Forms of summative and formative assessment

Type of assessment


Unseen, written, examinations (including multiple choice and matching index question papers)

Widely used method of synoptic assessment and most suitable for summative assessment of students’ abilities. Take place in a controlled environment, commonly at the end of a teaching block or programme. Can test a range of attributes, including knowledge and depth of understanding, analytical abilities, written communication skills and ability to synthesise information. Offers minimal opportunity for plagiarism. 

‘Open book’ examinations

Involve giving students access to various reference sources during the examination, e.g. textbooks, tables, or other materials that would normally be available in a work situation. Normally taken in a controlled environment and.

Assessed coursework, including essays, assignments, creative writing and other tasks

May be used to assess depth of knowledge and the ability to work independently. Intended to be completed independently by the student, in his / her own time. Students have access to a range of learning opportunities and resources when undertaking coursework and are normally given deadlines within which to complete it, with penalties set for late submission. Often used in parallel with other forms of assessment

Progress tests

Used both formatively and diagnostically to evaluate students’ progress in a specific topic or range of topics and to help them improve their performance. They are normally fairly short, uncomplicated tests and may be given at relatively regular intervals, particularly in science / engineering subjects, to check that the building blocks of learning are being achieved before moving on to the next part of the programme.

Supervised practicals, including laboratories, field work and assessment of clinical skills

These are used in disciplines where practical skills are fundamental to success in the programme. They are normally used for unit level assessment. If student does not achieve a high enough level of competence in the practical elements of a programme, s/he may not be entitled to sit end of teaching block or final examinations and may fail the programme. In the case of medical, dental and veterinary programmes (and in some others), failure in practical assessments normally means that the student will fail the programme. Personal development planning (PDP) tools are very relevant to practical work, as are notebooks, as they enable students to record their findings accurately and in a timely manner, whether in a controlled environment (e.g. the laboratory), or in the field. They also encourage students to reflect on their learning and progress. If practical notebooks or portfolios are to be assessed, either formatively or summatively it is essential that students are made aware of this at the outset

Oral examinations, including viva voce, individual and group presentations and seminars

Section 13 of this Code summarises the circumstances in which it is appropriate to conduct ‘viva voce’ examinations. Oral assessment includes students presenting their work, as individuals or in groups, informally or in a seminar. If group assessment is used, examiners may wish to ensure that each student’s individual contribution to the work is also capable of being separately assessed. Oral presentations are often used formatively, including providing constructive feedback to students on their performance, to give them practice in developing good communication skills that may be assessed summatively later. Criteria for the assessment of oral presentations should not be limited to testing the content of the presentation but also assess the student’s ability to communicate, both generally and about the topic (to specialists and non-specialists). If assessing the conduct of a seminar, examiners are also likely to be testing the student’s ability to facilitate the group and outcomes.

Performances and compositions (normally appropriate to performing arts such as drama and music)

Criteria for the assessment of artistic performance are likely to cover a range of skills and abilities the student is expected to possess. The student may need particular resources to be available, such as a musical instrument or ‘props’ for a dramatic performance, and including different forms of technology, and the student and examiners therefore need to prepare appropriately for this and assure themselves of the reliability and availability of the resources.

Peer and self assessment

The value of peer and self assessment is apparent across a range of subjects. Both can help students to have a deeper understanding of the topic being assessed and to improve their own work through assessing the work of others. It is essential that both self and peer assessed marking is moderated by a member of academic staff or tutor with assessment skills and experience. It is also essential that students engaging in either form of assessment are aware of the criteria to be used for assessing their own or peers’ work. In subjects where model answers or marking schemes are available, students should have access to these at the appropriate stage in the assessment process. Some schools using peer and self assessment set criteria for the assessment task with students, to achieve a mutual understanding of what the intended learning outcomes are.

Individual research assignments, including research dissertations, design projects and library projects

Honours degrees normally contain some kind of research projector or dissertation in the final year. The form of this will vary, depending on the subject. In some subjects the research project is conducted throughout the final year of the programme, in parallel with the taught components of that year. In taught postgraduate programmes, it is expected that at least one third of the programme comprises the research project, resulting in a dissertation (or equivalent). Assessment of the research project normally reflects the characteristics of such an activity, including the expectation that the student will have worked independently, with little supervision, to achieve the outcomes determined with their supervisor at the start of the project. Research projects require substantive knowledge and understanding of the subject and of the limits of existing knowledge and at levels 6 and 7, the students’ ability to manage their own learning and to make use of appropriate primary sources, as well as being able to conduct critical evaluation and make judgements. Library projects normally involve the student in researching and analysing the available literature on a topic, including identifying possible gaps in knowledge.

e-assessment, including use of question banks, multiple choice or matching index questions

e-assessment, is used across a range of subjects, particularly in engineering, science, medical sciences and languages. It has many strengths, including: the potential to enable students to self assess (privately, and on multiple occasions), identify where their knowledge is strong or weak and so seek help where necessary to improve their knowledge / performance; the facility for students to be assessed in different geographical locations using technology flexibly; the ability for staff to provide students with rapid feedback on their work. It lends itself to both formative and summative assessment and can be used to test basic knowledge, or more complex and sophisticated concepts, depending on the level the student has reached, the subject and the intended learning outcomes. Some forms of e-assessment can be used to test depth of knowledge and the ability to synthesise information, including the ability to reach a clinical diagnosis and suggest how a condition might be treated. Section 13 of this Code provides practical guidance on the conduct of e-assessment.

Poster presentations

Posters are used, often in scientific subjects, to give students an opportunity to ‘showcase’ the outcomes of a project. They enable students to demonstrate their detailed knowledge of a topic and also their ability to communicate complex knowledge to those without a detailed understanding of the area.

Book / journal article reviews

Book / journal article reviews are often used as a form of coursework and are an opportunity to test a student’s analytical skills, writing ability and the extent to which s/he has ‘read around’ a subject. Asking a group of students to review a book in advance of a tutorial or seminar can be a useful means of formatively assessing a range of skills, including the ability to discuss and present a case.

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