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Assessment at USC

About assessment

Assessment is an essential component of the process of teaching and learning in higher education and one that has a major impact on students’ experience of university.

  • Assessment ‘powerfully frames how students learn and what students achieve’ (Boud, 2010)
  • Assessment affects people’s lives (Boud and Falchikov, 2007)
  • Assessment drives the students’ learning journey (Boud, 2000)
  • A well aligned assessment practice can effectively motivate quality student learning (Biggs and Tang, 2009)

The University's Assessment Policy and Assessment Procedures have recently been revised as part of an ongoing review process, and with consideration to the TEQSA Higher Education Qualification Standards section 5, which relates to assessment.

Assessment principles

The Assessment: Course and Coursework Programs - Academic Policy is based on the following principles drawn from the literature and comparable in the sector. These seven principles then inform the Procedures.

  1. Assessment engages students in learning (TEQSA 5.1)
  2. Assessment involves the provision of high quality feedback to students on their performance and gives students an opportunity to actively improve their learning (TEQSA 5.2)
  3. Assessment results provide an inclusive and trustworthy representation of student achievement of academic standards (TEQSA 5.1)
  4. Institutional graduate attributes, program and course learning outcomes are aligned with learning activities, assessment products and related performance standards (TEQSA 5,3, 5.5)
  5. Summative assessment is valid, fair and reliable measure of specified learning outcomes (TEQSA 5.1) and is moderated to ensure consistent and appropriate judgements (TEQSA 5.3, 5.5)
  6. Assessment is designed to meet students' current and future learning needs (TEQSA 5.4)
  7. Formative and summative assessment information is used by teachers to improve student learning and engagement (TEQSA 5.2)
Assessment: Course and Coursework Programs - Academic Policy

The Assessment: Course and Coursework Programs - Academic Policy is intended to enunciate principles within a standards framework that informs assessment of students’ learning within courses and coursework programs.

The Policy is supported by a range of procedures -

Assessment: Courses and Coursework Programs - Procedures
Linkage between assessment and Curriculum Design Principles (Procedures – Section 1.2)

In 2016, USC introduced a curriculum design policy and related procedures. These curriculum design principles inform the design of the University’s curriculum which includes assessment. The assessment tasks in a course are an excellent place to reflect the curriculum design principles.
When the assessment is learning centered, it supports learner engagement and encourages students to demonstrate what they know and what they can do with that knowledge.
When the assessment is standards based, it reflects the course level description (refer to appendix below). This is particularly important at graduate and specialised levels, where an AQF descriptor also applies.
When the assessment is constructively aligned, students have opportunities within the course to practice similar tasks and should be asked to demonstrate the learning outcomes for assessment.
When it is career and future focussed, assessment reflects real-life or lifelike contexts and engages students in tasks they are likely to do in the workplace.

Assessment in multi-location, dual mode and online courses (Procedures – Section 3.8)

The revised procedures reflect the requirement to ensure consistency in the assessment of courses offered over multiple locations or modes of delivery.

  • When a course is offered in multiple modes and sites, the assessment tasks should be designed so that all students have an equal opportunity to engage with them. All offerings of the course will have equivalent assessment requirements designed to enable achievement of the course’s expected learning outcomes.
  • In the case of course offered in a dual mode (e.g. blended and online), students will be restricted to undertake the assessment tasks (where there is a difference) that relate to the delivery mode selected by the student on enrolment.
  • Point-of-assessment moderation should compare examples of student work from all sites, including online and third-party providers.
Early assessment and formative feedback (Procedures – Section 3.4 & Section 5.3)

The Higher Education Standards Framework (Threshold Standards) 2015 requires that students receive early feedback on their performance. The procedures clarify the role of the early assessment and when feedback is required:

  • Each course will include either an early assessment task or review activity that provides formative feedback on academic progress. If a task is chosen, it can have marks attached but the critical aspect is the feedback.
  • This formative feedback should be provided in the first third of the teaching weeks for the semester, trimester or session of the course.
Range of assessment types at program and course levels (Procedures – Sections 2.3 and 3.4)

No one type of task can demonstrate the full range of knowledge and skills students have gained. The procedures stress the importance of students engaging with multiple types of assessment at both the course and program levels.

