Designing assessment


University of South Australia Policy

At UniSA, assessment policies indicate that assessments should identify the attainment of program and course objectives through valid, reliable and fair assessment design and practices. Assessment tasks should align to course and program objectives and developed in consultation with peers and students to ensure expectations are clear and free from bias that advantages or disadvantages particular groups.  Assessments should also promote academic integrity through tasks that encourage students to gather information, use metacognition and submit their own unique responses. Academic integrity should also be promoted through tasks that are current, relevant and meaningful and designed to support and scaffold learning. Furthermore, assessments should provide feedback that is actionable by allowing students to identify their progress and develop evaluative judgement.

These aspects should be further elevated by authentic assessment design. Authentic assessments are those assessments that:

  • encourage students to adopt higher order thinking through tasks that are cognitively challenging such that they encourage students to apply, analyse, synthesise, evaluate, create and/or think critically.
  • inspire students to apply relevant knowledge and skills through meaningful and relevant tasks that promote learning through their application across different contexts.
  • simulate students to think from multiple perspectives through tasks that pose sufficiently complex and messy problems.
  • motivate students to become problem-solvers as they would be expected in professional practice; and
  • connect learning to real life through tasks that resemble and complement those used in professional practice, now and in the future


Assessment: online module

Assessment is central to the learning process and is a crucial aspect of teaching. It is the most significant factor that influences student learning. The following quotes highlight the importance of good assessment design:

If we wish to discover the truth about an educational system, we must look into assessment procedures ... The spirit and style of student assessment defines the defacto curriculum. (Rowntree, 1987, p1)

Assessment methods and requirements probably have a greater influence on how and what students learn than any other single factor ...This influence may well be of greater importance than the impact of teaching materials (Boud 1988).

When designing assessment consideration needs to be given to tasks which:

  • promote engagement with learning,
  • are within reasonable academic workload parameters,
  • are reliable, valid and equitable, and
  • are clearly communicated to students.

At the University of South Australia, specific requirements relating to workload of assessment for students exist have been stated in the Assessment Requirements Procedure (AB-68 P1).  Unless a specified case is made for variation, the following guidelines have been established for text-based assessment. In programs where the assessment is of a different kind, the requirements should be equivalent in principle.

  • no more than 3 assessment points in any 4.5 unit course plus an option of an additional set of continuous assessment activities that can be completed by the student during class time (especially in lower level courses).
  • one assessment point worth at least 15% in the first half of the study period
  • a 4.5 unit course equates to no more than 4,500 words of assessed writing
  • due dates need to be coordinated over core courses
  • if participation is assessed, criteria on which this is based should be clear and the assessment rating should be no more than 10%
  • assignments are submitted electronically.

When writing and designing assessment, consideration needs to be given to validity, or the extent to which an assessment measures what it aims to measure. It is useful to approach thinking about assessment in the following way and ensuring that there is alignment between these elements. This approach to assessment design is based on Constructive Alignment (Biggs and Tang, 2007).

One of the major issues in assessment is how the requirements are communicated to the students concerned. The requirements of assessment tasks need to be written clearly to reflect the intention of the task. This should include being explicit about the criteria and how the work will be judged. The course outline explains the expectations of each assessment task, its relationship to the program Graduate Qualities, and the criteria and standards by which performance will be judged, in accordance with the Assessment Requirements Procedure (AB-68 P1). It is always useful to ask someone else to read the assessment task to ensure your intentions are clear.

All assessment is approved by academic boards and course and program approval processes and recorded in PCMS (Program and Course Management System). The information in this database feeds into multiple outlets such as Program marketing, Course information and learnonline (for example, assessment design entered in for a course in PCMS will be automatically displayed to students selecting a course, added to the Course Information for enrolled students and entered to the learnonline assessment activity/gradebook). Any planned changes to assessment need to be approved and adjusted in PCMS before implementation.  

While assessment practices may vary across disciplines, student performance in a course assessment is reported using a grading notation, rather than a number, as explained in the Final Grades and Notations Procedure (AB-68 P6).

