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Assessment for learning

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Use assessment methods that are fit for purpose

More emphasis on formative assessment should not detract from the importance of summative assessment, which is still an important marker of progress, and which should also carry feedback.

The main assessment methods are described in "Learning outcomes and assessment criteria". The method used should fit the purpose: there is a tendency to be too reliant on the essay, which calls for the ability to critically evaluate and formulate argument, but which may not be appropriate in circumstances which require personal reflection.

The Assessment Strategies and Standards in Sociology project reported on a major growth in interest in autobiography in sociology and anthropology, as a way of seeing how theory relates to everyday life (Mears and Harrison, 2000). Thus assessments which incorporate autobiography help to generate understanding of sociological theory, and also provide a way in to the academic world for mature students, who have a considerable amount of life experience on which to reflect.

Autobiographical assessment methods include learning diaries or portfolios, as well as essays with an element of personal refection. The former are becoming popular in a range of courses as the value of metacognitive strategies, the ability to reflect on learning, is realized. Courses which require students to build up a portfolio often call for some reflection on the learning process.


  • In the theory and method in qualitative research module for the University of East London Level 2 Sociology undergraduate course, students were required to do a "learning response paper" which involved a series of 500-word reports on the weekly sessions. The reports described the session's main content, evaluated lessons learnt from the workshop exercise, and assessed the topic within the context of qualitative research. The exercise contributed 40 per cent to the overall mark.
  • At the same university, for the lived histories module for the Level 1 History course, students had to write an essay entitled "Autobiography as tool", 1,000 words "that explore in some way where you are in history" (Mears and Harrison, 2000).

Portfolios are often used in business and management education as students collect practical data and tools for analysis relating to a particular case study. As such, they can be a good way of transferring learning from theory to the actual practicalities of the business world.


At York St John University, students on a business management degree had the opportunity to use their portfolios when researching an entrepreneurial opportunity, as a means of collating and organizing information to simulate a business plan. The portfolios were assessed via a test in order to generate a grade.

The whole topic of technological tools for assessment is too large to be considered here, however they provide plenty of opportunities for innovative forms of assessment. The REAP project involved redesigning courses to involve podcasts, blogs, electronic voting systems, online tests, e-portfolios, discussion boards, simulations, intelligent homework systems and feedback software.


At Strathclyde Business School, the first-year management development programme started using blogging in 2007 as a way of enhancing student reflection on an assessed assignment, "The holiday project". It was found to be a useful way for students to reflect on their learning and on the team process.