Assessment points to consider

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Any mechanism instituted in a course to provide feedback and measure student learning, divided into two sub-categories: formative and summative.

Formative Assessment

Assessment for learning that is primarily used to inform a student (through feedback by verbal, written or other means) about their learning and progression towards the requirements to successfully complete the course. Typically, formative assessment is not assigned a grade, or if it is, it has a low value.

Forms of formative assessment:

  • Classroom or embedded assessment – incorporated into instructional activities, such as
    using personal response systems, such as iClickers or classroom assessment techniques. Within a lesson plan for a class, pre-assessment and post-assessment are used. Preassessment is a diagnostic used at the beginning of class to determine what students know about concepts for that lesson. Post-assessment determines if students achieved the intended learning outcomes set for that lesson.
  • Peer-assessment – students assess other students’ work with no grade. There is much research about peer-assessment and most agree on two principles: (a) peer-assessment should not be assigned grades, and (b) when used as formative assessment, peerassessment is very effective and contributes to students’ ability to self-assess.
  • Self-assessment – students are required to assess their own work with respect to certain standards, such as a rubric provided by the instructor. This activity provides an opportunity for students to reflect on their own work to see how they can improve.
Summative Assessment

Assessment of learning that is graded. Many forms of summative assessment exist, but increasingly authentic assessment methods are being used, because they more accurately represent how student learning will be reflected in practice (Wiggins, 1998). For example, according to Wiggins (1998), authentic assessment has the student “do” the subject by simulating real-world contexts so that students can actually apply the subject matter.

Where does assessment take place?

Assessment can take place in the following areas:

In the classroom

Through formative assessment


By benchmark or summative assessment

Who performs classroom, formative and summative assessment?

Despite the instructor of record being responsible for the final course grades, assessment can be performed by the following:

  • instructor on record
  • teaching assistants
  • peers (only formative)
  • students self-assess (only formative)

What are common approaches to assessment?

There are three main approaches to assessment:

  1. Analytically (criterion-based assessment);
  2. Holistically (impressionistic); and
  3. Normative-based assessment.

Assessing analytically, developed over the past 50 years in higher education, requires a certain amount of pre-set criteria that is used to evaluate students’ work (Sadler, 2009). The pre-set criteria can be determined by the instructor or together with students. Alternatively, in holistic or global grading, the instructor looks at the work as a whole and determines what grade should be assigned (Sadler, 2009). Both approaches have been challenged for their scorer reliability (consistency of grades between markers), but there may be other issues, such as the skills of the markers and if each approach can completely represent the whole assignment (Sadler, 2009). Normative-based assessment utilizes comparison to separate students, typically called ‘grading on the curve’ or ‘bell curve’, or norm-reference measurement (Aviles, 2001). At the University of Victoria, the use of normative-based assessment is strictly prohibited. The UVic calendar states:

A primary purpose of evaluation and grading is to further effective teaching and learning. Any practices which assign a predetermined percentage of students a specific grade, that is, a certain percentage get A, another percentage get B and so on, without regard to individual achievement are prohibited.

How can assessment practices be improved?

Kohn (2008) reminds us that learning is rarely mentioned in discussions about grading. Overall, literature about how to improve assessment practices focuses on the following areas:

  • criterion-based assessment to be utilized (Sadler, 2009), which requires instructing all involved with grading in the course about how to satisfactorily use rubrics based on clear criteria
  • clear, intended learning outcomes at the program-, course-, and unit-level that clarify good performance are developed
  • rubrics are provided for all assignments to ensure grade consistency (Aufderheide et al., 2016; Hodges, 2014)
  • proactive student role is encouraged rather than a reactive student role in assessment (Nicol & MacFarlane-Dick, 2006; Sadler, 2009)
  • relevant examples of how to recognize the quality of work expected (students have to practice evaluating work themselves), so that students are aware of instructor’s expectations (Sadler, 2009)
  • exemplars are provided to help students peer-assess (Hendry, Armstrong & Bromberger, 2012)
  • feedback from instructor and peers is scaffolded so that students can increase their meta-cognitive skills and eventually self-monitor the quality of their work (Sadler, 2009)
  • multiple measures and sources that are implemented continuously to ensure fair representation of student learning (Pusateri, 2009)
  • explicit instructions are provided for all assessment tasks (Pusateri, 2009)
  • formative and low-stakes assessment that lead to an increase in self-regulated learning (Nicol & MacFarlane-Dick, 2006)
  • self- and peer-assessment is used (Boud & Falchikov, 2006; Boud & Soler, 2016—term they use is sustainable assessment[1])
  • assessment of authentic tasks (related to real world case studies, practice, portfolios)
  • evidence-based approaches are taken to assessment (Joughin, 2010)
  • assessment practices are self- or peer-evaluated (Pusateri, 2009)
  • the singular final grade is representative of what the student learned in the course (Guskey, 2002)

[1] Sustainable assessment is “every act of assessment needs in some identifiable way to build students’ capacity to manage and judge their own learning and thus equip themselves for the more challenging environments they will confront post-graduation” (Boud & Soler, 2016, p. 410).