Timing of feedback (Procedures – Section 5.5)

The revised procedures provide increased clarity regarding the provision of feedback on assessment tasks to students:

  • Students must receive feedback on submitted work before the next assessment task is due, when the tasks are related.
  • Feedback on assessment tasks will normally be provided within ten working days and must be provided within fifteen working days from the due date for the assessment task or the date when the task was submitted, whichever is the later.
  • Final assessment task - where feedback will not inform the submission of another task in the course, feedback on the assessment must be provided no later than with the submission of final grades.
Assessment submission (Procedures – Section 7.7)

The revised procedures reinforce the requirement that a single submission method is required per assessment task. Normally, the required method of submission of assessment tasks is electronically through the Learning Management System (Blackboard) or ePortfolio (Pebblepad). If an alternative submission method is required then this is identified in the Course Outline.

Course student workload (Procedures Section 7.6)

The time required for a student to complete the assessment tasks should be considered and included in the identified learning hours for the unit value of the course (150 learning hours for a 12-unit course).

Policy and Procedures

It’s all about assessment – Course Outline Focus

We know assessment is important; it’s about what we want students to learn, do and ultimately be. In reality however, assessment is complex, hard to get right and requires constant reflection on the efficacy, relevance, appropriateness and authenticity of the tasks. Therefore when revising Course Outlines there are significant elements for academics to consider:

What is the assessment approach?
  • Are both formative and summative assessment methods utilised? How are students given opportunity to build towards the assessment tasks? For example by scaffolding activities.
  • Does the course have a variety of meaningful assessment tasks? Tasks that intend to keep students motivated, encourage deep learning and embrace meaningful and authentic situations and issues. Refer to resources on designing and redesigning assessment.
How is the assessment aligned?
  • Are the selected assessment tasks the best way to indicate achievement of the intended learning outcomes (aiming for 3 summative assessment tasks)? Refer to resources on writing learning outcomes.
Is your assessment fit-for-purpose?
  • How well does the course assessment fit with the expectations / functions of the course in relation to the program structure? Refer resources on USC Graduate Attributes and Curriculum Renewal.
  • What is the relevance of the assessment type – as a skill, practice, process, experience, real world connection? Refer resources on Designing and redesigning assessment.
  • Does the course assessment meet the intended expectations for the level of difficulty? For example introductory, developing, graduate. Refer resources on USC Graduate Attributes and curriculum renewal.
  • What do you want your students to know and be able to do and how might they best demonstrate this?  Are the course learning outcomes written in appropriate language? Refer resources on Writing learning outcomes.
  • Are there a variety of feedback mechanisms – for students to gauge how well they are performing and guiding them to improve future –work throughout the course? Refer resources on Providing feedback on learning.
What is being assessed? What knowledge is being privileged?
  • Is the type of assessment used most frequently in the course the most effective and important form of evidence for your discipline?
  • Does the assessment in this course consider the assessment practice in the program?
  • Are there key competencies, skills and qualities that seem to be under-assessed?
  • Does the assessment suite make sense? Does assessment cascade-connect-build?
  • What gets the marks? Are there rubrics developed for each assessment task? Refer resources on designing rubrics.
What type of moderation is used?
  • Have you talked or shared your assessment tasks with a critical friend or colleague as part of a pre-assessment moderation phase? (To critique the clarity and appropriateness for the student group and intended learning outcome). Refer resources on moderation in practice.
Have you met the requirements of the assessment policy?

Does your course assessment meet the requirements of Assessment: Course and Coursework Programs - Academic Policy and the Assessment: Courses and Coursework Programs - Procedures in particular: 

  • 2-3 summative assessment tasks per course
  • Summative tasks have a single form of submission - electronic where possible
  • Guidelines for penalties, exemptions and renegotiations of due date have been updated
  • Limited grade courses are for WIL, projects, courses with professional competency requirements only
  • All tasks in a limited grade course are assessed using limited grades
  • Supplementary assessment made available to students who have a final cumulative grade of 47-49.4 (hurdle tasks have been phased out)
  • Moderation processes before, at point of and post assessment have been updated
  • Postgraduate course assessment requirements are flexible

Useful resources

Writing learning outcomes

Examining assessment tasks provides an opportunity to check back to your unit's learning outcomes. The Writing learning outcomes – Assessment Toolkit contains strategies for making learning outcomes transparent for your students and providing a starting point for assessment design (courtesy of Macquarie University).

