Writing Assessment Criteria

What are assessment criteria for?

Assessment criteria enable us to decide if a student has met the learning outcomes of a unit. More importantly, assessment criteria enable us to determine the level at which a student has performed against the learning outcomes of the unit.

But perhaps most importantly, assessment criteria allow us to evaluate the learning that students have evidenced through the work they have produced. This is critical – the work they have produced may not have turned out very well, nor may it be to your liking, but what matters is the extent to which the work provides evidence of students’ learning.

Before writing assessment criteria for a unit, it is important to understand how they relate to the other structures that determine what happens in a programme of study. The following diagram illustrates these relationships and shows how assessment criteria both inform and are informed by the unit learning outcomes:

Planning a unit of study

Planning a unit of study (adapted from Rosie Bingham, 2002)

Writing assessment criteria

At UCA, assessment criteria are organised into three distinct categories: knowledge, understanding, and technical and applied skills.

  • Knowledge-based: these should begin with ‘Knowledge of…’ and describe the areas of knowledge that students will be expected to acquire by the end of the unit.
  • Application-based: these should begin with ‘Understanding through…’ or ‘Understanding through application of…’ and describe how students should be expected to apply the knowledge they have acquired by the end of the unit.
  • Skills-based: these should begin with ‘Technical and applied skills through…’ and describe the technical and transferable skills that students should possess by the end of the unit.

You will find examples of criteria in each of these categories on the Assessment in HE page. When you are writing assessment criteria, ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Do the criteria enable students to know what they need to do to achieve the learning outcomes?
  2. How will students (and others, such as external examiners) know what they need to do to achieve a particular grade and mark?

Assessment criteria (AC) should relate closely to the learning outcomes in a unit, and should describe those aspects of the learning outcome (LO) which will be assessed. For example:

  • LO: Examine and develop an understanding of creative thinking models
  • AC: Knowledge of a range of creative thinking models and their use in advertising
  • LO: Employ research methods in support of concept development
  • AC: Understanding through application of research methods in support of concept development
  • LO: Demonstrate growing professionalism and developing project management
  • AC: Technical and applied skills through growing professionalism and developing project management
  • LO: Evidence the ability to relate educational and industrial experience to inform professional development and career planning
  • AC: Understanding through ability to reflect on and learn from previous experience to inform future academic and career development

Key points to remember

When you are writing assessment criteria it is useful to keep the following guiding principles in mind. Assessment criteria should:

  • relate closely to the unit Learning Outcomes
  • help students know what they need to do
  • help students understand what you expect at different levels of achievement – use a taxonomy of educational objectives to help you (scroll to bottom of page)
  • be understandable to all stakeholders – keep them as brief as possible and avoid jargon
  • be manageable in number – four or five per unit is usually sufficient
  • be distinct from each other – avoiding duplication will make it easier for you and your students to understand and apply the criteria

Above all, the assessment criteria should enable you to assess students’ work openly and fairly, and make it possible for you to easily justify how marks have been awarded.

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