Academic & Student Affairs

Types of assessment

Formative assessment: primary purpose is to support student learning through the provision of feedback.  All assessment should therefore be formative.

Summative assessment: the primary purpose is to measure what has been learned – to award marks or grades.

Diagnostic assessment: this is often used to ascertain a starting level or baseline of knowledge or ability.  Sometimes diagnostic testing is used in the course of a module.

Ipsative assessment: this relates to ‘self’.  This is assessment against oneself – how does the student think they have progressed.

Peer assessment is where students are involved in the assessment of the work of other students. Students must have a clear understanding of what they are to look for in their peers' work. This is often appropriate in assessing group work, and is particularly valuable if both product and process are assessed.

Peer assessment may:

  • be used to develop in students the ability to work cooperatively, to be critical of others’ work and receive critical appraisals of, and feedback on, their own work.
  • provide students with some insight into the criteria to be used for marking a piece of assessable work.
  • also be a way of ascribing a mark or grade to a student’s work for summative purposes.

Self-assessment is a process where students are involved in and are responsible for assessing their own piece of work. It encourages students to become independent learners and can increase their motivation.  

Self assessment may:

  • be used to help develop in students the ability to examine and  think critically about their learning.
  • help students to determine what criteria should be used in judging their work and to apply these objectively to their own work in order to facilitate their continuing learning.
  • be undertaken as part of the assessment requirements of a course or as an exercise within the course's requirements.

Benefits of peer and self assessment

  1. Students internalize the criteria for high-quality work.

    Students who see clear models of work that meet the standards and understand why the work meets the standards will begin to make comparisons between their performance and the Exemplars presented. As tasks become more complex and open ended, it is essential that more than one model be provided to assure that students understand different strategies to meet the standards.

  2. Students understand the process of getting to the standard.

    Rubrics should show students where they have been, where they are now, and where they need to be at the end of the task. Describing progressive levels of performance becomes a guide for the journey, rather than a blind walk though an assessment maze.

  3. Teachers involve students in the monitoring process and shift some of the responsibility for documenting and justifying learning to the students.
    Research has demonstrated that high-performing learners do the following:
    • Self-monitor
    • Self-correct
    • Use feedback from peers to guide their learning process

When is it appropriate to use peer and self-assessment?

Peer and self assessment are very appropriate when used for formative purposes – i.e. to provide feedback. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that students learn from giving feedback to other students, as well as from receiving peer feedback. 

Peer assessment can also be used summatively as part of the module mark. Lecturers can parallel mark and factor in the peer mark (though the peer mark should be meaningful, say at least 10%).

The process should be carefully moderated and there should be an appeals process, with the lecturer as the final arbiter. If the peer marking is conducted anonymously, the reliability of the peer assessment process may well increase.
Self assessment is usually conducted for formative rather than summative purposes. However, students can be asked to submit a self assessment of a piece of work, along with the assignment itself, and this can be marked by the tutor. This approach encourages reflection and self criticism.

The following areas lend themselves to peer assessment:

  • Student presentations
  • Poster displays
  • Group process (during projects
  • Problems (in mathematical subjects)
  • Reports/essays (in particular plans or first drafts)
  • Annotated bibliographies
  • Practicals (e.g. lab reports )
  • Portfolios

Some general tips to help get you started are:

  1. Use peer assessment for formative assessment, at least initially
  2. If used summatively, give students “mark-free” practice first
  3. Take it slowly and prepare students for the process
  4. Be explicit about the reasons for and benefits of using peer assessment
  5. Keep the system simple
  6. Provide clear marking criteria, and possibly involve students in discussing or negotiating the criteria.
  7. Refer to The Lecturer’s Toolkit.

Challenges and possible solutions

  • Students’ attitudes: e.g. “marking is your job, not mine” – emphasise that peer and self-assessment are useful procedures for the student’s own development.  The ability to peer and self assess is a graduate skill.
  • Peer pressure on students not to mark down their colleagues – point out that this can be done anonymously by students
  • Students’ lack of confidence in process – practice will show that the process does work
  • Students do not understand criteria – workshops can be held to explain the process better.
    Refer to Falchikov, N. (2002). ‘Unpacking’ Peer Assessment’. In P. Schwartz & G. Webb (Eds.)