Assessment Strategies

Assessment tells students what is valued and what they need to achieve to be successful in their studies; it captures their attention and directs their behavior; it may act as both spur and/or deterrent for students in their studies; it informs them of their progress, which in turn, impacts on how they see themselves as individuals, and future professionals; and, following from these results, it may provide satisfaction or discouragement. (Source: The case for transforming assessment in higher education)

Once you have articulated the specific learning outcomes for your course, the next big question will be “How can my students demonstrate that they have achieved the outcome(s)?”  What type of assessment is pedagogically aligned with the learning goals?  How students are assessed and how they can provide evidence of their learning should be a reflection of how they were taught and how they learned new concepts or gained knowledge.

Research shows that Educative feedback and authentic assessment opportunities increase student success.

Create Authentic Assessment Opportunities

Traditional Assessment Alternative Assessment What Makes it Authentic
Requires right answer. Requires high-quality performance or product, along with justifications of decisions. Students must be able to think through why they made decisions that resulted in final product.
Questions must be unknown to students in advance. Instructions/ questions/ purpose must be known to student in advance. Tasks that are to be judged should be known ahead of time. Rubrics should be provided.
Disconnected from the real world. Tied to real-world contexts and constraints. Requires student to solve realist problems. Task is similar in nature as to what would be encountered by a real-life practitioner.
Isolations of skills, focus on facts. A range of skills/ knowledge need to be integrated in order to solve a problem. Tasks are multi-step and multi-faceted.
Easily scored. Includes complex tasks for which there may not be a right answer. Meaningful assessment and feedback is emphasized.
“One shot” approach. Iterative in nature. Knowledge and skills are used in more than one way.
Given a score. Opportunity to provide diagnostic feedback. Designed to give practical experience and improve further performance.

Adapted from Indiana University’s Tip Sheet, Authentic Assessment, n.d.

Resource: Best Practices in Alternative Assessments, Ryerson University, Learning & Teaching Office

Evaluation Plan

Lastly, the evaluation plan for your course including the weighting of each assessment should reflect the relative importance of its learning outcome.  It is important to critique your assessments in the context of the evaluation plan.  Consider the following:

Are the assessments aligned with the outcomes?

Are there any outcomes for which there are no assessment methods?

Does the distribution of time and effort (yours and the students) reflect the importance of the outcomes and assigned weights?

Is there a balance in and variety of assessments and practices across the learning outcomes?

Formative Assessment

Formative assessment, also referred to as formative feedback or assessment for learning, is an important learning tool and has value in higher education.

Formative assessment is any assessment task designed to promote students’ learning. These tasks give both teachers and students feedback, so that teaching and learning activities can be altered according to the results. Research by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics concludes:

  • Formative assessment produces greater increases in student achievement and is cheaper than other efforts to boost achievement, including reducing class sizes and increasing teachers’ content knowledge.
  • In classrooms where medium- and short-cycle formative assessment was used, teachers reported greater professional satisfaction and increased student engagement in learning.

This approach allows the learners to make mistakes, adjust and clarify their understanding based on feedback to develop skills and knowledge. The process should be done in a supportive environment without the pressure of summative grading.

Formative assessment delivers information during the instructional process, before the summative assessment so the teacher and the students can use these results to make decisions about what actions to take to promote further learning. It is an ongoing, dynamic process that is designed to help prepare students for summative assessment by familiarizing them with the tools of assessment techniques and methods. Formative assessment is key to tracking learner progress and ensure they get the most out of their programme.


Rubrics are an assessment tool that use criteria to clearly indicate achievement levels. They are used to provide consistent, objective evaluation of student work.

You might consider using Rubrics if:

  • You find yourself rewriting the same comments on student assignments
  • You have a high marking load (large class size)
  • Students repeatedly challenge or question assignment requirements
  • You want to ensure equitable grading throughout the entire grading activity
  • You have a group of markers or TAs and need to ensure validity and reliability

Creating a Rubric:

  • Decide what essential elements (criteria) must be included in student work
  • Establish levels of achievement
  • Write a description for the quality at each criteria and level
  • Optional: create the rubric interactively with your students

View Sample Rubrics (Carnegie Mellon University)

View Sample Rubrics (Teaching Commons)

Canvas Rubrics (Canvas Instructor Guides)

Summative Assessment

The summative assessment is the assessment of learning and is used evaluate student learning, skill acquisition and academic achievement at the end of an instructional period – end of unit, project, module, semester etc… Summative assessments are often high stakes and associated with a grade.


The Benefits of Formative Assessment, NCFE

Ahmed, Nisreen & Teviotdale, Wilma. (year) The value of Formative Assessment in Higher Education. P. 377-379.

Benefits of Formative Assessment, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

Chappuis, Stephen & Chappuis, Jan (2007). The Best Value in Formative Asssessments. Educational Leadership. Vol 65, Number 4.

Review case studies in formative feedback: Enhancing student learning through effective formative feedback.