Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development OCSLD
Learning and Teaching Briefing Papers Series
Purposes and principles of assessment
It is important to clarify some of the fundamental principles and issues which need to be applied to the design of any assessment strategies for any module or programme. For this purpose, let us define assessment as evaluation or appraisal; it is about making a judgment, identifying the strengths and weaknesses, the good and the bad, and the right and the wrong in some cases. It is more than simply giving marks or grades, although that may well be a part of it. And because it involves making a judgment it will almost inevitably include an element of subjectivity by the assessor. However, we should strive to make assessment as objective, fair and transparent as possible. Assessment plays a crucial role in the education process: it determines much of the work students undertake (possibly all in the case of the most strategic student), affects their approach to learning and, it can be argued, is an indication of which aspects of the course are valued most highly. Formative versus summative assessment This is the distinction between assessment which is mainly intended to help the student learn and assessment intended to identify how much has been learnt. Formative assessment is most useful part way through a course or module, and will involve giving the student feedback which they can use to improve their future performance. In practice, to varying degrees, most forms of assessment probably try to do both although the end of course exam where the only feedback received is a mark is almost totally summative. It is arguable that assessment in British higher education is too often focussed on the summative, and the accumulation of marks coming at the end of courses, while students would benefit from more opportunities to build on their strengths and learn from their mistakes through the feedback from formative assessment...