Glossary of assessment terms

This glossary refers mainly to terms used in the assessment of taught programmes, not research degrees.

For an extended assessment glossary, see Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC).

Academic appeal
Academic appeals are only concerned with Assessment Board decisions and the assessment processes. As a student, you can ask for a review of a decision made by an Assessment Board or research degree examination team.

Anonymous marking
A process where an assessment is marked without the student’s name or identity being made known to the marker. In a number of areas this is not possible, for example in disciplines where assessment methods include performance, practical work, fieldwork, placements, clinical skills, team or group assessments. The main reason for anonymous marking is to avoid the risk of bias entering the assessment process and to make sure all students are treated equally.

Assessment
A general term for processes that measure students’ learning, skills, knowledge and understanding. Assessment can be diagnostic, formative or summative. The purpose of assessment is to:

  • help students to perform to the best of their abilities through assessment that is inclusive and enhance their learning and future employment success
  • encourage, motivate and involve students in extensive learning 
  • provide a fair and reliable measure of students’ performance, knowledge and skills against the learning outcomes and style of teaching in your subject 
  • help students develop, through timely and constructive feedback, and 
  • give our stakeholders confidence that a student has achieved the necessary standards giving a reliable and consistent basis for the award.

Assessment - alternative
Alternative assessment helps students to meet learning outcomes and assessment criteria using a different assessment approach.

Assessment - authentic
Relevant and meaningful assessment tasks that replicate the real world in their specific field (for example simulations, role play, scenarios, problem tasks, real-world case studies).

Assessment Board
The Assessment Board is responsible for:

  • making decisions on progression and awards for all students registered for the named awards for which the board is responsible
  • making sure that decisions are arrived at fairly and democratically and in line with university regulations and that justice is done to the individual student 
  • making sure that threshold academic standards of student performance are being maintained at award level
  • making sure that, when making decisions, all circumstances relating to individual students are fully taken into account, and
  • receiving information on all proven examination and assessment offences and confirming penalties recommended by panels and committees of investigation through subject assessment panels. 

Assessment brief and guidance
Documents containing detailed information about the nature and format of an assessment. They should provide students with clear, concise information on what they are expected to do and include, the relevant intended module learning outcomes, the standard required, and how their marks will be allocated through assessment, marking or grade criteria.

Assessment criteria
Assessment criteria explain what a student needs to demonstrate to achieve the learning outcomes. Assessment criteria provide the minimum requirement expected of students. It is good practice to provide marking or grade criteria in a chart, where the expectations are set out at each level (for example, 2.1 and 2.2 ).

Assessment elements
Each module is assessed by one or more elements (examination, test, coursework or practical). The formally approved module record defines how much of the module’s assessment is made up of each element. Each element may contain more than one part of assessment (for example a number of multiple-choice tests or practical assignments), the results of which are added together to produce a single percentage mark or pass or fail assessment.

Assessment of group work
A process of collective assessment often used for project work and developing team working. Group members can receive an equal mark or a proportion of the group mark, supplemented by marks for individual work. Marks can be allocated by the course tutor or by the group collectively (or by both). Tutors often ask candidates to review or assess the distribution of work among group members, group interaction and how resources are allocated.

Assessment - inclusive
We aim to give all students fair and supported assessment. Inclusive assessments will: 

  • evaluate fairly students’ ability to meet module and programme learning outcomes and academic and professional standards
  • be accessible for all students 
  • provide every student with an equal opportunity to demonstrate what they have achieved 
  • support student involvement, learning, progression and retention and meet the needs of our diverse student population 
  • offer students relevant and meaningful tasks that replicate challenges in the real world through effective programme design, and
  • reduce the need for modified assessment. 

See the '7 steps to inclusive assessment'.

Assessment literacy
Being ‘assessment literate’ means staff and students have an understanding of the purpose and processes of assessment. They will understand the concepts of assessment, assessment criteria and standards, have the skills to assess themselves and other students and members of staff, be familiar with different approaches to assessment, apply marking criteria to their own work and be able to choose and apply appropriate approaches and techniques to assessment tasks. Students’ assessment literacy can be developed through pre-assessment induction activities.

