Why is assessment important?

'Nothing we do to, or for our students is more important than our assessment of their work and the feedback we give them on it. The results of our assessment influence students for the rest of their lives...'

Race et al. 1

Assessment and its associated feedback are essential to student learning. However, you may find that more of your time is taken up with the areas of assessment associated with quality assurance, rather than its potential to support students' learning. Well designed assessment has numerous benefits aside from the obvious one of providing a measure of students' progress as it can be a means to engage students with their learning. Ideally then, you should aim to support active learning rather than Assessment of Learning to ensure that the assessment process is an integral part of your students' education.

An SSE student building robots in classWhat is Assessment for Learning?

Assessment for Learning focuses on the opportunities to develop students' ability to evaluate themselves, to make judgements about their own performance and improve upon it. It makes use of authentic assessment methods and offers lots of opportunities for students to develop their skills through formative assessment using summative assessment sparingly.

Assessment is inescapable

Assessment is the engine which drives student learning

John Cowan2

A student undertaking any form of study will be subject to assessment in one form or another. Similarly, any member of teaching staff will be engage at some point in assessment related work. For some of you, assessment takes up a considerable proportion of your workload, and for students it can be a significant determinant of what, when and how they learn. Getting assessment 'right' is therefore essential, both for your students and for you.

A student preparing for an assessment'Good' assessment benefits student learning... and staff

Well-designed assessment can encourage active learning especially when the assessment delivery is innovative and engaging. Peer and self-assessment, for instance, can foster a number of skills, such as reflection, critical thinking and self-awareness – as well as giving students insight into the assessment process. Discussing the ways in which you're assessing with your students can also help to ensure that the aims and goals of your assessments are clear. Utilising assessment that makes use of technology, such as the use of online discussion forums or electronic submission of work, can teach students (and perhaps your colleagues) new skills. If you design your assessments well they can also help to deter plagiarism by reducing the ways in which students can gather and report information. At the end of the day, taking some time to think about why, what and how you're going to assess your students is a worthwhile investment of time. It can help ensure you're assessing the skills and knowledge that you intended and it could open up new possibilities for different ways to assess your students, some of which may be more efficient and effective than the current methods you're using.


  1. Race, P. Brown, S. and Smith, B. (2005) 500 Tips on assessment: 2nd edition, London: Routledge.
  2. Cowan, J. (2005) In: Designing assessment to enhance student learning. http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/ps/documents/practice_guides/practice_guides/
    [7th February 2012].


The following resources from Phil Race are a good starting point in thinking about the importance of assessment:

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