Palgrave Teaching and Learning

by Sally Brown (Series Editor)

Assessment for learning

Assessment for learning implies ensuring that the act of assessment itself contributes to students’ learning, rather than being an adjunct task once the learning has happened. The Assessment for Learning movement, which originated from discussion in the schools sector, has been extensively developed within the higher education context, most particularly through the work of the Assessment for Learning (A4L) Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at the University of Northumbria. Their approach, building on more than a decade of research, proposes that A4L:
  • Emphasises authenticity and complexity in the content and methods of assessment rather than reproduction of knowledge and reductive measurement.
  • Uses high-stakes summative assessment rigorously but sparingly rather than as the main driver for learning.
  • Offers students extensive opportunities to engage in the kinds of tasks that develop and demonstrate their learning, thus building their confidence and capabilities before they are summatively assessed.
  • Is rich in feedback derived from formal mechanisms e.g. tutor comments on assignments, student self-review logs.
  • Is rich in informal feedback e.g. peer review of draft writing, collaborative project work, which provides students with a continuous flow of feedback on ‘how they are doing’.
  • Develops students’ abilities to direct their own learning, evaluate their own progress and attainments and support the learning of others.

Advice for those wishing to ensure that assessment is for rather than just of learning:
  • Don’t think of assessment as an end of the learning process but as a vehicle through which learning can happen throughout the programme.
  • Consider how you can provide tasks that make students into active learners rather than regurgitators of curriculum content.
  • Over a programme, build students assessment literacy so that they understand the rules of the game and make the most of the learning opportunities provided within the assignments.
  • Involve students in assessing themselves and their peers as a means of helping them get inside the process and develop their capacities to judge their own performances accurately while they are actually undertaking tasks.
  • Clarify your expectations about what you want students to achieve by letting them see a wide range of completed assignments.
  • Ensure that what you are asking students to do within assignments is worthwhile, so students are prepared to invest their energies and enthusiasm and produce good quality work.
  • Map out the assessment expectations of a whole course or programme so students can see how different task interlock with one another and so you as teachers can avoid bunching of assignments and excessive repetition of different assessment methods.


Assessment for Learning:

Bloxham, S. and Boyd, P. (2007) Developing Effective Assessment in Higher Education: A practical guide, McGraw-Hill International.

HEA (2012) A Marked Improvement: Transforming assessment in higher education, York: Higher Education Academy.

For more about assessment, see Chapters 7 and 8 in Brown, S. (2015) Learning, Teaching and Assessment in Higher Education: Global perspectives.