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UCL assessment load model

Guidelines for ensuring programme level consistency for summative assessment load.

These guidelines enable a cross-university framework for achieving a more consistent approach to student workload for summative assessment.

As UCL further diversifies assessment and continues the shift towards digital, remote and authentic assessment,  clear guidance is helpful in supporting staff to make decisions about the holistic assessment journey that students experience across modules on their programmes 

The guidance below was drafted by an Assessment Working Group in 2020 made up of representatives of all UCL schools and the Head of Academic Services. It aligns with the UK Quality Code (ADVICE AND GUIDANCE: ASSESSMENT Publication Date: 29 Nov 2018) and its principles complement the Overarching Principles of Assessment in Chapter 4 UCL Academic Manual 2019-20. It was approved by Education Committee in July 2020 and reviewed by Faculty tutors in July 2021  

Please direct any questions to the Teaching Continuity mailbox.

Introduction 

UCL programmes broadly operate within a framework of 15 and 30 credits comprising modules that students take concurrently. Their experience of assessment is both at module and programme level. To balance the workload for students and staff we must ensure that the coursework and examination assessment load [1] is both proportionate and broadly consistent across modules with the same credit.  

Whilst UCL does not mandate a particular number of learning outcomes per module, a reasonable expectation is that 15 credit modules should have between 3-4 broad learning outcomes and no more than 2 items of summative assessment; 30 credit  modules should have between 4-5 broad learning outcomes and have no more than 3 items of summative assessment.

In developing an assessment load model, exam duration and word count/word count equivalence are viewed as indicative of student workload in preparation and production, but we recognise that summative assessment will vary across type, subject, discipline, level of study, and individual students work at different rates.   

This guidance is not prescriptive about how programme teams should design modular assessment - it is not mandatory - but intends to promote discussion about assessment and determine a workload that would be appropriate for the disciplinary or professional context, level or year of study. It aims to raise awareness of the role of assessment design across UG and PGT modules to enhance the student and staff experience and their overall well-being.

There may be a need at times for programmes to deviate from the suggested assessment load outlined in this guidance, for example, in scientific disciplines where essays and written work are not the norm, e.g. large coding projects in computer science. Where deviation from the suggested assessment load is required, departments should include a clear rationale for this in the programme approval and amendment processes.

This guidance is informed by UCL’s Academic Manual, the Examinations Operations group, the 2006 recommendations of the then Graduate Education Executive sub-committee and the restrictions on face-to-face invigilated exams agreed in 2020-21 [2].


The assessment load model 

UCL guidance is that no more that 20% of the learning hours should be dedicated to working towards summative assessment. This is based upon 1 FHEQ credit (0.5 ECTS) = 10 hours of learning. 

Coursework 

15 credit module assessment for Coursework [3]

WeightingSuggested normal upper limit word count
100%3,000 or equivalent
70%2,000 or equivalent
50% or below1,500 or equivalent

30 credit module assessment for Coursework

WeightingSuggested normal upper limit word count
100%5,000 or equivalent
70%3,500 or equivalent
50% or below

2,500 or equivalent

30/60/90 credit modules for dissertations and reports

 Suggested normal upper limit word count
30 credits10,000 or equivalent
60 credits15,000 or equivalent
90 credits18,000 or equivalent

Take-home papers and practical exams

15 credit module assessment for Take-home papers and, where feasible, practical examinations

WeightingSuggested normal upper limit within a 24-hour window
100% 4 hours
70%3 hours
50% and under2 hours

Please note that total hours for components should not normally exceed 4 hours (i.e. 1 x 4 hours each 25%)

30 credit module assessment for Take-home papers and, where feasible, practical examinations

WeightingSuggested normal upper limit within a 24-hour window
100% (not recommended)5 hours
70%4 hours
50% and under3 hours

Please note that total hours for components should not normally exceed 5 hours (i.e. 2 x 2.5 hours each 50%. For 30+ credit modules, it is advisable to have more than a single assessment)

Controlled Condition Exams

Module assessment for online exams which replicate, as far as possible, the strictly controlled conditions in a face-to-face exam hall. The exam duration accurately reflects the amount of time which a student should spend on the assessment.   

WeightingSuggested normal upper limit
100% (not recommended for 30 + credit modules) 3 hours
70%2 hours
50% and under1 hour

Although it may be true that students have to do the same amount of revision for any length of exam, and exam length itself does not equate to student workload, students may perceive unfairness if exam volume substantially differs across modules on a programme.


Word count equivalence

Word count equivalence for non text-based coursework 

Some coursework assessments may include non-text material such as formulae, diagrams, tables etc. In some cases, particularly in STEM or Architecture, coursework-based assessment may be entirely made up of non-text material in which case the guidance page count will be appropriate, rather than a word count. In cases where the creation of non-text material is a small but key part of an assessment, rather than the primary text material, it may be necessary to lower the word count to recognise the learning hours spent on producing such material. Additionally, it is recognised that the ability to produce shorter and precise reports may be a key learning outcome so much shorter word/page counts may also be appropriate.   