This resource provides guidance for determining the marking rates for student assessment. The Enterprise Agreement 2023 (EA) provides the schedule of rates used for the marking of simple, standard and complex assessments (Schedule 3: Casual Academic Staff Conditions Section 3.20, p84-85).

As per the EA, student assessment means all required activities for which a student will receive formal feedback and/or a grade (i.e. summative assessment), and may be simple, standard or complex. The Course Coordinator determines the marking rate and should consider the workload associated with marking the assessment from the marker’s perspective, not the student’s perspective. The level of marking complexity, therefore, is based on the nature and amount of feedback provided to the student for each assessment. Guidance on determining the complexity of an assessment from the marker’s perspective can be found in notes (below).

Marking is used both to certify the attainment of course-level learning outcomes and program-level assessments, in addition to providing an opportunity for self-evaluation and continuous improvement. As per the UniSA Assessment Policy (AB-68) and the Authentic Assessment definition, actionable feedback explains how students can improve their marks in a similar future assessment. Feedback should be provided on all (summative) assessments.

For all examples below, the level of feedback required for an assessment is determined by the Course Coordinator, and should consider the workload associated with marking the assessment from the marker’s perspective – casual academic staff.

Simple Assessment

Assessments are simple when the marker is able to determine the correct answer and corresponding mark by application of a marking template. Tasks that fall into this category often include objectively correct or incorrect questions and may take the form of quizzes, labelling objects, or set processes that must be followed in a pre-determined sequence. It is worth emphasising that a simple assessment task is determined from the marker's perspective, not the student's, e.g. complicated multiple-choice questions are still simple to mark. Interactive online tools can often provide automated feedback for simple assessment tasks.  

Standard Assessment

Assessments are standard when the marker is required to determine the assessment result by application of a marking template, which includes the provision of minimal feedback. This would typically involve the use of a well-developed marking sheet or rubric to assess tasks such as a case study, article or scenario critique, essays or essay plans, or any task where the response may be predetermined.

It’s important to recognise that any of the assessment tasks discussed could also be classified as standard, complex or simple depending on the concepts or processes being assessed, the level of feedback offered to students, and whether the responses are binary, predetermined, or open-ended and messy.

Complex Assessment

Assessments are complex when the marker is required to provide detailed feedback to students explaining how their work could be improved. The feedback provided may be complex in nature due to the concepts or processes being assessed and therefore extends beyond that which can be provided via a standard marking sheet or rubric.

Complex marking typically requires markers to exercise evaluative judgment and discipline knowledge rather than simply determining whether an answer is correct or incorrect. Complex assessment tasks often present multiple correct solutions. For example, students’ creative artefacts, performance-based tasks, or responses to a wicked problem may be complex to mark if extensive feedback is required, which is complex in nature due to the concepts or processes being assessed.


The following should be considered when reviewing an assessment to determine the complexity from the marker’s perspective. This list is not exhaustive, and it is not expected that all elements apply. The Course Coordinator must use academic judgment in determining the complexity for the purposes of a marking contract.

  • Content Depth: Evaluate the level of knowledge and understanding required to mark the assessment. Higher complexity involves advanced concepts or a broader scope of topics.
  • Skill Application: Consider the range and level of skills students need to demonstrate, such as critical thinking, analysis, synthesis, or creativity and therefore the difficulty in assessing these.
  • Assessment Format: Different formats, like essays, multiple-choice questions, or practical tasks, can vary in complexity from a marker’s perspective. Open-ended or project-based assessments generally require more nuanced marking and closed short-answer questions. Feedback provision should be considered here.
  • Expected Student Outcomes: Consider what students are expected to demonstrate in terms of learning outcomes, such as applying theories to new situations or creating original work. This will related to the content depth and skills application.
  • Marking Criteria: Review the criteria for marking the assessment. More complex assessments often have detailed rubrics requiring subjective judgment and interpretation by the marker.

For more information about assessment writing, including designing rubrics, complete the online module on Assessment.