Use the measurable verbs in Bloom's Taxonomy in the classroom to help you to create your intended learning outcomes.

Designing and redesigning assessment

Sally Brown (2004) identifies seven questions that you might ask when designing or redesigning an assessment task:

  1. What are the outcomes to be assessed?
  2. What are the capabilities/skills (implicit or explicit) in the outcomes?
  3. Is the method of assessment chosen consistent with the outcomes and skills?
  4. Is the method relatively efficient in terms of student time and staff time?
  5. What alternatives are there? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
  6. Does the specific assessment task match the outcomes and skills?
  7. Are the marking schemes or criteria appropriate?

These following three resources provide guidance on the possible range of assessment types, with rationale for why particular assessment types suit the achievement of certain learning outcomes. For instance, if aiming to develop critical thinking and ability to make judgements, then an essay, report, case presentation or newspaper article will be most appropriate assessment to align clearly with the intended learning outcomes and level of cognitive skills expected.

The Assessment Futures website provides overview on assessment reforms and access to the OLT (formerly ALTC) Report Assessment 2020: Seven propositions for assessment reform in higher education.

Designing rubrics

The about rubrics and why to use them tipsheet (PDF 260 KB) outlines the process of developing assessment rubrics, and gives rationale for their use and a guide to the Blackboard rubric tool at USC.

Moderation in practice

Moderation should be carried out at three phases – pre-assessment, point of assessment and post-assessment. This moderation – in practice checklist (PDF 117KB) gives questions that prompt each phase of moderation activity. There are also a range of practical ideas for good moderation activity (courtesy of University of Southern Queensland).

USC Graduate Attributes and curriculum renewal

USC's USC Graduate attributes model of curriculum renewal asks staff to view teaching and learning programmatically. The Graduate Attributes Guidebook - Starting with the end in mind provides you with a resource that supports a programmatic approach to curriculum renewal. It provides information about each of the Graduate Qualities and Graduate Skills as well as examples of how they may be embedded in course outline documents.

The draft Tool Kit for Graduate Attribute Program Mapping Reports has been produced to assist program leaders and other academics working with existing program curriculum design for any number of reasons. Curriculum planning and design is an increasingly complex process which must attend to numerous stakeholders – often a diverse group of subject area experts; new and evolving technologies; changing student demographics, capacity and expectations; as well as larger socio-political exigencies. The purpose of this short package is to suggest easy and direct tools and lenses to view current curriculum practice. Obviously this tool kit would just be one of the many strategies employed by the program team.

Providing feedback on learning

Principles of good feedback practices, from Flinders University, outlines the seven principles of good feedback practice from Nicol & McFarlane-Dick (2006). These principles suggest integrating feedback as part of normal teaching activities and making explicit to students when feedback on their learning is being received. They serve as a useful guide to teaching practice.


Biggs, J. Tang, C. 2009 Teaching for quality learning at university, Open University Press, UK

Brown, S. 2004 Assessment for learning, Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, Issue 1, 2004-05

Boud, D. 2000 Sustainable assessment: Rethinking assessment for the learning society, Studies in Continuing Education, Vol 22, (2), pp 151-167

Boud, D. 2010 Assessment 2020: Creating sustainable assessment for long-term learning, ALTC Report

Boud, D. Falchikov, N. 2007 Rethinking assessment in higher education, Taylor & Francis, UK

Merry, S., Price, M., Carless, D. Taras, M. 2013, Reconceptualising feedback in higher education, Routledge, UK


More information

The Centre for Support and Advancement of Learning and Teaching (CSALT) supports Program Leaders and Course Coordinators with their course outline development and curriculum renewal.

Contact CSALT