Assessment - offence
It is an offence if any part of university or programme regulations relating to assessment is not met, or the instructions issued in relation to an individual examination or piece of assessed work are not followed (regardless of the intention of the student concerned). Specific offences are set out in the Examinations and Assessment Offences regulations.

Assessment - practical skills
Assessment that decides whether, or how well, a student performs a specific practical skill or technique (or competency). Examples include clinical skills, laboratory techniques, surveying skills, language translation and listening comprehension.

Assessment - peer and self
An assignment which involves assessing students’ own work or that of other students. Peer assessment is particularly effective for presentations, performance and posters. Self-assessment is an essential skill for students to develop awareness of their own learning. Self- and peer-assessment sheets need to contain assessment criteria and briefing information.

For more information, see ‘7 steps to peer and self-assessment’.

Award
See Assessment Board.

Compensation is recognition that a student with an overall track record of passes, may be awarded compensation for a module that they have failed. During the design phase of a new module the module lead, in conjunction with the programme lead, must decide whether the module is compensatable or not. If a module pass is crucial in order to meet the programme learning outcomes and/or professional body requirements, or the threshold concepts or skills within the module are deemed to be fundamental to the student’s progression, enter ‘NO’ in the ‘compensatable’ box. For further information on awarding compensation see the PU regulatory frameworks .

Computer Aided Assessment (CAA)
This is defined as ‘any instance in which some aspect of computer technology is deployed as part of the assessment process’.

CAA can be used for both formative and summative assessment. Students with modified assessment provision taking part in a CAA must receive their entitlements, including extra time. For further information, visit Technology Enhanced Learning.

Coursework
Assignments set during the module, to assess one or more of the learning outcomes. These are:

  • written assignment, including essay
  • report 
  • dissertation (an extended piece of written work, often the write-up of a final-year project)
  • portfolio (a collection of work that relates to a given topic or theme, which has been produced over a period of time) 
  • project output (output from project work, often of a practical nature, other than a dissertation or written report), and
  • set exercise (questions or tasks designed to assess how knowledge is applied, and analytical, problem-solving or evaluative skills). It includes tests (written or computer-based) of knowledge or interpretation that are not carried out under examination conditions.

Criterion-based assessment
An assessment linked to pre-defined standards (for example, ‘create a population pyramid from census data’).

Diagnostic assessment
Diagnostic assessment helps identify a student’s attributes or skills that suggest appropriate pathways of study, or learning difficulties that need support.

Dissertation
A dissertation is a substantial piece of writing deriving from research that a student has undertaken. Dissertations are the result of a student's independent work, carried out under the guidance of a supervisor. Different subject areas may follow different conventions in relation to producing dissertations.

Examination
Written exams usually occur at the end of a period of learning and assess whether students have achieved the intended learning outcomes. They may be 'seen', where the student knows beforehand the question (or questions) they are expected to answer, or 'unseen', where the questions are only revealed on the day of the exam. In an 'open book' exam, a student is allowed to use a selection of reference materials during the assessment. The questions asked as part of a written exam may be essay, short answer, problem or multiple choice. Written exams usually (but not always) take place under timed conditions.

Examination - types
There are many different types of examination, including oral, written, seen, open book, multiple choice, essay, short answer, problem based and case study.

Extenuating circumstances
Extenuating circumstances are circumstances which are outside the control of a student and which affect their ability to attend or complete assessments, can be confirmed by independent evidence and which occurred during or shortly before the assessment in question.

External Examiner (Subject)
The Subject External Examiner is mainly concerned with the standards of assessment in a specific group of modules (the subject) regardless of the study programmes or awards to which the modules are attached. The Subject External Examiner will be asked to comment on assessment processes, and on the standard, content and development of the modules within the subject. They will be a member of the Subject Assessment Panel which confirms or modifies module marks and makes sure that the students are being assessed in line with the assessment programme and the learning outcomes for the subject modules. 

Subject External Examiners do not attend Award Assessment Boards (unless a professional accrediting body requires them to do so). Nor do they see or comment on student profiles. They focus on the standards in the subject.

