As academics know, teaching and learning is about much more than assessments. Yet, for students, assessments can literally define the curriculum. While academic staff are often primarily concerned with designing learning outcomes and planning curriculum, students may work backwards through this curriculum and purely focus on assessments.

Consequently, choosing the best assessment type to drive your curriculum and your students is essential. Both summative and formative assessments are intended to enhance student learning through providing feedback on their skills and knowledge, while also developing these skills and knowledge. 

What is the role of assessment?

To build students’ confidence and motivation

To build students’ confidence and motivation, start from the learners’ current understanding. Be realistic about what students are able to achieve during your subject. Pay attention to the specific needs of your student cohort. For example, do you have large or small classes? Do you have a large number of international students? Are your students full or part time? Working within these practical confines will enable students to succeed and maybe even enjoy working on their assessments.

To provide students with opportunities for learning

Assessments are not merely a way of describing student learning. They are also a method of learning in itself. Use assessments to complement, develop and build on your students past learning. Then frame assessment as a platform for students to display their emerging skills and knowledge. 

To provide specific and general feedback

While assessments enable learning, they also show academic staff the gaps in students’ understanding. In this way, assessments are a vital vehicle for providing feedback to both teachers and students. Ask yourself: how you can provide this feedback in a way that feeds into the rest of students’ learning? Find ways of feeding forward as much as you can. While feedback encourages students to ask themselves ‘what progress have I made towards the goal?’, a ‘feed forward’ approach prompts both teachers and students to ask “What would improve my progress?”.

To enhance awareness of the subject learning objectives

Whether we like it or not, students are often oblivious to the role of subject learning objectives. Assessments can therefore become a way of making students aware of the skills and knowledge that will be developed in your subject. These subject learning objectives can also guide you towards the most appropriate assessment type for your subject. For example, if one of your subject learning objectives relates to workplace learning, then your assessment types will focus on real-world settings.

How can I make sure my assessment type matches my subject learning outcomes?

Planning for alignment between your subject learning outcomes and assessment types can be tricky, especially because subject learning outcomes are usually decided and submitted to your faculty before you have finalised all aspects of your assessments. Additionally, not all subject learning outcomes can be readily measured through obvious assessment types. In short – subject learning outcomes tell students what they will learn; assessments show students how they will demonstrate this learning.

Types of assessment and their functions

A single assessment can combine several activity types. In order to decide the types of activities for your assessments, first decide if you would like to focus on:

  • Process or product?
  • Individual or group?
  • Writing, speaking, doing or making?
  • Theories or practices?
  • Students’ experiences or the experiences of others?
  • Simulated settings or real-world settings?

Types of assessment vary considerably from school to school. Some of the more traditional forms of assessment include exams, essays, reports, case studies, group projects and oral presentations. Some of the more creative and innovative assessment types are role-plays, interviews, reflections on practice, concept maps, story-boards, blogs, digital stories, podcasts, dioramas and posters. Work with activity and assessment types that fit the needs of your students, curriculum, tutors and other faculty.

How do I know if I’ve chosen the wrong assessment type?

It doesn’t align with subject learning outcomes

An example of this misalignment is if the subject learning outcome is to ‘apply analytical skills’, but the assessment only requires factual recall. It may also happen if the subject learning outcome is to ‘compare and critique’ several texts, but the assessment requires students to summarise a single text.

It doesn’t provide sufficient opportunity for student feedback

If you are able to attribute a grade or mark while marking, but can’t see or describe where mistakes were made, then you are working with an inefficient assessment – this assessment is not rich enough to enable you to see the gaps in your students’ thinking.

It’s opaque and ambiguous

To avoid ambiguity, give your assessment question to a colleague from your faculty, or ideally, from another faculty. You may also be able to ask your current students for advice on assessments for future students. Then, ask what they understand the task to mean, and how they would approach it.

Focusing on assessments together

Over the next couple of months, we will be developing a new resource collection that explains the different assessment types, backed up by case studies from academics at UTS. And keep checking in here on Futures for more stories in our ‘Focus on Assessment’ series. Coming next: Don’t just tweak your assessments, design them!

Image by Anna Zhu

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