Teaching & Learning Portal


Assessment and feedback: guides and case studies

An introduction to assessment and feedback

Your guide to assessment methods and how to select the right one for your course

Unseen written examinations are widespread at UCL, but writing under pressure for a limited time doesn’t always enable students to show the depth and breadth of their learning.

There are numerous methods available, from presentations and portfolios to essays and article reviews – and all of them can be used in different ways to enable students to develop and demonstrate their learning.

In order to meet the needs of students and the expectations of professional bodies and employers, UCL is taking action to improve assessment and feedback. Here are the chief assessment methods available.

  • Regular practical work


This method keeps students focused on the task at hand and encourages them to apply themselves throughout the course rather than cramming later on. It is also formative in nature, as there are opportunities for students and teachers to make adjustments. It can encourage application, translation and interpretation of concepts that have been learnt.


It can be time consuming for teachers and has the potential to become a 'hoop jumping' exercise if not used formatively.

  • Final exams


Final exams remain popular as they offer assurance that students have attained the appropriate knowledge, skills and dispositions by the end of the course.


Disadvantages include that final exams are merely summative, act as a measure of poise (i.e. a capacity to recall information under stress) and encourage reproduction rather than transformation of information.

  • Essays and assignments


Essays can be an opportunity or students to develop an extended argument and achieve depth rather than breadth of learning. The process also offers the chance to interpret, translate, apply, critique, evaluate, pose problems and conduct inquiry.


They are notoriously time consuming to mark and assessment can also be highly subjective. Other problems include that they are often set at the end of a course or topic and so leave no opportunity for students to make note of and use of the feedback.

  • Field reports


The value of field reports is in their authenticity and ability to help students develop practical skills. Observation and recording skills plus sound organisation are all vital.


They are costly to supervise, difficult to timetable and may also pose ethical and safety issues.

  • Article reviews


Not only do article reviews require interpretation and evaluation, they also give students the opportunity to walk in the shoes of the experts and understand their process.


Students need to be taught how to review. Difficult to find appropriate articles

  • Group work


The ability to collaborate and co-operate is vital in virtually all walks of life, so encouraging and assessing group work provides students with some really valuable experience. The chief strength is authentic skill development.


It is difficult to assess individual input using this method, and group work can be time-consuming for students to organise.

  • Portfolios


A portfolio can act as a synthesis of what students have learnt in a number of topics. Students also have to accept a high degree of responsibility, which means it encourages engagement with learning intentions, and valid and authentic assessment play a part as students can include real world tasks. There is also a focus on higher order thinking and the ability to curate and edit content.


This exercise can be time consuming for both students and teachers.

  • Performances and presentations


Preparing and delivering a presentation, for example as part of a student conference or symposium, helps students develop authentic skills.


Presentations will need to be captured in order to reflect on in order to assess.

Case Studies - Assessment and feedback

Can first-year undergraduates become researchers?

From designing experiments to writing papers, Dr Hazel Smith explains how first-year Biology students took on the challenge of completing an intensive research project.

Published: Sep 18, 2014 3:32:00 PM

Making history with iPads, peer assessment and MyPortfolio

Dr Paul Walker, CALT, and Dr Zubin Mistry, UCL History, presented attendees at the UCL Teaching and Learning Conference 2014 with a pioneering first-year undergraduate history module. Judith Hillmore reports

Published: Aug 22, 2014 11:35:00 AM