External Examiner (Award)
The Award External Examiner acts as the ‘critical friend’ of the Award Assessment Board, to make sure that decisions on progression or awards for students are made in line with the assessment regulations, and that justice is done to the individual student, taking account of any recommendations resulting from extenuating circumstances or assessment offences. For each named award, the Award External Examiner will be asked to provide informative comment and recommendations on whether or not the University is maintaining the threshold academic standards set for our awards. The examiner will also be asked how standards of student performance at award level compare with similar awards in other UK institutions with which they are familiar. They will be a member of the appropriate Award Assessment Board which makes decisions on progression and awards on the basis of the module marks confirmed by the Subject Assessment Panel.

Feedback
Comments given to students either orally or in writing about their performance and progress to support their learning and academic development.

Feed-forward
Feed-forward is information students can use to make improvements to current or future assessments. It is different to feedback as it focuses on longer term development and is forward-looking rather than concerned with work already completed. Examples include:

  • the opportunity to get comments on a draft or outline, and so to take account of these in the final version
  • the option of a practice test (for example, getting feedback on how well students answered multiple-choice questions), and
  • a pre-exam revision seminar, or a workshop focusing on past exam papers (sometimes called ‘pre-emptive’ feedback).

Feed-in
How staff inform students what is required from an assessment. At this stage, students can have discussions with staff to make sure they understand the assignment.

Formative assessment
An assessment task with a developmental purpose. It is designed to help students learn more effectively by giving them feedback on their performance and on how it can be improved or maintained (or both).

Grades
A module or an individual assessment is graded using a percentage scale unless it is assessed on a pass or fail basis only. The standard module pass mark is 40 per cent for undergraduate level study and 50 per cent for postgraduate level study.

Grade and marking criteria
Grade and marking-related criteria explain what a student needs to demonstrate to achieve a certain grade or mark in an assessment. They allow students to be positioned within the overall set of marks available for an assessment. These criteria need to be developed for the discipline, assessment type, level of study or the module or assessment in question.

Ipsative Assessment
This is assessment against the student’s own previous standards. It can measure how well a particular task has been undertaken against the student’s average attainment, against their best work, or against their most recent piece of work. Ipsative assessment tends to correlate with effort, to promote effort-based attributions of success, and to enhance motivation to learn.

Marking
The process used to assess a student’s achievement of learning outcomes and the academic standards in a given assessment component and to award a percentage mark or pass or fail grade.

Marking – second
This is where an assessment is independently assessed by more than one examiner. It can take the form of : 

  • "blind" marking (where the second marker does not see the marks or comments of the first marker); 
  • "seen" marking (where the second marker sees both marks and comments awarded by the first marker. 

Dissertations are typically second marked.

Model answer
The assessor’s specific view of what an answer to an assessment task should contain. Model answers are more commonly used where the right answer can be defined precisely.

Moderation
A process intended to make sure that an assessment outcome is fair and reliable and that assessment criteria have been used consistently. Forms of moderation include:

  • sampling a representative sample of assignments 
  • including for example of borderlines, firsts and fails, or where there is significant difference between the marks of different markers that cannot be resolved without the opinion of another marker, and
  • a review of marks, where there is a significant difference between several assessment marks, within or between parts of a programme, which indicate the marks may need to be reconsidered.

Modified assessment provision (MAP)
A modified assessment provision may include allowing a student more time, their own room, computer or laptop, scribe or reader (this is not a full list). In line with university regulations, students who need MAPs must be assessed by Disability Services before any provisions are put in place. MAPs can be made for any time-limited assessment that contributes towards a final mark for a module. MAPs give equal access to students who, because of a disability or dyslexia, may be disadvantaged when assessed under time constraints. Student Support Documents contain a student's MAPs.

Multiple-choice questions (MCQ)
MCQ is a form of assessment in which students are asked to select the best possible answer (or answers) out of the choices from a list. Multiple-choice exams are designed to test knowledge and can be used to test how quickly students can answer the questions. MCQ assessments can easily be set up as an online exam using specialist ICT software.

Norm-referenced assessment
An assessment in which each candidate's performance is measured against that of others, rather than against external criteria or standards.

Pass/fail (ungraded)
Individual assessment components within a module or the assessment for a complete module may be marked on a pass/fail basis, without any further grading being used. The results of assessments which are pass/fail only will not contribute to any overall mark calculations, although credit will be awarded for assessments that are successfully completed.

Pass requirements
Pass requirements are determined for each module and for each award. These are set out in the appropriate regulatory frameworks.

