Assessment design


An old fashioned exam hall with students completing an unseen paper - Engage in Assessment - University of Reading'Students can, with difficulty, escape from the effects of poor teaching, they cannot (by definition if they want to graduate) escape the effects of poor assessment.'

David Boud 1

Assessment design can have as big an influence on what your students learn as your teaching1,2,3. Students may have a real passion for their subject, but for many the goal of a university education isn't necessarily to deepen their understanding of their chosen discipline, it's to get 'a degree'. As such, their learning may be more focused on what they need to know to pass their coursework and exams.

Ideally the methods of assessment you use should do more than award a grade – they need to to serve as an aid to students' learning, allow them to gauge their progress, get feedback on their strengths and weaknesses, and consolidate their learning. This fits with with the concept of Assessment for Learning. However, assessment also has to meet quality assurance standards. These two, almost opposing requirements of assessment make effective design a real challenge, but doing it well can help your students to better engage with the subject and their learning; potentially reduce your assessment workload; and may help to reduce the number of plagiarism cases.

Effective assessment design

Effective assessment design requires you to establish exactly what you are trying to achieve in a particular type of assessment. You may find the following 'trigger' questions useful for this:

  • Why am I assessing?
  • What exactly am I trying to assess?
  • How am I assessing my students?
  • Who is best placed to do the assessing?
  • When should I assess my students?4

If you are considering redesigning an existing assessment, or creating a new one from scratch, the Assessment Audit Tool (PDF 190KB) [links to external site] from the Higher Education Academy's UK Centre for Bioscience might be of use. It's a quick and easy to use tool designed to identify areas of strength and where changes could be made to your current assessment practices. You can also customise the tool to better fit your own specific needs.


  1. David Boud, Presentation to the Conference 'Effective Assessment at University', University of Queensland, 4-5 November 1998
  2. Cowan, J. (2005) In: Designing assessment to enhance student learning. ps0069_designing_assessment_to_improve_physical_sciences_learning_march_2009.pdf [7th February 2012].

  3. Boud, D. (1995). Enhancing Learning Through Self-Assessment. London. Routledge Falmer.

  4. Brown, S. & Glasner, A. (2003). Assessment Matters in Higher Education: Choosing and Using Diverse Approaches. Buckingham. The Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University Press.


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