Criterion-referenced assessment (where students are assessed against predetermined criteria) is the most common way of assessing students in higher education.  Assessment criteria, therefore, serve as a base for staff to make judgement about students' performance and, for students to understand staff expectations. Writing assessment criteria is central to assessment design.

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.

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:

  • as opposed to showing the students the criteria, discuss and analyse them with them
  • 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