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Assessment of Learning

Assessment is an integral part of teaching and learning. The term 'assessment' refers to all those activities undertaken by their teachers and their students in assessing themselves. These provide information to be used as feedback to modify the teaching and learning activities in which they are engaged. Assessment for learning (i.e. formative assessment) is the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there. On the other hand, assessment of learning (i.e. summative assessment) assists teachers in using evidence of student learning to assess achievement against outcomes and standards.


In principle, there are two types of assessment: formative and summative.

Formative assessments are conducted at the beginning or during a course or programme to determine whether students have learnt what the instructor intended. Data gathered from formative-type assessments can assist instructors to ascertain whether curriculum or learning activities need to be modified over the run of the semester, or before the next class meets. These are used to inform instruction and no grades or scores are given, therefore they are seen as assessment for learning.

Summative assessments, on the other hand, are cumulative in nature and are utilised to evaluate and grade students in their learning. The grades can come from different forms of assessments set by instructors as described in the segment above. A number or letter grade against an expected standard is given (summative), therefore they are seen as assessment of learning.

In general, formative assessment is preferred when the purpose is to give feedback to students to enhance learning and summative assessment is used when the purpose is to grade and evaluate students in their learning. Instructors ought to have a healthy balance in both when conducting assessment.

Assessment data can be collected formally or informally through different activities. Classroom Assessment Techniques are formative evaluation methods used to collect data informally from the students in the classroom, which help you to assess the degree to which your students understand the course content as well as to provide you with information about the effectiveness of your teaching methods. The table below gives a description of some of the classroom assessment techniques.

Informal assessment Description of technique
Follow-up Probes
  • Why?
  • How do you know?
  • Explain.
  • Do you agree?
  • What do you mean by ____________?
  • Could you give an example?
  • Tell me more.
  • Give your reasons.
  • What about _____________?
  • Can you find that in the text?
  • What data supports your position?
Hand Signals Ask students to display a designated hand signal to indicate their understanding of a specific concept, concept or process.
Index Card Summaries / Questions Periodically distribute index cards and ask students to write on both sides what they understand and do not.
Misconception Check Present students with common or predictable misconceptions about a designated concept, principle or process. Ask them whether they agree or disagree and to explain their response. The misconception check can also be presented in the form of a multiple choice or true-false quiz.
One-minute Essay At the conclusion of the lesson, ask students to write a brief (one minute) essay summarising their understanding of the key idea or ideas presented. Collect and review.
Oral Questioning Use questions regularly to check for understanding.
Question Box or Board Establish a location (e.g. Question box, bulletin board, email address) where students may leave or post questions about concepts, principles or processes that they do not understand.

These techniques are quick and easy enough to be adopted as activities which instructors can use in the classroom setting. They allow the instructors to collect data on learning in informal ways and then use the data to make improvements to teaching. These techniques are very useful as a means for conducting formative-purpose assessment.

For summative-purpose assessment, instructors can collect data through activities that require students, for example, to write an essay, work on a project individually or as a group, do computer simulation exercises or design programmes or systems. For this to lead to grading and evaluation of student learning, instructors may require more formal means of collecting data for these activities. One possibility is the use of rubrics. The segment on Using Rubrics for Feedback and Learning explains how to design and build rubrics and how to use rubrics for formative and summative purposes.


Alignment of assessments suggests the direct link between assessments, learning outcomes, and learning activities. Assessments should provide evidence of how well the students have learned what we (the instructors) intend them to learn. Therefore, the learning outcomes (or learning objectives) should guide the selection and design of the assessment. There are various forms of assessments to choose for a given level of cognitive learning objective (according to the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy), as illustrated in the following table.

Type of learning objective Assessment method example How to measure

Objective test items:

  • Fill-in-the-blank
  • Labelling
  • Matching
  • Multiple-choice questions (MCQs)

Item analysis (At the class level)

  • Are there items that had higher error rates?
  • Did some items result in the same errors?
  • What is the number of correct answers (accuracy score)?
Understand Problem sets, class discussions and papers that require (oral or written): Summarising readings, case studies, speeches, films, etc. Comparing and/or contrasting two or more theories, events, processes, models, etc. Classifying or categorising cases, elements, events, etc., using established criteria. Paraphrasing documents or speeches. Finding or identifying examples or illustrations of a concept, principle, theory, model, etc. Rubrics that identify critical components of the work and discriminates between differing levels of proficiency in addressing the components

Activities that require students to use procedures to solve or complete familiar or unfamiliar tasks; may also require students to determine which procedure(s) are most appropriate for a given task. Activities include:

  • Labs
  • Prototypes
  • Simulations
  • Two-tier MCQs
Rubrics and checklists that identify steps in the procedure that are not completed

Activities that require students to discriminate or select relevant from irrelevant parts, determine how elements function together, or determine bias, values or underlying intent in presented materials. These might include:

  • Case studies
  • Critiques
  • Projects
  • Two-tier MCQs
Rubrics that identify critical components of the work and discriminates between differing levels of proficiency in addressing the components

Range of activities that requires students to test, monitor, judge or critique readings, performances, or products against established criteria or standards. These activities might include:

  • Critiques
  • Product reviews
  • Two-tier MCQs
Rubrics that identify critical components of the work and discriminates between differing levels of proficiency in addressing the components

Any artefact that requires students to synthesise the knowledge they have learnt to design the artefact. Examples include:

  • Business plans
  • Research projects
  • Speeches
  • Performances
  • Posters
  • Prototypes
Rubrics that identify critical components of the work and discriminates between differing levels of proficiency in addressing the components

For some of the assessment methods, you can also make variations to the level of scaffolding and guidance given to students and level of authenticity. Generally, if the level of scaffolding given to the student is low, instructors are able to assess the students on a wider range of skill sets, in addition to the specified learning objective(s). Each also requires different levels of effort and commitment from students and instructors.


  1. Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education: principles, policy & practice, 5(1), 7-74.
  2. Eberly Centre (n.d.). Why and Hows of Assessment. Retrieved from Carnegie Mellon University website

Last updated on 26 May 2017 .