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Helping students to understand assessment

Why do students sometimes struggle to understand assessment? Here is what you can do to help them. 

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1 August 2019

Students come to UCL from diverse educational cultures and need help to understand teacher expectations.

Students who do not understand the standards they need to reach on a programme can dramatically underperform.

There are some easy ways to help your students through:

  • Giving students practice in marking similar assignments and applying the assessment criteria.
  • Setting up peer review of assignments as a formative activity.
  • Designing peer assessment into the curriculum.

How to help your students with assessment

It is best if you devise a plan to gradually involve students in assessment throughout their degree programme.

Guided marking, and other activities, help students with diverse learning needs and diverse backgrounds to gain a better understanding of what they need to do to be successful on your module.

Guided marking

Start early (at the beginning of your degree programme) by organising a guided marking activity. This can be done on Moodle, or face-to-face with smaller groups.

  • Select a range of assignments from a previous year.
  • Ask permission of authors.
  • Anonymise and upload to Moodle.
  • Students use assessment criteria and comment on (and possibly grade) the assignments.
  • Devote some lecture/seminar time to discussing comments and grades and clarifying what you value in the assignments. 

See the Guided marking toolkit for more information. 

Peer review

This is a good follow-up to guided marking.

Ask students to produce a draft assignment and then arrange for them to read and comment on each others’ work.

Again this can be done on a Moodle Forum (if you assign groups and ask students to peer review drafts from their group), or by using Moodle Workshop (contact Digital Education for help digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk).

Remember to follow this up in a lecture/seminar or online by giving your own comments.

Peer assessment

Students need to have practice in peer review before you try this.

If you feel your students are now getting expert at making assessment judgements, and are giving good quality feedback, you can involve them in giving feedback and awarding grades.

If you have a large group, anonymised peer assessment is possible.

Assignments can be uploaded to Moodle and peer assessed online; again Digital Education (digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk) will advise.

It is best to do this with ‘low-risk’ assessments e.g. an assessment that is worth a small percentage of the overall mark for the module.

You need to set up robust moderation procedures and complaint procedures so that students are confident their work will be fairly graded.

See the Peer Assessment toolkit for more information.

Collaborative assessment

Students get involved in designing assessment tasks, assessment criteria and marking and giving feedback on each others’ work.

For this to work well, you need to ensure your students have a good knowledge of the standard of work you expect and have had experience in giving good quality feedback comments.

You can try this with 4th year students or Postgraduate Taught (PGT) students. 

Student resources related to assessment

There are a number of guides for students, some created by other students, which can help them understand assessment:


This guide has been produced by the UCL Arena Centre for Research-based Education. You are welcome to use this guide if you are from another educational facility, but you must credit the UCL Arena Centre.