Academic Integrity for Online Exams & Assessments

Include an Academic Integrity Pledge

Include the following pledge as the first question in your word document or quiz. (Note: if you are randomizing quiz questions and want students to read the pledge first, include it in the quiz activity description instead). Introduce the pledge with a personal video recording reviewing your expectations (e.g. use Echo360 to record, then embed the video in the exam).

  • Students must abide by UVic academic regulations and observe standards of ‘scholarly integrity,’ (no plagiarism or cheating). Therefore, this online exam must be taken individually and not with a friend, classmate, or group, nor can you access notes, course materials, the internet, or other resources while completing this exam. You are also prohibited from sharing any information about the exam with others. I _____(type in name)___________ affirm that I will not give or receive any aid on this exam or access any unauthorized resources and that all work will be my own.

Essential Guidelines for Online Exams

There are a few things to keep in mind when you are delivering an exam online. Our Essential Guidelines for Online Exams resource outlines a few things to think about before delivering an online exam.


Online Discussions

Online discussions contribute to student learning and assessment, in addition to helping build a community of learners. Whether you teach an asynchronous or a synchronous course, online discussions can open the space for your students to ask questions, test their ideas, and connect with you and other students in the course. Check our Online Discussions Guide for ideas and strategies.

  1. Aufderheide, P., Brannon, K., Connaughton, V., Dulaney, C., Figley, P., Freeman, D., Krishnan, G., McCurdy, H., Miller-Idriss, C., Oakes, S., Porzecanski, A., & Sonenshine, R. (2016). Final report of the ad hoc committee on grade inflation. American University. Retrieved September 12, 2018:
  2. Aviles, C. B. (2001). Grading with norm-reference or criterion-referenced measurements: To curve or not to curve, that is the question. Social Work Education, 20(5), 603-608. DOI: 10.1080/02615470120072869
  3. Boud, D. & Falchikov, N. (2007). Introduction: Assessment for the longer term. In Boud, D. & Falchikov, (Eds.) Rethinking Assessment for Higher Education: Learning for the Longer Term, 3-13. London: Routledge.
  4. Boud, D. & Soler, R. (2016). Sustainable assessment revisited. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 41(3), 400-413, DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2015.1018133
  5. Guskey, T. R. (2011). Five obstacles to grading reform. Educational Leadership, 69(3), 16.21.
  6. Hendry, G. D., Armstrong, S., & Bromberger, N. (2012). Implementing standards-based assessment effectively: Incorporating discussion of exemplars into classroom teaching. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 37(2), 149-161.
  7. Hodges, L. (2014). Demystifying learning expectations to address grade inflation. College Teaching, 62(2), 45-46.
  8. James, M. & Lewis, J. (2012). Assessment in harmony with our understanding of learning: Problems and possibilities. In J. Gardner (Ed), Assessment and Learning, (2nd Ed.), 187-205. London: Sage.
  9. Joughin, G. (2010). The hidden curriculum revisited: A critical review of research into the influence of summative assessment on learning. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(3), 335–345.
  10. Nicol, D. J. & Macfarlane‐Dick, D. (2007). Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 199-218, DOI: 10.1080/03075070600572090
  11. Pusateri, T. (2009). The assessment cyberguide for learning goals and outcomes. American Psychological Association Education Directorate. Accessed August, 2018:
  12. Sadler, D. R. (2009). Chapter 4: Transforming holistic assessment and grading into a vehicle for complex learning. In G. Joughin (Ed.), Assessment, Learning and Judgement in Higher Education, 1-15. DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4020-8905-3_4.
  13. Wiggins, G. (1998). Ensuring authentic performance. In G. Wiggins (Ed.) Educative Assessment: Designing Assessments to Inform and Improve Student Performance (pp. 21 – 42). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

About this post

This post was last updated:

April 28, 2021

We acknowledge and respect the Lək̓ʷəŋən (Songhees and Esquimalt) Peoples on whose territory the university stands, and the Lək̓ʷəŋən and W̱SÁNEĆ Peoples whose historical relationships with the land continue to this day.

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