Timing your assessments

When thinking about the timing of your assessments, there are a number of points that you may find useful when planning your assessments, and which are briefly described below:

Different assessment methods are best suited to different times

Conducting a formative assessment too late for the feedback to be enacted by a student defeats the object of the assessment in the first place, as would summatively assessing students too early, therefore not allowing students to learn and develop all the requisite skills. Find out more about balancing formative and summative assessment.

Remember that your students are being assessed on other modules

Ideally the timing of your assessments should not be considered in isolation, but rather in consultation with your colleagues, to ensure that bunching and the associated 'assessment overload' is minimised, both for your students and you.

Assessment timing needs to suit you as well as your students

The timing of assessments needs to be manageable, allowing you sufficient time to prepare and deliver the assessment, as well as mark the students' work and return grades/ feedback in a timely fashion. The time required for this will depend very much on your chosen method(s) of assessment.

Formative assessment should start early

Where assessment is to be used formatively, its use should begin as early as possible in your module in order to stand the best chance of motivating and positively influencing your students1, and thus helping to direct their learning.

Assessment should be frequent, but not too frequent

It's important to find a balance between frequent assessment and over assessing, providing students with enough support and guidance as well as the time required to reflect and act upon the feedback they receive from you and your colleagues.

Who are your students?

It's worth bearing in mind that the composition of your student cohort can have a significant bearing both on how your students approach and perform in particular types of assessments. If for example, you are assessing international students then there are a number of issues which may arise, including, what you will be marking (i.e. will you be including penalties for poor spelling and grammar?) The Higher Education Academy has a useful section on teaching and assessing international students [links to external site].

Share and explain the assessment criteria

Sharing the assessment criteria with your students and taking time to discuss and explain the reasoning behind it is a good way of articulating and reinforcing your expectations as well as providing you with an opportunity to identify possible problems before they arise. This is important for all students but may be particularly so for new students (to articulate academic standards) and for international students (where there may be significant differences in the assessment culture between the UK and their home country).
See the page on writing assessment criteria for more.


  1. Race, P. (2009). Designing Assessment To Improve Physical Sciences Learning: A Physical Sciences Practice Guide. Hull. Higher Education Physical Sciences Subject Centre.

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