Using Assessment Tools for Student Learning

Using a variety of assessments can help to motivate students with a diverse range of experiences, learning styles and abilities. Keeping assessments varied ensures an enjoyable learning experience for students which encourages them to work hard, and a mix of activities also enables students to approach topics from multiple perspectives. Mixing assessment types also enables students to develop a broader range of skills that will aid them when seeking employment, and help them excel in later academic life.  

Any assessment given should be:
  • Valid – do the learning outcomes match the form and the content of the assessment?
  • Reliable and fair – is marking criteria reasonable and agreed upon by markers? Do students understand why different questions are worth so many marks?
  • Purposeful – will the assessment help students to realise their grasp of the subject matter, and see where they've made errors?
  • Demanding – is the assessment hard enough to challenge even the most advanced students?
  • Efficient and manageable – taking account of academic time, resources and space available, is the assessment practical?

Assessment Tools  

Knowledge Surveys  

Knowledge surveys consist of a series of questions that cover the full content of the course. They evaluate student learning and mastery of content at all levels from basic knowledge up to higher levels of critical thinking and evaluation. They can be used for formative and summative assessments. They key feature of a knowledge survey is that students do not answer the questions, but state whether they could answer the question and with what degree of confidence (e.g. not confident, not very confident, unsure, fairly confident, very confident). This helps students provide guidance as to what they need to study, and guides teachers on areas they may need to provide revision classes or other guidance for. You can create a Knowledge Survey in Item Authoring.


Exams are the classic and most frequently used assessment tool, though constructing a well written exam can be challenging. It is likely that the other assessment tools in this article are what you will be using to help your students efficiently grasp the topic(s) they will need to understand for taking exams. It is vital that you spend enough time constructing any exam or practice exam and its questions – a poorly written, ambiguous or otherwise unclear exam will unfairly lower students’ grades. 


Portfolios are the personalised long term documentation of student mastery of course material. This form of assessment is useful for assessing a student’s understanding of a large topic area by permitting them a longer time frame to gather and analyse work. As this is an independent, long term project, if you set a portfolio assessment for students, a lot of guidance will need to be given to help them understand what is required (in particular, that images and data gathered will need to have written analysis and annotations, for instance). Portfolios are a useful assessment for examining a student’s ability to balance their observations and thought in a careful, considered and fact or evidence supported manner. Students with poor presentation skills (e.g. poor handwriting) may wish to consider gathering a digital portfolio, if permitted. Students can submit portfolios as part of a summative test with Secure File Attach in Surpass.


Rubrics are written criteria that detail expectations of what students will need to know and be able to do in order to receive a particular grade or mark. With the standards clearly laid out, students will not only be able to avoid confusion about what is expected of them, but can also use the rubric alongside revision and set a goal to meet a particular level or grade. This encourages a dialogue between the tutor and their students as the tutor can discuss with each student what level they expect the student to be able to attain, and offer tips or revision classes tailored to different rubric levels (e.g. a foundation revision class and an intermediate revision class). If you give students rubrics, you will need to provide examples of exam or coursework answers that meet each different level, so that students can clearly distinguish the differences between levels. You can attach rubrics for students to view with the 'Attach Source Material' button in Item Authoring. 

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