in time.

These assessment tasks provide you with another opportunity to provide effective feedback to improve student learning, particularly if your assessment tasks build upon one another.

Summative assessment will inform you if, and to what degree, students have achieved the learning outcomes of your course, and provide you with the evidence you need to continually enhance your teaching and assessment practices.

With summative assessment, students can:

  • Recognise their overall performance in the course of study
  • Identify to what extent they have met the learning outcomes at strategic points and on conclusion of the course of study.

With summative assessment, staff can:

  • Determine if learning outcomes have been met and to what extent for each student at strategic points during a course of study
  • Identify what teaching improvements can be made in future iterations.

Self-assessment

Self-assessment is an effective strategy to help engage students in a more independent and active approach to their learning, which can better prepare them for future study and work.

With self-assessment, students can: 

  • Reflect objectively on their output
  • Evaluate their progress
  • Identify gaps in their learning and skill development
  • Accept ownership for their own learning
  • Develop the skills to evaluate their performance and ways to improve.

Self-assessment can be a reliable method of assessment, with results from self-assessment typically producing not too dissimilar results than if the task was assessed by a marker.

For it to succeed though, students need to understand why they are being asked to self-assess and what your expectations are. They will need training and a supportive environment in which they can experience guided practice.

Criteria for the assessment task should be explicit and provided in the form of a rubric. Initially, they will need guidance to interpret and understand the criteria and the standards which accompany each criterion in order to make valid judgements about the quality of their performance. Exemplars and examples of work of lesser quality can be used to help develop their ability to make valid judgements.

Peer assessment

Peer-assessment is not unlike self-assessment and provides similar benefits to those outlined above, but peer-assessment offers the added advantages of students working collaboratively and developing a better sense of their own learning from assessing other students’ output and receiving feedback from just a single source.

Peer-assessment needs to be supported in a similar way as self-assessment. Students will need to understand the purpose and be provided with training, guided practice, explicit criteria and standards in the form of a rubric, and help on how to make valid judgements. Again, a range of work samples should be made available for students to examine to inform their decision making.

Peer-assessment is commonly used when students have been tasked with group work to report on the contribution of team members, looking at the process rather than the product, but it is equally valuable for assessing the product resulting from individual assessment tasks.

UQ provides a Group Peer Assessment tool which allows you to collect student responses on the contribution of individual group members, calculate average scores, PAFs (Peer Assessment Factors) and SAPAs (Self-Assessment over Peer Assessment). You can also view collated responses and facilitate moderation of results.

For more information, visit the Assessing teams and groups page.
 

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Assessment tasks

For more information on how to plan assessment tasks, types of tasks and examples, go to the Assessment tasks page.

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Assessment process

Design approach

Select a design approach to suit your situation. We recommend collaborative approaches to assessment design – talking to your colleagues, learning designers or ITaLI to refine and enhance your ideas.

  • Why do you want to change your assessment?
    • Are there issues with your current assessment?
    • Are there new goals or innovations you want to incorporate into your assessment?
  • Explore examples of assessment to inspire your practice:
    • Peruse the UQ Assessment Ideas Factory
    • Review the course profiles of other courses in your programs or majors
    • Scan publications about assessment in higher education generally and/or your discipline.

Think about the evaluation or outcome you want through changing your assessment, work through a framework that helps you,  such as the Assessment Design Decisions framework. Remember that assessment design is a complex and iterative process and the best tasks are developed over multiple course offerings.

When planning or revising your course assessment, you may wish to consider the Backward curriculum design method to help you align your assessment as a measure of your learning outcomes.

You don’t need to change everything all at once. This Transformation continuum slide (PDF, 187.1 KB) shows how small changes can have a big impact. 
 
You can use the template Are you measuring/testing what you intend? (DOCX, 55.9 KB) to check that individual test questions you have prepared actually test what you intend to examine. 

The document Using verbs and taxonomies in assessment design (PDF, 1.3 MB) can help you think about how you can align your questions to levels of a taxonomy.

This short guide Generating ideas for assessment tasks and questions (PDF, 1.2 MB) can help you make clear what it is you require of your students when you develop assessment.

