If you can't find your question in the list above, please email it to Nick Noakes.


What are some common assessment pitfalls to avoid?

The most common weaknesses in assessment are:

  • the tasks do not match the stated outcomes;
  • the criteria do not match the tasks or outcomes;
  • the criteria are not known to students;
  • students do not understand the criteria;
  • overuse of one mode of assessment such as written examinations, essays, or closed problems;
  • overload of students and staff;
  • insufficient time for students to do the assignments;
  • too many assignments with the same deadline;
  • insufficient time for staff to mark the assignments or examinations;
  • absence of well defined criteria so consistency is difficult to achieve;
  • unduly specific criteria which create a straitjacket for students and make marking burdensome for lecturers;
  • inadequate or superficial feedback provided to students;
  • wide variations in marking between courses and assessors and within assessors (self-consistency);
  • variations in assessment demands of different courses.

By implication, more effective assessment systems are relatively free of these weaknesses. Are yours?

Back to top

What are some useful assessment strategies with large classes?

The strategies that are available for managing and saving time, yet providing useful feedback to students, are essentially:

  • Reduce the assessment load;
  • Streamline the feedback procedure;
  • Delegate the marking;
  • Review the course system.

Reduce the assessment load

  • Set fewer or shorter assignments
  • Ensure the workload is uniform across the set of courses offered by the department
  • Check on the total amount of course work required from students
  • Set tests or assignments to be completed and/or marked during class time
  • Capitalise on technology by using MCQs, requiring assignments to be word-processed and for processing, collating and recording marks

Streamline the feedback procedure:

  • Set the date for returning marked assignments to students at the beginning of the course.

  • Allocate days or parts of days for marking in your diary.
    • Keep to these allocations unless there is a dire emergency.
    • Say 'no' to colleagues and students who wish to encroach on this time.
  • Mark and comment on the draft of an assignment in order to improve learning, keeping a copy of your comments and grading the final version adding a brief global comment. This approach demonstrates to students that they can improve. Once an assignment has been marked, it tends to be archived by the students and often there is little transfer of learning to the next assignment.

  • Use tutorials only for students most in need.

  • Use criteria or checklists plus a personal comment or use a standard pro-forma. Keep them simple otherwise you will spend more, not less, time fitting your comments to them.

  • Produce a global report based on the students' assignments:
    • 'The best assignments had these characteristics ...
    • Good assignments ...
    • Weaker assignments ...

The method can be used for problems, cases and essays and it can form the basis of a large group teaching session or tutorial.

Delegate the marking

  • Delegate some of the marking to a team of TAs/Postgraduate tutors or UG student mentors from more senior years.
  • Provide TAs/Postgraduate tutors and UG student mentors with training, criteria or marking schemes and examples. This also provides useful experience for PGs in appraising other people's work and in providing feedback.
  • Use peer-assessment for one assignment.
  • Provide or generate criteria with the whole class and provide them with some training in marking based on marking schemes or criteria.
  • Divide the students into small groups (four to five is best).
  • Provide each group with the criteria and some assignments to assess.
  • The marks and comments are handed in for moderation by you.
  • You might assign a small proportion of marks for a course for the group work on essay marking.
  • Timetable this task into the tutorial programme.
  • This not only reduces the teaching and marking load, it also teaches students how to:
    • Evaluate their own work
    • Give and receive feedback
    • Work in independent groups

These three aspects are important worklong/lifelong learning skills.

Review the course system

The more courses there are, the greater is the assessment and administrative load for students and staff. So, in the longer term it will save you time for other activities if the faculty within a department:

  • Carry out an audit of the current course system at the course level
  • Collate these and audit at the department/UG programme level
  • Look for ways of reducing assessment requirements.

There are limits to the power of these suggestions. Realistically, if there are more students, then the assessment load will be higher. Time is not elastic so something has to give.

Back to top

What is 'best practice' with self- and peer-assessment?

Students commonly report that assessing their own work or that of their peers can:

  • Be personally motivating;
  • Help their learning (for example by comparing analyses, creative ideas and approaches to problems); and
  • Help them understand the assessment process.

