Assessment and Feedback

Assessment Criteria

Assessment criteria indicate what the student must do and the quality required to either pass or to achieve set grades. Criteria may be set out in a table or in bullet form, and they should clearly indicate what a student must do to achieve the specified criterion. This means that assessment criteria should be written with a particular assessment type in mind, i.e. criteria for a presentation will vary from those for an essay. They are also written in definite language as the student must achieve the set criterion to achieve at the set points in the grade bands. Assessment criteria should:

  1. Specify: Requirements of the specific assessment task at the pass/fail boundary.
  2. Indicate: Areas where improvements or refinements will improve grades beyond the bare pass mark.
  3. Provide: A framework for provision of targeted feedback on performance.

Threshold or marking criteria?

Strictly speaking, assessment criteria relate to learning outcomes in terms of pass/fail only (threshold assessment criteria). If a student achieves the learning outcome, the work is at least at a pass level. When determining grades achieved, assessment criteria go beyond the learning outcome and are indicators of refinements of the learning outcomes:

  • Threshold criteria: setting the pass/fail boundary.
  • Marking criteria: indicating the boundaries of achievement across possible grades.

Some literature uses the term 'assessment criteria' to refer to grading or marking criteria while some may use the term to refer to the achievement of the learning outcome only. It is useful to think of assessment criteria as either 'threshold criteria' i.e. achievement of the learning outcome at the pass/fail boundary, or as assessment marking/grading criteria which allow staff to grade the student's achievement through the whole range of the marking scale. In practice, the assessment criteria that you use when assessing student work or give to students in your guidelines should clearly indicate how the grade bands differ, particularly at the pass/fail boundary.

Hidden assessment criteria

  • Assessment criteria: In assessment focus groups, students often report that they use criteria when available, although many report that the criteria given are too generic to be useful, and that they feel that the criteria do not appear to relate to the way the work is marked.
  • Hidden assessment criteria: Students felt that the goals and standards required in assessments varied according to the staff member setting and marking the work rather than any explicit standard. Most felt that it was more important to know the staff member’s approach rather than the work itself to get a good grade. For many students, this meant that ascertaining goals and standards was a ‘guessing game’.

A few ideas:

  • design explicit and clear assessment criteria for each assessment
  • use exemplars
  • provide formative assessment
  • use assessment criteria for each assignment to guide feedback
  • when you provide additional assessment information (e.g. during a lecture), follow this up with written instructions.

For further information about assessment, curriculum design, programme assessment mapping, academic integrity or the Learning and Teaching Network, contact the curriculum development team.


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Last Updated: 17/02/2021