Plagiarism
Plagiarism is when a student presents another person's work as their own, without properly acknowledging the source, with or without the creator’s permission, intentionally or unintentionally. Plagiarism is an assessment offence under the Examinations and Assessment Offences regulations.

Practical
Assignments set during the module, to assess one or more of the learning outcomes by practical skills assessment, oral assessment or presentation

Progression requirements
Requirements set out in the University Regulatory Frameworks Programme Specification, setting out how students may move on to the next level of the programme.

Provisional marks
Marks for an individual assessment within a module given to a student before the marks have been approved by the Assessment Board. Provisional marks must be accompanied by a statement that they are provisional and depend on the approval of the Assessment Board.

Reliability of assessment
Reliability refers to the fairness and consistency of assessment. It can refer to the inter-assessor agreement where different markers, for example, through double marking (blind and seen) agree on the same grade, as well as the use of appropriate marking schemes. From a student's perspective, this can refer to the extent to which assessment results are repeatable and fair from one candidate to the next, and from one occasion to the next or with a different set of candidates.

Resit
When a student who has failed a module or component of a module has to take further assessment as specified by the Assessment Board.

Rounding of results
Creating a whole number from one that has one or more decimal places.

Sampling
Most commonly used in the process of moderation. It normally involves internal or external examiners scrutinising a sample of work from a group of students. Sampling may be based on checking borderline marks of any kind, or testing that assessment criteria have been applied consistently across the assessment of students in the group.

Second marking
This is where an assessment is independently assessed by more than one examiner. It can take the form of :

  • "blind" marking (where the second marker does not see the marks or comments of the first marker); 
  • "seen" marking (where the second marker sees both marks and comments awarded by the first marker. 

Dissertations are typically second marked. A minimum of 10 per cent of scripts and fails are typically second marked.

Subject Assessment Panel
The panel is responsible for:

  • reviewing the standard of assessment in the subject, and making sure the appropriate academic standards in modules are maintained
  • confirming or modifying module marks (once marks have been confirmed by the panel they must not be altered by an Award Assessment Board unless an error in transcription or an omission is found)
  • discussing any problems with assessments (not individual students)
  • making recommendations on the form of referral for individual modules
  • receiving information from panels and committees of investigation on proven examination and assessment offences, and
  • receiving the report from the Subject External Examiners for the previous academic year, together with any written response or action plan, to make sure that all issues raised have been dealt with.

Summative assessment
A form of assessment used to certify that students have achieved an appropriate level of performance. It is used to indicate how far a student has met the assessment criteria used to judge the intended learning outcomes of a module or programme.

Synoptic Assessment
An assessment that encourages students to combine elements of their learning from different parts of a programme and to show their accumulated knowledge and understanding of a topic or subject area. A synoptic assessment normally enables students to show their ability to integrate and apply their skills, knowledge and understanding with breadth and depth in the subject. It can help to test a student's capability of applying the knowledge and understanding gained in one part of a programme to increase their understanding in other parts of the programme, or across the programme as a whole.

Test
A question or set of questions relating to a particular area of study, taken in a similar way to a formal examination but held in the normal timetabled slot. Students are entitled to modified assessment provision in tests.

Transcript
A formal record of the academic achievement of a student, identifying (as a minimum) the modules passed, the grade achieved, the level and the credit value of the completed modules.

Validity of assessment
Refers to the degree to which the assessment measures what it is intended to measure. (for example, assessments adequately test the specific learning outcomes).

Weighting - award level
The weighting of module marks normally relates to the credit value of each module as a proportion of the total credit for a part or an award. For an undergraduate degree made up of three parts, the aggregate marks will be:

  • Level 1 will be normally weighted at 10 per cent
  • Level 2 at 30 per cent
  • Level 3 at 60 per cent 

The overall aggregate mark for an award will be used to decide the classification awarded.

Weighting - module level
Weighting of assessment marks may be applied to assessment to calculate an overall mark for a module. The weighting indicates how much each part contributes towards the module mark (for example 50 per cent coursework, 30 per cent practical, 20 per cent test).

Working Day: A University working day is defined as a day on which the University is open. This excludes weekends, Bank Holidays and times when the University is closed such as the period between Christmas and New Year, but includes both term-time and student vacation periods.