Know what it is that you are assessing: writing assessment criteria

A student in the library

The preferred approach for assessing students is to use pre-determined assessment criteria against which your students' individual performance can be gauged1. This is also known as criterion-referenced assessment. In most cases the criteria you use will probably be tailored to a specific assignment and will incorporate elements relating to the course/module learning outcomes as well as more generic components. Ensuring that your assessment criteria are clearly defined will make it easier for your students to understand what is expected of them in a particular assignment. It will also help you to focus your subsequent feedback on the assignment to your students.

Top tip: Things to remember when writing assessment criteria...

Writing assessment criteria is a central component of assessment design. To help you write your own assessment criteria, here are some points you may find useful (adapted from Bloxham & Boyd2):

  • Criteria should clearly relate to the learning outcomes being assessed;
  • The criteria should relate to the level of the course/module (i.e. first, second, third year);
  • Make use of your colleagues' feedback in drafting criteria to ensure the components that are being used to evaluate students' performance are reflected within the criteria;
  • Make the criteria clear and concise. This is particularly important as it can help shape the structure of your feedback to students. See the Using feedback pro-forma page on the Engage in Feedback website for more information on developing feedback from assessment criteria;
  • Avoid lengthy, overly-specific criteria, which can make marking work even more time-consuming and may encourage your students to adopt a mechanistic approach to your assignment.

Examples of assessment criteria that can be used to inform feedback to students:

The University of Reading's Examinations Office have produced Examples of feedback pro-forma sheets (DOC - 163KB) that illustrate how students' performance relate to assessment criteria.


  1. Price, M. (2005). Assessment standards: the role of communities of practice and the scholarship of assessment. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 30(3): 215-230.
  2. Bloxham, S. & Boyd, P. (2007). Developing Effective Assessment in Higher Education - A Practical Guide. Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill.

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