Palgrave Teaching and Learning

by Sally Brown (Series Editor)

Masters-level assessment

Effective design of masters–level assessment is crucial in a highly competitive global climate, where students can as easily choose to study many programmes virtually. Masters-level courses that offer authentic learning opportunities and assessment tasks are likely to be highly prized by students and their funders, who are frequently their employers. Good masters-level assessment can enable students to:
  • Demonstrate critical thinking and critical analysis in order to achieve good grades.
  • Work independently, autonomously, with minimal support.
  • Work with incomplete information, moving away from following a ‘recipe book’ approach as widely used at undergraduate level, to an approach where students are expected, like apprentices of old completing training to produce ‘masterpieces’, to demonstrate their abilities to complete tasks reliably and on multiple occasions to a very high standard.
  • Demonstrate, on the one hand, a significant breadth of knowledge and an ability to show cognisance of a broad overview of a subject area but also, on the other hand, to focus on detailed specifics within a subject area and to drill down deep into specialist topics.
  • Cope with a rapid pace of study, a high volume of work, an extended amount of required reading, and to write at length with coherence and clarity.
  • Demonstrate creativity, originality and the ability to innovate.
Using a diverse variety of highly effective assessment methods to assess students at masters level, rather than just traditional means like dissertations and unseen, time-constrained exams can give programmes higher satisfaction rates and a market advantage. These can include, for example:
  • Highly authentic assignments, which relate closely to programme outcomes.
  • Multiple assessments which build incrementally to final submission.
  • Approaches that provide ample feedback opportunities, giving students the chance to benefit from advice to improve performance.
  • Assignments that require teamwork and group activity.
  • Assignments that foster employability and employer engagement in designing, undertaking or assessing assignments.
  • Assignments that are enhanced and supported by technology.
  • Those that offer peer engagement/peer assessment opportunities (Brown et al., 2012).

Using such innovative and authentic assignments can enhance the quality of the student experience as well as enabling transformative learning to take place, with positive outcomes for all involved.


Brown, S. (2015) Assessing well at masters level, in P. Kneale, Masters Level Teaching, Learning and Assessment: Issues in design and delivery, London: Palgrave

Brown, S. (2014) What are the perceived differences between assessing at Master’s level and undergraduate level assessment? Some findings from an NTFS–funded project, Innovations in Education and Teaching International, forthcoming.

Brown, S., Race, P., Canham, R., Priestley, J., Deignan, T. and Wilkinson, K. (2012) Assimilate: A compendium of examples of innovative assessment at Master’s level (Leeds: Leeds Metropolitan University Press).