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Assessment and Feedback

The Focus On: Assessment and Feedback theme aims to develop and enhance assessment and feedback practices at UWS.  It runs for two years, from session 2018/19 to 2019/20.  These resources will help anyone who teaches UWS students with this essential aspect of their practice.  

Assessment Quick Guide - Formative Assessment

This guide covers examples of formative assessments and activities that you might like to set students. As outlined in UWS’s Assessment Handbook, a formative assessment is one that provides ‘students with opportunities for feedback but does not contribute to their overall grade. Feedback may be provided to an individual or group, and may come from self-evaluation, the students’ peers or a member of staff.’ The list below includes some examples that can support self-evaluation or generate peer feedback. As well as providing student with valuable feedback, formative activities give you a chance to spot areas in which students might need further support at an early stage.

Examples of Formative Assessments

  • Set up Moodle multiple choice quizzes that students can use for self-assessment.
  • Use Peermark on Moodle for peer- and self-assessment.
  • Encourage the use of a blog to review course content and share with peers for comment
  • Two-minute ‘papers’ – good for use at the end of class to assess understanding.
  • ask students to summarise key points of that week’s session in two minutes. Depending on their response more work may have to be done at the beginning of the next session or further exercises/material given to students who need or request them.
  • ask students to respond briefly to the following question: What was the most important thing you learned in this class today?
  • Ask students to submit a first draft of an essay. Use the self- and peer-assessment facility within Turnitin Feedback Studio to obtain feedback within a week so they can use that feedback to inform their final draft.
  • Instead of plunging students straight into major essays, get them to produce a 500–750 word report and use this to provide feedback and early identification of any learning issues.
  • Take some time in class (or moderate an online discussion thread) to give students an opportunity to reflect collaboratively on what they have learned thus far; what areas of material they have found particularly difficult; and/or ideas for improving learning.
  • Use a wiki on Moodle as a collaborative learning space where the students can reflect on what has been learned.
  • Consider turning the task of you providing formative feedback into a more reflective activity by your students. First ask each student (or group of students) to reflect on the strengths and area for further development. Your feedback could focus on your students’ reflections thereby encouraging them to take greater responsibility for their own learning.
  • You may also ask: what question remains unanswered (or is unclear) from the class today?
  • Application exercise: ask students to identify one real-world application of an idea, concept or principle they have just learned. This helps students connect the material to prior knowledge and lets you see whether they understand the applicability of the concept.
  • Student-generated test questions: have students prepare two or three test questions with model correct answers using Peerwise. From this you should be able to see what students believe are the main ideas; what they believe are fair questions; and their ability to answer those questions.
  • Pro-con grid: have students create two columns and generate a list of pros and cons on a particular topic. This process helps students see multiple sides of contentious issues and gives you a sense of the depth of their understanding.
  • Concept maps: have students produce a summary of the main concepts as discussed in a topic or learning outcome. This helps to quickly identify student misconceptions and encourage examination of the overall structure. Typical tools would be Inspiration (available on all on-campus PCs) and FreeMind (open source mind-mapping software).



This Quick Guide was adapted from material previously included in the UWS Assessment Handbook.

Assessment Quick Guide - Written Examinations

This Quick Guide provides information on various forms of written examinations, including some advantages and disadvantages. It covers Unseen Closed-book Exams; Unseen Open-book Exams, and Seen Exams.

This guide focuses on written examinations but some of the information may be relevant for oral, practical and online examinations.

Similarly, this guide may be useful if you are planning a Class Test (examinations organised locally by module tutors and normally occurring outside the formal examination period). See the Assessment Handbook for more information on the procedures for running a Class Test.

The actual type of examination employed for a module will have been decided at the point of initial approval, where its validity as an appropriate form of assessment will have been considered.

Whilst more ‘traditional’ closed, unseen written examinations are generally familiar to staff and students other types of examinations may pose new challenges.  Special care must therefore be taken to ensure that they are:

  • Transparent – candidates know what to expect and understand what is required of them;
  • Equitable – the examinations safeguard against illegitimate practices, and are fair to all candidates;
  • Reliable – staff know how to make appropriate academic judgments on performance.


Unseen Closed-book Exams

This is likely the form that first comes to mind when ‘exams’ are mentioned. Students do not have access to the exam paper before they sit the exam, nor are they permitted to refer to resources during the exam.


  • relatively economical;
  • straightforward to organise;
  • there is equality of opportunity – same tasks in same way, under same conditions;
  • know whose work it is;
  • academic staff and some students are familiar with the process;
  • can prompt students to get down to learning.


  • students normally get little or no feedback therefore formative learning is difficult;
  • badly set exam questions encourage surface learning in which students only have to ‘regurgitate’ knowledge or facts to pass;
  • exam technique is too important – students need to be good at time management and working under pressure but if that is part of the module’s Learning Outcomes, then this is not a disadvantage;
  • exams may only represent a snapshot of student performance, rather than a reliable indicator of it.


Sometimes, tutors have little say in using such an assessment method as many professional bodies/organisations insist on this as a prime method.


Unseen Open-book Exams

In open-book examinations students are allowed to take in the reference sources and materials they think they will need. The focus then is less on student memorisation of particular information and more on application of information (locating, retrieving, synthesising and applying) from a range of sources to the solution of specific problems.  In this way students engage at a deeper level, and can be required by questions to demonstrate higher-order skills of analysis and judgement. These are still normally ‘unseen’ exams in that students do not have access to the exam paper beforehand.

