Assessment design

Page last updated:
25 Jan 2024

This page will take you through some of the different  elements you  should consider as you design your assessments.

Good assessment design is important for a range of purposes. It enables:

  • All students to demonstrate their learning and, through feedback and feed forward, further their learning and their development
  • Evidence that a student has achieved the intended learning outcomes of the course, apprenticeship, or module at the relevant academic standard for the award

Learning outcomes are the drivers of assessment and of the learning activities which support students towards those assessments. They will help ensure that you design assessments that are appropriate to the level being assessed and are assessing the correct skills. 

Guidance on level learning outcomes

There are also resources to help make your assessment inclusive and accessible as possible.

Our Taxonomy of Assessment Domains document can be used widely as a working document to guide academic staff in a range of ways. For example:

  • To support the design of courses and modules
  • To help staff encourage students to engage in progressively deeper learning during their course
  • To encourage the precise use of words to describe learning activities which the makes it easier to the develop assessments that reflect the level of demand of the learning outcomes
  • To show how the learning outcomes are connected to the content of the module, to the assignment and to its criteria
  • To help staff design and develop module assessment which is appropriately targeted and levelled
  • To help internal and external examiners- i.e. guesswork is removed as it makes it easier to understand the demands of the assessment question and thus facilitates the grading.

In combination with the Taxonomy of Assessment Domains there is a set of Undergraduate and a separate set of Postgraduate marking descriptors that can be used and adapted by courses. 

The design of  assessments should be as accessible and inclusive to maximise the opportunity for all students to achieve the best they can. You can find a wide selection of resources to aid your inclusive practice on the page linked below. 

Assessment is a key driver for learning. Good design starts with well-written learning outcomes and clear, transparent assessment criteria. Formative and summative assessment should accurately test the extent to which the student has met the intended learning outcomes. When choosing an assessment type, you must also consider whether it is appropriate for the learning outcome which you are intending to assess. Assessment design should be inclusive, anticipating students’ needs and enabling all students to undertake assessment equitably. However, where individual reasonable adjustment is necessary, this will be accommodated. The resources below will help guide staff to create inclusive and accessible assessments

Assessment is normally divided into 2  forms, formative and summative. Formative assessment is developmental and designed to monitor student learning to provide ongoing feedback that can be used by the tutor and student to guide improvements in teaching and learning contexts without  the attribution of a mark that counts towards a degree. Summative assessment relates to assessment with the attribution of a mark which contributes to a student’s grade or degree classification.

Here are a number of resources around innovative assessment design for a range of levels. University of Reading have produced an A-Z of different assessment methods. If you are looking for ideas of different types of assessment this might be a good place to start.

Dedicated resources on supporting students undertaking dissertation style assessments are found on the Supporting students undertaking dissertations webpage.

Guidance has been produced to help staff consider their best practice in using word limits when they design their summative assessments. It should be considered in parallel to a clear understanding of devising a holistic, innovative and consistent course level assessment strategy. 

This set of descriptors is designed to support module teams as they consider the marking of their undergraduate students’ work.

These general descriptors were developed in consultation with staff who teach on a range of undergraduate courses to address grade inflation and to create more banding clarity. Staff focus group discussions were used to explore assessment practices at undergraduate level . Staff provided example descriptors from a wide range of subject areas and marking criteria used at other institutions were also examined. Following the consultation process, a set of general descriptors were then developed to support a range of assessment modes (e.g. written, video, podcast) in all subject areas.

These descriptors are not designed to be prescriptive, but rather to be used as an adaptable flexible framework for staff as they develop and write their own assessment modes and marking criteria. These general descriptors are not intended to be student facing, or to be used in module handbooks. The wording of the general descriptors can be selectively modified and/or repurposed to suit staff’s own assessment criteria, subject / disciplinary values, and assessment marking weightings.

For more information about using the marking descriptors please listen to the narrated slides - Narrated PowerPoint slides

The descriptors should also be considered by staff as they design course- specific marking descriptors, review assessment processes and modify assessment design.

An example of how you could adapt the a descriptor - example adaptation. 

These descriptors are designed to support module teams as they consider the specific marking of their Level 7 students’ assessed work. It has been mapped to the Level 7 Taxonomy of Assessment Domains. clttaxonomy_of_assessment_domains.pdf ( and the approved bandings, where the pass mark is now 50%.

You will be aware of the importance of academic integrity through your own academic work. It is also important that our students are aware of what having good academic integrity good means and what  it looks like. Services across the University have created a wide range of resources to support students in using the correct referencing and citation methods.

The University also utilises a piece of plagiarism detection software called 'Turnitin'.