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).