Implementation

The processes and support around an assessment item can be the difference between an effective and satisfying assessment task and one with problems. 

  • How will you ensure your students understand and engage with the assessment?
    • How will learners understand what is required in the assessment task(s)?
    • When will students engage with the task? Do you need to provide scaffolding? 
    • Is the workload and weighting appropriate? Will students see it this way?
  • What activities or resources do you need to implement to support the assessment?
    • Rubrics
    • Task sheets
    • Exemplars
    • Scaffolding activities
  • How will you evaluate and improve this assessment for future offerings?
    • Take a moment to reflect – did the assessment achieve its goals?
    • Can the assessment be more efficient for you or your students?
  • How will you ensure your whole teaching team is on the same page with your assessment?

Marking

Judging the quality of students’ work or performance must be made with reference to explicit or predetermined criteria and standards, and not by reference to the achievement of other students.

Rubrics should communicate the assessment criteria for the task and be matched to standards for each assessment task. Course coordinators should use their professional judgement to develop the qualitative standards of achievement for each of the criteria.

Students should have the rubric available to guide their completion of the task, and be used by markers to determine how well students have met the standards for each of the criteria.

Standards in rubric at UQ are commonly organised to align with numeric grades (1–7) and grade descriptors.

Moderation

Ideally, markers should undertake a moderation task before commencing marking, particularly if they have not been involved in developing the rubric or if there are new markers in the team. This session should take the form of a discussion about the criteria, standards and an example marking exercise to develop a shared understanding of what the criteria require and how to apply the standards to each criterion.

With this common approach to marking, the marking team should be in the best position to ensure consistent judgements are made. Some choose to moderate once more in the early stages of marking.

It is essential to moderate again on the conclusion of marking to ensure the team has achieved consistency in their marking and the outcomes are reliable.

Even if you are the only marker, it is worth taking the time to moderate your marking and check you have marked each student’s work consistently. Even the most experienced assessors need to take care that they are applying standards fairly between the first submission they mark, and the last.

Feedback and feedforward

  • How does feedback from the task support students in future tasks in your course and other courses?
  • The Higher Education Learning Framework identifies that ‘emotions play an important role in how students learn.’ Feedback can be particularly affected by emotion. Will the feedback in your course involve dialogues that are specific, timely and outline how to improve?
  • How will students learn what is good work? How will students learn to judge the quality of their work, learning and approach? Will students be able to self-assess?
  • How will students engage with feedback to improve their work and approaches to learning?
  • What types of feedback information will be provided and by whom?
  • Why will students see the feedback as valuable?

Visit Feedback for learning for more information.

Review assessment

Good practice requires that you regularly review and revise your assessment.

Schedule a time at the end of the semester with your teaching team to review your assessment, establish what worked well and determine any revisions that need to be made for the following semester. Ensure the evidence you use to review your assessment tasks is drawn from a variety of sources.

When you review your assessment regime you may wish to consider: 

  • Alignment – did the tasks effectively assess the course learning outcomes you set out to assess? 
  • Integrity – what steps can you take to increase your confidence that the work submitted was performed by the student?  
  • Variety and difficulty – were there a variety of tasks and of increasing complexity? 
  • Communication – were students well-informed about the tasks, their purpose, your expectations and what was required of them? 
  • Timing – did the timing of the tasks direct student learning appropriately for the course structure?  
  • Feedback – did the tasks provide opportunities for timely and effective feedback to your students they could use to improve their learning? 
  • Informing – did the tasks allow you to ascertain student learning and understanding to modify your teaching focus if needed? 
  • Diversity – did the tasks provide an equitable opportunity for all learners to demonstrate their achievements?

Use these Design consideration for effective assessment (DOCX, 54.3 KB) questions to guide you through a review of your current assessment and to help you consider what changes you could make to improve it.

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References, events and further reading

Webinars

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 Ready to Teach Week

Twice a year, ITaLI puts together a program of online and in-person activities designed to help you prepare course materials for the upcoming semester.

Need help?

ITaLI offers personalised support services across various areas, including providing guidance on designing assessment.