With self- and peer-assessment, students can develop lifelong evaluation skills both about their own work and thinking as well as others and in so doing take their first steps towards independent learning by developing learning strategies based on their evaluations. They learn directly by constructively critiquing their own and others’ work in parallel. Some simple examples include students:

  • Commenting on final or draft essays or project reports
  • Anonymously or publicly grading colleagues’ presentations
  • Proposing their own grade with reasons after seeing others’ work
  • Discussing and suggesting improvements to others’ work
  • Reflecting on improvements they could implement themselves
  • Discussing in groups before collectively providing a grade and feedback

Student criticisms of self- and peer-assessment include the opportunity for personal bias, i.e. the approach is seen as being too subjective. Given prior learning experiences, students may well see assessment as being the sole responsibility of the teacher and not theirs. Hence, a few key general issues facing self- and peer-assessment are:

  • Helping students see the value and validity of the approach to assessment
  • Sharing understanding of assessment criteria
  • Ensuring validity and reliability of students’ judgements
  • Maximising opportunities for students to learn from self and peer assessment
  • Assisting students to provide constructive feedback

Back to top

What is 'best practice' with giving feedback on learning?

Providing constructive feedback to students is probably one of the most useful things for student learning you can do as a teacher – and most likely to be appreciated by students. Feedback has been shown to be most effective when it is timely, perceived as relevant, meaningful, encouraging and offers suggestions for improvement that are within a student's grasp. All the practical hints on providing feedback can be deduced from these findings and there are implications underlying these findings for the management of courses, one's own time management and approach to providing feedback

  • Feedback is developmental and not just judgemental assessment.
  • Feedback can be provided by others (peers, mentors, etc.) and not just the teachers.
  • Feedback is about encouragement and not just about weaknesses.
  • Feedback is a starting point for learning and not just confirmation of learning.

Timing is the key factor in terms of the value that feedback can have. Obviously, students need to get constructive comments back as soon as possible after their learning tasks. Think about the points made in this FAQ on self- and peer-assessment as being part of the feedback process; particularly useful for formative assessment.

Feedback, in large part, is about helping students to take increasing ownership of their learning and thus increasing their self-direction of their own learning.

Back to top

How do I deal with plagiarism?

There are three broad strategies for this: prevention, monitoring and punishment.

In terms of the latter, HKUST's regulations on academic dishonesty can be viewed online at HKUST's Academic Integrity web pages and you may also have School or Departmental regulations within these. These regulations, however, talk in fairly broad terms.

For your own course, the main strategy should of course be one of prevention. The HKUST Library has linked to an excellent site produced by the University of Alberta in Canada which covers this and is called "Avoiding Plagiarism" http://www.osja.ualberta.ca/Students/AvoidingPlagiarism.aspx. During their secondary education, Hong Kong students may well have been rewarded for copying 'chunks' from textbooks or the Internet and placing these into assignments. They may well need to understand that this is not acceptable at university level and terms such as plagiarism, intellectual property, copyright, collaboration and fair use will probably need explaining at the start of the course.

Students may also need to be taught how to paraphrase and summarise and how to use quotations. If you ask your students to write essay type assignments, then one way to prevent plagiarism is to provide adequate information and instruction on the conventions in your discipline for acknowledgement and citation. Another way is to set assignments that limit the opportunities for plagiarism. For example, critically analyzing different articles may help. Still yet another way is to explain the assessment criteria and ask for their input to these. You could also ask them to add personal assessment criteria to the course ones. Involve students more in the design of assessment tasks and in the setting of assessment criteria is known to engender feelings of inclusion and ownership which promote a more positive attitude to learning.

Monitoring either the styles of writing or the presentation of solutions in an assignment is a relatively easy task. Nevertheless, technology can help here, e.g. through the use search engines such as 'Google' to check for passages obtained from the Internet and the sites that provide written assignments.

Back to top

What is available at HKUST in terms of computer-assisted assessment?

The online quiz tool within Canvas, which you may already have used, is one of the available tools for low-stakes assessments. However, it is fairly basic and thus you are advised not to use it for high-stakes assessments which are form part of a course grade. If you are interested in exploring more about computer-assisted assessment, please contact Ms June Chan in CEI (ctjune@ust.hk).

A very good website for finding out about what is available worldwide in terms of computer-assisted assessment at the higher education level is the UK's Computer-Assisted Assessment (CAA) website which contains papers, a bibliography, FAQs about CAA, and an excellent guide to objective tests.

Back to top

Is it true that we should grade on a curve at HKUST?

It is known that some teaching staff thought they are required by the university to grade on a curve. This is however NOT true. Please refer to the assessment of students pages within HKUST's quality assurance website. The section contains a guideline which reflects the past course grading experience, and aims to, for example, (i) provide faculty with an indication of expected distribution for grades, (ii) provide departments with a benchmark when they review course grades, and (iii) provide staff and students with an indication of the standards that students are expected to achieve. In addition, the section contains Grade Descriptors and provides an example of a rubric that describes the standards of achievement, encouraging criterion-based grading.

Back to top