Constructive alignment in assessment design

In order for an assessment to be effective, you need to think about the links between the learning outcomes of your module, the skills, competences and knowledge that you are aiming to assess and the method(s) of assessment that you could use. Aligning these will not only benefit the students by ensuring the validity, reliability and transparency of the assessments, but can help to ensure that the 'right' skills and knowledge are being assessed at the right time using appropriate methods. Below are some ideas that may help you in this process.

Students and their lecturer conductingChoose what you want to assess

Deciding what it is you want to assess may sound like an obvious first step, but it can be tricky as the core skills and competences that you are seeking to assess may not be easily measurable. This is particularly relevant to art and performance related disciplines.

It can be tempting to simply assess those skills that are easily measured, but it is important to ensure that a wide range of skills, knowledge etc. are assessed throughout a degree programme. This may require you to think 'outside the module' and to take into account what students are being assessed on in different parts of the degree programme. 'Good' assessment will have the following elements:

  • Transparency – establish what it is you are aiming to assess with assessment criteria that clearly reflect this and which are shared with students so they know what is expected of them. This will enable them to direct their learning appropriately.
  • Validity – assess those skills or attributes that reflect the learning outcomes of the course of study.
  • Reliability – create and clearly define marking criteria that are aligned with the learning outcomes of the course of study making the assessment process objective, accurate and repeatable.
  • Authenticity – take into account the knowledge and skills that are relevant in the workplace and that are valued by employers.

Deciding on an appropriate assessment method

'If you want to change student learning then change the methods of assessment.'

Brown et al.1

Here are some points you may wish to to consider when exploring your options of how to assess your students:

  • Assessment methods influence learning. The method of assessment you choose can have a significant impact on your students' approaches to learning2, encouraging deeper learning or giving the impression that surface learning will suffice.
  • Different assessment methods measure different skills. Using more diverse assessment methods allows for the measurement of a potentially wider range of knowledge, competencies and skills. This can also improve accessibility, as those students who are disadvantaged by a particular assessment method (whether by special educational needs or not – see the section on special educational needs and disabilities for more) have the opportunity to demonstrate their full range of abilities .
  • Different people are better at assessing different things. You and your colleagues will be best placed to make judgements on specialist subject knowledge, but there are others who could be involved in the assessment process, such as employers as part of a work placement course.
  • Peer assessment and feedback works! If the main goal of an assessment is to provide formative feedback then perhaps you could consider peer assessment, as students may well engage more with and respond better to the feedback it provides3,4. Find out more about peer and self-assessment.
  • Different methods require different efforts. When selecting an assessment method, you will also need to take into account the length of time that it will take to implement, administer, mark and provide feedback and whether the time and effort required is warranted by the course objectives. Different methods will have different requirements, for example much of the effort in setting up an automatically marked multiple choice question (MCQ) assessment is front loaded, whereas an essay question may take only an hour or so to set, but will take considerably longer for you to assess and provide your students with feedback.


  1. Brown, G., Bull, J. & Pendlebury, M. (1997) Assessing Student Learning in Higher Education, Routledge, London.
  2. Ramsden, P. (1988). Improving Learning: New Perspectives. London. Kogan Page.

  3. Hughes, I E (1995). Peer assessment of student practical reports and its influence on learning and skill acquisition. Capability. 1, 39-43

  4. Brown, S. Rust, C. & Gibbs, G. 1994. Strategies for Diversifying Assessment in Higher Education. The Oxford Centre for Staff Development, Oxford. Oxonion Rewley Press.

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