University of South Australia Policy

The University of South Australia has a comprehensive policy framework which shapes assessment practices. The Assessment Policy and Procedures Manual is an extensive guide to University policy, good practice and guides on assessment in undergraduate and postgraduate coursework programs.

The first part of the manual includes a section called Assessment Principles and Requirements (Principles of Student Assessment) that provides a framework for all assessment practices within the University.

Designing assessment

Assessment is central to the learning process and is a crucial aspect of teaching. It is the most significant factor that influences student learning.

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).

What influenced students most was not the teaching but the assessment (Gibbs and Simpson, 2004, p4)  

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.

Well designed assessment can promote deep learning through structuring the way students engage with the content of the course (Gibbs, 1992). This can be done through:

  • involving students in the assessment design
  • integrating assessment into the learning process
  • setting assignments which reward understanding and penalise reproduction
  • providing explicit marking criteria
  • designing assignments which involve interaction among students
  • focusing on 'real world' or authentic situations in assessment
  • promoting interdisciplinary assessment tasks

Student workload in assessment

At the University of South Australia, specific requirements relating to workload of assessment for students exist have been stated in the Assessment Policy and Procedures Manual (1.2.4-1.2.5).  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.

Assessment Validity

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).

Writing the assessment activity

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. Assessment requirements need to be stipulated in the Course Information that is provided to students on their first day of class (See section 2 of the Assessment Policy and Procedures Manual). 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 Assessment Policy and Procedures Manual.