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Assessment and feedback

Study Advice guide on how to approach, interpret, and use feedback on your assessments, as well as how to be constructive in your feedback to others.

Purpose of assessment

Many of us may think of assessment as a necessary evil when it comes to studying and a source of anxiety. So, we might wonder: why do we need assessment?   

To answer this question, let’s consider some core functions of assessment: 

  • Assessment of learning: helps qualify the learning gain, recognise the learner’s achievement and contribute to degree validity and accreditation 
  • Assessment for learning: helps guide, organise, and scaffold learning, as a sequence of milestones for feedback and reflection. 
  • Assessment as learning: continuous and integral part of the learning process, promotes a reflexive attitude and learning by doing 

Source: JISC 

Types of assessment

There are many ways to categorise assessment practices. Chances are that, during your degree, you will encounter several of these different assessment types.

Formative vs summative: Formative assessments are tasks designed as opportunities to practice and inform on future work.  Formative assignments are, therefore, the best opportunity for directly applicable feedback. They may or may not be accompanied by a mark; the mark, if there, is indicative and should be received as a guide. Make sure you make the most of formative opportunities in your modules, so you can best prepare for the subsequent summative tasks.

Exams vs coursework: as a distinction, it serves to separate the end of term examinations from the assessment that takes place during the module’s run. Exams are more likely to target completeness of learning whereas in-class tests may test content knowledge in increments as you go; other types of coursework assignments may address specific learning objectives, content, or skills relevant to the module’s intended outcomes. 

Types of exams:

  • Knowing the format of your examination is important: Is it an invigilated timed exam, open-book exam, seen exam, take-home exam? All of these are slightly different in terms of the conditions under which the examination will take place, and, thereby, best study and revision approaches may differ.
  • Another consideration that may influence your revision strategy is the type of exam questions: multiple choice, short answer, or essay style questions? Look at past exam papers for examples of questions to practise with.
  • Check out the suite of Study Advice resources on exam preparation.

Types of coursework:

  • Depending on your discipline, there may be a range of activities linked to the assessment of your modules. This A-Z list compiled by the Centre of Quality Support and Development provides some examples of assessment formats. Can you recognise any of these as part of your upcoming coursework tasks? 
  • Variety in coursework tasks illustrates the range of skills students can and should be developing during their course of study. It also means that requirements are likely to differ among assignments and, therefore, it is crucial to spend time with the assessment brief and make sure that there are no confusing parts; if there are, mark confusing sentences and ask questions for clarification.  
  • Study Advice resources can help you with tips on how to approach different types of assessments:

Assessment criteria

The criteria against which your work will be assessed are an important indicator of which attributes are valued in the context of your assignment.  

It’s always worth paying attention to this element of your assessment brief as you prepare your submission. How would you evaluate your own work or performance against this set of criteria? Is there anything you have overlooked? 

Check this video on understanding assessment criteria

If you are unable to view this video on YouTube it is also available on YuJa - view the How to interpret my assessment brief video on YuJa (University username and password required)


Also, worth looking at these general descriptors of the different marking bands in the Annex 1 and 2 of the University's marking policy.