15 credit module assessment for Coursework (non-text)

WeightingSuggested normal upper limit page count
100%20 pages or equivalent
70%14 pages or equivalent
50% or below10 pages or equivalent

30 credit module assessment for Coursework (non-text)

WeightingSuggested normal upper limit page count
100%35 pages or equivalent
70%25 pages or equivalent
50% or below18 pages or equivalent

Word count equivalence for media production (video, film, animation etc.)

A range of innovative assessment methods are evolving across UCL programmes that use media other than the written word. Where these are deployed, programme  and module leaders should take into account how familiar students are with the genre, or how much time students need to spend learning software and developing new skills (such as editing).  As with the written form, if students have already been exposed to a genre or are developing their research skills, staff can expect more in terms of complexity and quality. The equivalence should be regularly reviewed and communicated to students and reflected in the task guidance, workload expectations, the marking criteria and the rubric.

15 credit module word count equivalence

Please note guidance on alternative assessment.

WeightingSuggested normal upper limit page count
100%10 minutes of content
70%6 minutes of content
50% or below4 minutes of content

30 credit module word count equivalence 

WeightingSuggested normal upper limit page count
100% (not recommended)12 minutes of content
70%7 minutes of content
50% or below5 minutes of content

Oral presentations (15 or 30 credits)

Oral presentations should not normally be less than 5 minutes or exceed 20 minutes. Group presentations may be slightly longer than individual presentations.  Oral presentations can sit alongside or integrated into other forms of assessment such as posters and portfolios.

Group work (15 or 30 credits)

The length of a group assignment should not be a multiple of the suggested individual assignment length. Instead, academic units should consider a marginally higher (20%) length or duration.


Principles of the Assessment Load Model 

  1. The form(s) of assessment selected should be valid measures of the intended learning outcomes of the module and programme and provide opportunities for students to meet all marking criteria. The feedback received on them should be used to structure and scaffold students’ learning throughout their programme. Assessment should not only be conceived at module level but, where possible, across a stage and programme.
  1. Assessment should be appropriately diverse and varied.  For 30 credit modules, it is not recommended to have 100% (high stakes) weighting for a single examination or coursework.  At least one other piece of summative assessment would normally be expected to test the range of learning outcomes, for example, a blog and an exam, or an oral presentation and a literature review, etc. However, a 15-credit module may only have a single summative assessment. Where the assessment volume on a particular module appears to be high, programme teams should consider whether the learning outcomes might be met more appropriately elsewhere in the programme. It is recognised that it may be difficult to obtain the optimum distribution of assessment load where one module contributes to a number of different programmes.
  2. Formative assessment is an essential component of successful learning.  It is critical for helping students engage meaningfully with their learning and in supporting them to meet learning outcomes.  Well-designed formative assessment enables students to evaluate their learning and is a way for staff to signal progress, challenge and set expectations of standards, so students are clear about what they need to do to complete a module successfully.  Where assessments deadlines across modules are clustered, students often avoid completing formative assessment, so timing is an important feature of good design. Formative assessment:
  • is non-credit bearing but can be an assessment component
  • It is essential in helping students successfully embed learning as they work towards summative assessment
  • results in clear ‘actionable’ tutor feedback (whilst not excluding peer- or other kinds of feedback) through carefully designed tasks.
  • can be timed throughout the module or programme to provide motivation and ensure students are clear about how to make progress
  • should be published as a part of the module assessment strategy so that students understand its value as a part of the teaching and learning process
  • is part of the overall assessment strategy to prepare students for summative assessment(s).
  1. The use of well-designed ‘gateway formative assessment’ that is firmly aligned to summative assessment and promotes assessment literacy is encouraged.  This may comprise a single piece, or a series of formative assessments. A gateway assessment must be clearly defined, in terms of task, expectations and submission deadlines. Hence, it is often accompanied by a clear brief, and some well-selected marking criteria and rubrics.  Expectations of teacher and /or peer feedback must be clearly stated so that students can use the feedback received to prepare for their summative task.
  1. Where students at different levels are being co-taught, different assessment should be given to  reflect different expectations and learning outcomes. Although assessment types and lengths may be the same, differentiation in the questions or tasks assigned would reflect different levels intended knowledge and skills outcomes.
  1. Programme /module teams should consider complexity when applying the assessment load model. An essay or computer code assignment with a higher word count or a longer exam (or equivalent) may not be necessarily more difficult, nor assess higher-level cognitive skills. Often shorter words counts produce greater quality. The overall word counts / word count equivalence) and duration of assessment are upper limits.

Footnotes

[1] Student assessment load is defined as the total number of summative and formative assessments, the number of concurrent deadlines and the diversity of assessment type.

[3]This assessment load model can also be applied to a Take-home paper that is longer than 24 hours.