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Introduction to assessment

Assessment is the measurement of progress toward achieving learning outcomes and how that progress is evidenced and communicated to the learner and teaching team. There are three main types of assessment that help evidence learners’ knowledge, skills and experiences. These are classified in relation to what they provide to the learner and educator as follows.


Diagnostic assessment is made up of tasks or activities that occur before a learning event with the purpose of evidencing what a learner already knows and is able to do. By including diagnostic assessment before or at the start of a learning event, learners and educators can establish a baseline against which to measure future progress and direction. Diagnostic assessment can also be used to gather data and feedback to inform changes to future learning events (content and activities).

Diagnostic assessment helps learners by giving them opportunities to express what they:

  • know and have experienced to date
  • would like to know
  • may not understand

Diagnostic assessment helps educators:

  • be informed of knowledge gaps or misunderstandings present among students,
  • identify commonalities in cohort understandings and misunderstandings (assessment for learning),
  • by informing efficiencies that can be made prior to, and during a learning event.



Formative assessment provides information about how each learner comprehends and applies knowledge and skills throughout learning events and experiences. Formative assessment can involve a range of formal or informal activities that provide feedback to learners and educators about what and how learners can improve current or subsequent output. As the name suggests, this type of feedback informs a learner’s ultimate capacity to meet learning outcomes.

Formative assessment helps learners by providing opportunities to

  • practice skills and/or test understanding in low stakes environments created to support and inform further development;
  • adjust their activity, output, focus and other self-regulation practices within a learning event (Broadbent, et al., 2018); and,
  • gather and act upon feedback and guidance to increase academic achievement, motivation and engagement.

Formative assessment helps educators by providing opportunities to:

  • gauge learning experiences and modify practices to best support learners as they work towards achieving learning outcomes;
  • gather and reflect upon data that informs the degree to which certain learning materials and experiences (and their sequence) are facilitating the meeting of intended objectives; and,
  • make iterative changes and improvements to the design and sequencing of learning materials and activities in response to learner data.

A formative task may be a formal, weighted task that contributes to an overall mark or grade. A formative task may also be informal, carrying no marks while providing engaged feedback (e.g., an interactive quiz). While formative tasks can assist evidencing learners’ progression toward achievement of learning outcomes, the ultimate goal is to provide authentic and informed feedback to learners.



Summative assessment occurs at the end of a learning event to quantify learning. The purpose of summative assessments is to provide evidence of the achievement of learning outcomes to the learner and to the teaching team. When it comes to summative assessment, the quality of a learner’s assessment task is assessed against pre-determined criteria (e.g., a marking guide or rubric), and a grade is assigned based on how effectively the criteria and standards are met. The criteria are developed based on outputs that best evidence the associated learning outcomes. For this reason, activities involved in summative assessment tasks should require learners to authentically demonstrate knowledge, skills and experiences aligned to the associated learning outcome(s). Elements of formative practices can be implemented as part of summative assessment (Broadbent et al., 2018).

Summative assessment helps learners by:

  • reinforcing the main objectives of a learning event;
  • providing an opportunity for learners to practically demonstrate their knowledge, skills, and experiences over time; and
  • providing milestones for both performance and celebration.

Summative assessment helps educators to:

  • quantify task-bound outputs against certain criteria;
  • gauge levels of learner achievement and compare learner outputs; and
  • reflect on the effectiveness of learning events, teaching sequencing and practices.



Assessment serves as a primary pathway for facilitating and evidencing the achievement of learning outcomes and the provision of feedback throughout a learning event. As such, educators should “consider how every assessment practice and associated activity is arranged, and the purposes behind them” (Broadbent et al., 2018, p. 308).

Within the three types of assessments, there are a variety of task types that can authentically enable and capture what a learner is able to do in relation to associated learning outcomes. The type of assessment practices the educator chooses to apply to the learning event will have a major impact on learners, teaching teams and academic achievement/progression (Broadbent et al., 2018). Measures should be taken to ensure task, marking and feedback are equitable between groups of learners and different cohorts. The development of marking rubrics can help with this. Workload also needs to be considered when designing and selecting assessment inclusions and when thinking about the provision of feedback and associated turnaround times. Formative feedback has been shown to be the single most important factor in learning according to Hattie and Timperley (2007). However, a large-scale study by Jessop, et al., (2014) conversely ‘found that most students did not value, complete or even notice the presence of ungraded formative tasks’ (p. 77). Therefore, when designing assessment tasks, it is important to explicitly reiterate the value of formative tasks. It is also important to revisit the learning outcomes to consider what the task needs to evidence. Reflecting on the measurable verb in relation to Bloom’s Taxonomy can provide insight into the associated complexity of the task.


There are a range of planning considerations when it comes to designing assessment. These include the following:

  • Ensuring that all assessments support learning outcomes.
  • Planning the optimal number of assessments to support student learning and evaluation without overwhelming learners.
  • Ensuring learners receive equitable and standardised marking and feedback.
  • Balancing workload resourcing with the provision of feedback and associated turnaround times.

The following general steps may assist you in selecting and developing assessments for your learning event.

