Formative and summative assessments are an integral part of the learning process. Formative assessments are those which do not directly contribute to the final module grade but should not be seen as less important or hold less value. In fact, effective formative assessment approaches can be used to support students in achieving their potential in the summative assessments. A well designed curriculum will use effective summative assessments that provide opportunities for students to evidence the learning outcomes. Whilst it is the summative assessment task that will provide the grades for the module and course, it is the formative assessments which can help identify a student's progress towards achieving the summative task.
As part of your curriculum design process you should consider the design of the assessment. The assessment type or method you choose will very much depend on a number of factors, including the learning outcome(s) to be assessed, the number of students and, in some cases, the professional body requirements. However, as part of the annual review process, it is important that you review the diet of assessments across the course and consider these in the light of student and external examiner feedback.
Assessing large cohorts can be challenging and often an exam can appear to be the easiest option! However, it is still possible to assess large cohorts using other methods of assessment. For example, using timed essays for recall and critical thinking or using group/peer assessment for more practical experiences. The methods below will help you consider other types of assessments.
Group assessments can seem like more effort than they are worth, but if you get them right they can be one of the best learning experiences a student has. Group assessments need to be well designed and purposeful (and relevant to the learning outcomes of the module). They are particularly suited to modules where you might be trying to assess students' collaboration skills or team working skills. What is particularly useful in group assessment is to enable individuals to be clearly assessed for their role and contribution. For example, you might ask each student to keep a personal blog or reflective portfolio, or you could use minutes of meetings as evidence of contribution. Very often it is advisable to include a robust peer assessment process as part of any group work activity.
Here are some further resources to help you think about group work assessment.
A synoptic assessment combines two or more modules of study into a one assessment.
This method can combine assessments between modules and across subjects. It expects students to transfer knowledge and skills and helps them see how issues and themes connect. The QAA Code of Practice specifically defines it as:
‘Assessment through a task that requires students to draw on different elements of their learning and show their accumulated knowledge and breadth and depth of understanding, as well as the ability to integrate and apply their learning’ (QAA, 2016)
Peer assessment can be used as part of group work activity (see above) or in smaller groupings of students. However, peer assessment should be robust and clearly moderated and overseen by the module tutor. Where peer assessment can be particularly useful is in formative assessment activities. For example, students could be split into pairs or small groups to provide peer reviews of each other’s essays (with guidance provided from the tutor) or in presentations and vivas where students contribute to the feedback of the assessment alongside the tutor.