Criterion-referenced assessment (where students are assessed against predetermined criteria) is the most common way of assessing students in higher education.  Assessment criteria, therefore, help staff make judgements about students' performance in a consistent and reliable way. They are also essential for students, as they enable them to understand what is expected from assessed work. For that reason, they should be shared with students and written in a way which is accessible and understandable. 

Effective assessment criteria:

  • are clear and unambiguous – avoid lengthy, too specific criteria
  • cover enough aspects of the course to be manageable to students/ staff
  • identify which learning outcomes are assessed
  • indicate what is required for each band/ grade
  • are linked to learning outcomes and the methods of assessment.

The University of Newcastle offers useful advice and tips on writing assessment criteria.

Helping students understand assessment criteria

Students often find it difficult to understand the criteria and therefore approach an assessment task without fully understanding what the lecturer's expectations are. Some ideas of how you can help students understand the criteria include:

  • discuss and analyse the criteria with them, as part of a session
  • discuss the criteria alongside examples of past work; 
  • involve students in assessment exercises where they mark or comment on other students' work in relation to defined criteria and standards
  • organise workshops where students in collaboration with the teacher, devise their own assessment criteria for a piece of work

Here are the tips of the University of Newcastle to help students understand assessment criteria.