Creating assessments

Types of assessment

The type of assessment chosen should be related to learning outcomes and governed by decisions about its purpose, validity and relevance, a range of types of assessment is desirable to hopefully reduce the element of disadvantage suffered by any particular student. Types of assessment to choose from include:


An answer to a question in the form of continuous, connected prose. The object of the essay should be to test the ability to discuss, evaluate, analyse, summarise and criticise. Two dangers with essays are that they are easy to plagiarise, and that undue weight is often given to factors such as style, handwriting and grammar.


A learning task undertaken by the student allowing them to cover a fixed section of the curriculum predominantly through independent study. Different methods of presenting the results can be used dependent on the nature of the task – a report (oral or written), a newspaper or magazine article, a taped ‘radio programme, a video, a poster, a research bid, a book review, a contribution to a debate, etc. It is vital to be clear in the assessment criteria how important the medium is compared with the message, so if it is a video how important is the quality of the lighting, the style of the editing, etc. compared with the content that is covered.

Individual project

An extended investigation carried out by an individual student into a topic agreed on by student and assessor. In many ways similar to an assignment, the main difference is the onus on the student to choose the particular focus and/or medium of presentation. As with any assessment where the product will vary significantly from student to student it is vital that the criteria are sufficiently well written to be fair when applied to different undertakings and results.

Group project or assignment

Where either an assignment or project is undertaken collectively by groups of students working collaboratively. This has the pragmatic advantage of potentially reducing the tutor’s assessment workload and the educational advantage of helping to develop the students’ teamworking skills.  The major assessment problem is how to identify each individual’s role and contribution and to reward it fairly. Solutions (none of which is problem free) tend to include combinations of: an individual component which can be individually assessed, tutor observation, and involving the students in some self and/or peer assessment as the ones in the best position to judge.


Some of the most common variations of exams are:

  • ‘seen’ where the questions to be answered are given at a pre-specified date beforehand. The intention is to reduce the need for ‘question-spotting’, to reduce the anxiety, and to increase the emphasis on learning.
  • ‘open-book’ during the exam students have access to specified texts and/or their notes. the intention is to reduce the emphasis on memorising facts, to reduce anxiety and allows more demanding questions to be set.
  • ‘unseen’ arguably makes the student revise the whole syllabus because anything may appear on the paper (although in practice may do the opposite as the student may ‘question-spot’ and gamble on certain topics coming up