Useful advice when considering open-book examinations include the following:

  • Decide whether to prescribe the books or e-books students may employ or allow them to bring in what they want.
  • Ensure that you set questions which require students to DO things with the information available to them, rather than merely summarising it and giving it back.
  • Focus the assessment criteria on what students have done with the information, and not just on them having located the correct information.
  • Require application of knowledge wherever appropriate.

This method minimises most of the disadvantages stated for the unseen method and brings with it many extra advantages.  However, it does have its own set of procedures that need to be adhered to including:

  • clarity of information – students who are to be given open-book examinations must be informed (in module handbooks, written information at start of a module) of how the examination is to be prepared for and administered. In particular, they must receive a statement of the materials which can be taken into the examination and, importantly, any specific materials excluded from the examination.
  • if there is an intention to limit the amount or type of material (this is a choice for the module team and should be agreed in advance) which may be brought into the examination, this must be reasonable in the context of:
    • the assessment criteria,
    • equity and fairness to all candidates
    • capable of enforcement via normal invigilation processes without causing disruption to the conduct of the examination.
  • all parts of the University involved in assessing students (e.g. Student Administration, Student Services) must be appropriately informed of the plans for such assessment, in order that any special arrangements can be put in place e.g.
    • desk space (students usually need more)
    • invigilation arrangements
    • students with special needs
    • restricted access to online resources


Seen Exams

Students are provided with – at an appropriate time in advance of the examination (say one week) – a set of background materials and the main questions.  Materials may be specific research references, case studies, or portfolios of evidence, etc.  Students are then advised to familiarise themselves with the materials before they bring them into the examination room where they are asked to write up a case study or respond to a series of prompt questions which require them to use the materials.

Such an approach to assessment opens up the capacity to assess yet another set of skills – preparation of material, synthesis from multiple sources, application to specific questions, etc.

This form of assessment could be combined with open-book, described above. It has its own set of procedures that need to be adhered including:

  • students must be informed in module handbooks of the nature of the seen examination process, and the time and manner by which the examination ‘paper’ will be disseminated.
  • dissemination of the prior materials/questions must be handled in a manner that allows all students similar and equitable access and time. However, students should be reminded that is their responsibility to ensure that they receive a copy of the examination and the materials.
  • a warning against unauthorised collusion in the preparation of responses must be clearly given and displayed to students (collusion is one of the potential drawbacks of the method)
  • as with the above method, all parts of the University involved in the arrangements for the assessment of students (e.g. Student Administration, Student Services) must be appropriately informed of the plans for such assessment, in order that any special arrangements can be put in place.



This Quick Guide was adapted from material previously included in the UWS Assessment Handbook.




Feedback from assessments can be a powerful learning tool. However, lecturers express concern that students don’t act on feedback, and sometimes don’t read it at all. This can be especially frustrating when you’ve spent time and energy providing extensive comments. Another issue raised is that students may not recognise all the feedback they receive as such. The following resources acknowledge the benefits and challenges of assessment feedback. They offer suggestions of what ‘good’ feedback does and ideas for engaging students with it.

Enhancing student learning through effective formative feedback:

This HEA Guide includes the oft-quoted Seven Principles of Good Feedback Practice and offers advice on how these can be achieved.

Good feedback…

  1. Facilitates the development of self-assessment (reflection) in learning.
  2. Encourages teacher and peer dialogue around learning.
  3. Helps clarify what good performance is (goals, criteria, expected standards).
  4. Provides opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance.
  5. Delivers high quality information to students about their learning.
  6. Encourages positive motivational beliefs and self-esteem.
  7. Provides information to teachers that can be used to help shape the teaching.

(Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick, 2004)



QAA Feedback from Assessment:

Part of the QAA’s Focus On: Feedback from Assessment, this project uses data from student-led teaching awards to consider what students value about the feedback they receive. The Summary Report includes questions and prompts for teachers looking to develop their practice.



Developing Engagement with Feedback (DEFT) toolkit:

This extensive toolkit takes the starting point the idea that ‘teachers and students must share responsibility for engaging with feedback’ (p.8). It provides many resources to help staff build students’ assessment literacies including a guide to share with students and an outline for a workshop on using feedback.



Principles of Assessment & Feedback: Rubrics

In this video from the University of Wollongong, Australia, Professor Chris Rust and Professor David Boud discuss rubrics in terms of clarity and consistency and the value of co-constructing rubrics with students. See 2:15 for some starting points when writing rubrics.


David's adventures in the classroom: Why does nobody read the feedback I write?

Dr David Smith, a Reader in Biochemistry at Sheffield Hallam and National Teaching Fellow, considers why students don’t engage with the feedback he gives. With reference to literature on assessment feedback, his blog post sets out a plan for approaching feedback differently in the future.



Transforming the Experience of Students Through Assessment (TESTA)

The TESTA approach involves mapping at programme-level to provide a rich picture of assessment: the quantity of assessment, balance of formative and summative, variety, distribution of assessment and its impact on student effort, feedback practices, the clarity of goals and standards, and the relationship between these factors and students’ overall perception of their degree. Using this baseline data, programme teams devise targeted interventions to address specific programme-level assessment issues.

In this video, staff at the University of Solent explain how the TESTA approach works and how their programmes have benefited.  

find out more on the testa website

Last updated: 08/07/2019