Step one: learning outcomes

Consider the learning outcome(s) for which an assessment task will provide evidence or a baseline measurement. When looking at the learning outcomes, consider the verb included in each learning outcome and reflect on where it sits in Bloom’s Taxonomy. This will help you determine the relevant means of assessing the learning outcome, the relevant indicators of progress or achievement, and the required level of complexity of the task.

Krathwohl et al. (2001) recommend combining the cognitive processes of Bloom’s Taxonomy with knowledge dimensions (Factual, Conceptual, Procedural, Metacognitive) to help educators identify the task attributes needed for the assessment (Table 1.1).

Knowledge dimension Cognitive process dimension
  1. Remember 2. Understand 3. Apply 4. Analyse 5. Evaluate 6. Create
A. Factual ✓         
B. Conceptual   ✓      ✓   
C. Procedural          
D. Metacognitive            

Table 1.1: Adapted from Krathwohl et al. (2001).

Step two: assessment placement and sequencing

Examine the learning event and determine the placement of the assessment task. This will help you to begin to consider the relevant materials and activities that assist learners in developing the knowledge, skills and attitudes required to successfully perform on the assessment.

Step three: purpose and type of assessment

Consider the type of assessment that is needed (e.g., Diagnostic, Formative or Summative). This will further assist you in determining the materials and activities needed to assist learners in developing the skills necessary to complete the assessment.

Step four: assessment design

Once you have determined the type of assessment, design a learning task, preferably an authentic learning task, that provides learners an opportunity to demonstrate and receive feedback on the identified indicators (e.g., knowledge, skills, experiences and attitudes) and that addresses the learning outcome and/or learning that has taken place. Certain methods of assessment are better suited for capturing certain types of learning than others, so consider which method you select (Table 1.2).

Intended Learning Outcomes:
What Students Learn
Common Methods:
What the Teacher Provides
Building skills
Physical and procedural skills where accuracy, precision and efficiency are important
Tasks and procedures
Practice exercises
Acquiring knowledge
Basic information, concepts and terminology in a discipline or field of study
Developing critical, creative, and dialogical thinking
Improved thinking and reasoning processes
Question-driven inquiries
Cultivating problem-solving and decision-making abilities
Mental strategies for finding solutions and making choices
Case studies
Exploring attitudes, feelings and perspectives
Awareness of attitudes, biases, and other perspectives; ability to collaborate
Group activities
Team project
Practicing professional judgement
Sound judgement and appropriate professional action in complex, context-dependent situations
Role playing
Dramatic scenarios
Reflecting on experience
Self-discovery and personal growth from real-world experience
Study abroad

Table 1.2: Adapted from Davis and Arend (2013).

When designing an assessment task, revisit the context and the placement of the activity within the learning event to identify supporting materials:

  • Have the learners been provided sufficient materials to support their performance on the assessment task?
  • Are additional supports or resources required, such as academic or technical skills?
  • Do you need to collect existing resources or develop new ones?

At this point, you may also begin defining marking criteria. It is important to include a marking rubric to ensure standardised grading across grade-bearing tasks, and standardised feedback across formal formative tasks. Marking rubrics facilitate learner self-regulating practices and reflection.

Step five: repeat process for each assessment task

If you are working on a number of assessment tasks at one time, repeat the process for each assessment task. Ensure that these tasks are constructively aligned to each other where possible, by reflecting on the learners' progression through each task. Does the order and design of these tasks enable learners to demonstrate their learning to the best of their ability?

Step six: review

Once all assessment tasks have been planned, conduct a high-level review of the learning event to ensure that each assessment item works within the learning sequence. At this point, you may again consider:

  • Does each assessment support the learning outcomes?
  • Do the materials, activities and resources support students in being able to successfully complete assessments and achieve learning outcomes?
  • Is there adequate time and resourcing to implement the assessments?
  • Does the timing and sequence of assessments work?

On the basis of this review, you may find that you need to modify aspects of your delivery or your assessment tasks.


Anderson, L.W. (2003) Classroom assessment: Enhancing the quality of teacher decision making.  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Broadbent, J., Panadero, E. & Boud, D. (2018). Implementing summative assessment with a formative flavour: A case study in a large class.  Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 43(2), 307-322. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2017.1343455

Davis, J.R. & Arend, B.D. (2013). Facilitating seven ways of learning: A resource for more purposeful, effective and enjoyable college teaching. Stylus.

Harvard University (n.d.). Taxonomies of learning. The Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. Harvard University. Retrieved March, 13th, 2023 from https://bokcenter.harvard.edu/taxonomies-learning 

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81–112.  https://doi.org/10.3102/003465430298487

Jessop, T., El Hakim, Y., & Gibbs, G. (2014). The whole is greater than the sum of its parts: A large-scale study of students’ learning in response to different programme assessment patterns.  Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 39(1), 73-88. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2013.792108

Krathwohl, D.R., Anderson, L. W., & Bloom, B. S. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: a revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives (Abridged ed.). Longman.

Sadler, D.R. (1989). Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems. Instructional Science, 18, 119–144  https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00117714

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