Skip to main content

Trinity College Dublin, The University of Dublin

Trinity Menu Trinity Search



You are here Staff Gateway to Digital Assessment > The What and Why of Assessment

The What and Why of Assessment

When we think of assessment, we might typically think of exams, assignments or essays, where the purpose of assessment is to measure student learning for progression or certification. However, in recent years our understanding of assessment has evolved and it is now generally recognised that assessment serves a range of purposes and importantly, plays a key role in driving and influencing students’ learning (Brown &  Race 2012). With this in mind, one of the most important roles of assessment is to enhance student learning and prepare students for life and work as a Trinity graduate. 

To make full and effective use of our assessment strategies, we also need to engage students in the assessment process and develop their assessment literacy. This involves developing a shared understanding of the purposes of assessment, standards expected and how academic judgements are made during the assessment process.  

This section aims to help you: 

  • define what is meant by assessment literacy 
  • distinguish between summative and formative assessment types 
  • identify the purpose of your assessments and the role they play in supporting and enhancing student learning.   

Click on the links below for more information. 

Assessment literacy

At its broadest level, ‘assessment literacy’ is a term that refers to a one's understanding of the language of assessment (Stefani 1998; Smith et al. 2013, 44; Price et al. 2012).  Assessment literacy is an evolving and all-encompassing concept and is commonly used to refer to one’s 

  • understanding of the relationship between assessment and learning 
  • understanding of the nature and meaning of assessment criteria and standards 
  • familiarity with established and newer assessment strategies and techniques 
  • understanding of academic integrity and plagiarism 
  • capacity to undertake self- and peer-assessment 
  • ability to design and implement assessment tasks appropriate to learning outcomes.  

Developing assessment literacy in partnership with students plays an important role in supporting and enhancing student learning. For example, students can gain valuable skills such as self-evaluation and meta-learning (learning about how you learn), skills which not only help them progress at university but are very useful in their future careers.  The Trinity Graduate Attributes highlight the importance of skills such as these.    

The Trinity Graduate Attributes

To Think Independently, To Communicate Effectively, To Develop Continuously, To Act Responsibly

Assessment and learning

Assessment can serve a range of purposes and it plays a key role in driving student learning. The scope and purpose of assessments is commonly conceptualised in three ways: 

  • Assessment OF Learning 
  • Assessment FOR Learning 
  • Assessment AS Learning 

The concept that underpins all three terms is that they are all used to facilitate student learning. And while the goals and purpose of each type of assessment might vary, they are not mutually exclusive -  some assessments may incorporate elements of more than one type. 

Click on the + signs below for more information. 

The purpose of assessment

In addition, assessment is often broken down into two main types: Summative and Formative.  To make the most of your assessments, it is helpful to understand the ways in which you might use summative or formative assessments within your modules. 

Formative Assessment: 

  • The main goal is to INFORM: to give students an idea of how they are progressing so far, and to help students target areas to work on in the future. 
  • Provides an opportunity for students to receive feedback on their work. 
  • Typically not graded or may have a small value towards a grade. 

Summative Assessment: 

  • Provides an opportunity for students to demonstrate the sum of their learning, in particular their achievement of the learning outcomes associated with a module or programme. 
  • The main goal is to evaluate, and get a “snapshot” insight into, a student's performance or achievement. 
  • Usually graded, high-stakes assessments that count towards a student's final mark e.g. end-of-semester examinations. 

Key Takeaways

  • To make full and effective use of our assessment strategies, we need to engage students in the assessment process and develop their assessment literacy. This involves developing a shared understanding of the purposes of assessment, standards expected and how academic judgements are made during the assessment process.
  • Assessment Literacy is a term which refers to ones understanding of the language of assessment. This includes ones
    • understanding of the relationship between assessment and learning
    • understanding of the nature and meaning of assessment criteria and standards
    • familiarity with established and newer assessment strategies and techniques
    • understanding of academic integrity and plagiarism
    • capacity to undertake self and peer assessment
    • ability to design and implement assessment tasks appropriate to learning outcomes.
  • Assessment usually serves one of three main purposes, assessment OF, FOR or AS learning.
  • In a digital context, assessment types may differ, but the purposes of assessment, and the standard expected, will remain the same.

Resources

  • Brown, S.& Race, P. (2012) Using effective assessment to promote learning: a learner-centred approach. In Hunt, L and Chalmers, D. University Teaching in Focus. 1st Ed. London: Routledge (pp.74-91)  

  • JISC (2015) Assessment literacies, Transforming assessment and feedback with technology. London: JISC  

  • National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education (2017) Expanding our Understanding of Assessment and Feedback in Irish Higher Education  

  • O’Farrell, C. & McEvoy, E. (2018) Assignment Self-Assessment Templates: Encouraging self-assessment in a digital context (PDF 868KB).  

  • O’Farrell, C. (2017) Assessment for Lifelong Learning (PDF 13,451KB).  

  • Price, M., C. Rust, B. O’Donovan, K. Handley, R. Bryant. 2012. Assessment Literacy. Oxford: Oxford Brookes University.  

  • Smith, C.D., Worsfold, K.,  Davies, L., Fisher, R., & McPhail, R (2013) Assessment literacy and student learning: the case for explicitly developing students’ ‘assessment literacy’. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 38, no. 1: 44-60.  

  • Stefani, L.A.J. (1998) Assessment in Partnership with Learners. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 23, no. 4: 339-350.  

  • Wride, M. (2017) Guide to Student Peer Assessment (PDF 3,544KB). Peer assessment can dramatically reduce the marking load on academic staff and allow them to devote their time to other aspects of teaching and learning. This pamphlet aims to introduce formative and summative peer assessment to academics who are considering implementing peer review in their teaching. It provides a ‘theory into practice’ approach and outlines techniques and examples for using formalised peer assessment more directly in the design of curricula and for making its use more explicit in the classroom. 

  • Wride, M. (2017) Guide to Student Self Assessment (PDF 3,657 KB). Self-assessment is defined as ‘the involvement of learners in making judgements about their achievements and the outcomes of their learning’ and is a valuable approach to supporting student learning, particularly when used formatively. Self-assessment supports student learning and is one of the most important skills that students require for future professional development and life-long learning, as it develops their capacity to be assessors of learning. This pamphlet introduces self-assessment to academics who are considering implementing it in their teaching. It provides a ‘theory into practice’ approach and outlines techniques and provides examples for integrating self-assessment more directly in the design of curricula. It argues for making its use in the classroom more explicit in order to help students learn more effectively. 

Next