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Programme-level assessment

Assessment is carried out at the module level so a clear relationship between PLOs and module outcomes and assessments is crucial to ensuring that all PLOs are both developed and assessed appropriately across modules and stages of a programme.  Many programmes include modules which explicitly aim to integrate learning beyond the individual module level and to consider outcomes across an entire term, stage or programme. 

Programme-level assessments can provide a useful focus for developing and assessing PLOs which can strengthen a sense of programme development and can also increase the diversity of assessment as part of approaches to making assessment more inclusive.

The Programme Assessment Strategies project (PASS) explored a range of programme-level approaches to integrative assessment at term, stage and Programme and incorporates a number of case studies from a range of Higher Education Institutions.  

The PASS website hosts a series of case studies on programme focused assessment, with attention to integrative level / year assessment tasks. One such example is Peninsula Medical School’s assessment modules (pdf) which run through their five-year programme. These assessment modules are not linked to specific areas of teaching but are designed around a spiral curriculum: this approach enables assessment to revisit topics longitudinally ‘with the aim of reinforcing learning and allowing for increasing complexity, with plenty of time for student-selected special study units and electives, as well as self-directed learning’.

Examples of such modules and assessments include:

Final Year Projects and Dissertations (FYPD)

Dissertations have long provided a vehicle through which students are able to integrate learning from across a programme of study and apply it into an extended piece of independent research.  In recent years, interest has grown in diversifying the final year project to introduce an element of choice into the Final year project and to incorporate a broader range of skills.

Mike Healey’s study of FYPD Developing and enhancing undergraduate final-year projects and dissertations focuses on the value, role and experience of FYPDs in higher education supported by over 70 different case studies organised by type and discipline. He focuses on an extension of the ideas of ‘students as producers’ of knowledge through the FYPD, emphasising the broad variety in their conception, purpose, organisation, location and nature of the outputs involved with FYPDs involving, for example, performances or artefacts; work-based projects or consultancy projects in industry settings; communication or teaching-focused projects; engagement with community groups and an increased focus on impact and dissemination.

A flavour of these differences is given by the following dimensions (p25):

FYPD can range from...



Community or work-based

Undertaken at the University

Undertaken away from the University

Research career preparation

Preparation for a range of possible careers

Student learning centred

Outcome/ product centred


Multi- or inter-disciplinary

Student initiated

Teacher/supervisor initiated

Individual work

Group work


Part of a larger project or set of projects

Completed within the course

Building on/ revisiting the work of previous cohorts

Original to the student

Original to the discipline

University audience

Professional/ public audience

Emphasising in-depth analysis

Emphasising synthesis of knowledge/skills

Assessed by academics

Assessed by peers/ professionals

Individual supervision

Group/ peer supervision

The potential is clearly there for the FYPD to provide a focus for all key programme level outcomes. Ensuring that module learning activities and assessments build towards the FYPD can also support staging through the programme and improve the quality of the outcome and the benefits for students. Healy’s review makes it clear that a high quality and transformative FYPD is more likely to be effected if preparation begins not in the final year, but from the outset of the programme. The FYPD can thus provide a vehicle for a ‘capstone’ project which allows for assessment of students’ overall achievements and their ability to integrate and apply the skills that they have developed through the programme.

Such activities can also support students in making explicit the value of their experiences to potential employers. This can be further supported through activities aiming to explicitly link the FYPD to employability through, for example, dissemination activities or oral assessments.

Project work and authentic assessments



At earlier stages of a programme, modules involving project work and authentic, ‘real world’ assessment can also provide a focus for programme-level assessment and development towards the PLOs (as well as potentially providing supported and assessed preparation for the FYPD).

As with FTPD, project work and authentic assessment can involve the need for students to ‘bring together’ their learning from a range of modules and apply this through a challenging task involving the creation of a usable product (eg learning resources, reports, or recommendations) or a useful performance (eg delivery of an event or a presentation). The task framework is likely to involve a focus on ‘skills’ (academic literacy skills such as critical thinking, reading, academic communication, as well as ‘transferable’, ‘employability’ skills such as digital literacy, group working and leadership skills). There is also likely to be a focus on the process of development as well as the end product.

'Introductory resource: Authentic assessment’ (Arnold). 

Section 12 of the Guide to Assessment, Standards, Marking and Feedback provides detailed guidance on assessed group projects.

Portfolio learning and assessment

Portfolio assessments allow for the development and submission of a collection of artefacts demonstrating learning and the achievement of learning outcomes drawn together by narrative/reflection.

They can be used effectively for learning and assessment at stage and programme level by providing a focus for students to chart and demonstrate their progress towards these outcomes incorporating evidence from a range of sources.

There is scope for an increased level of student control, negotiation and personalisation; a greater focus on process; and increased attention to the development of underpinning skills such as self-assessment and reflection.

The Law School incorporates portfolios to support Problem-Based Learning within the curriculum aiming to draw learning together across the stages of the UG programmes. Portfolios can also support a final capstone assessment tasking students to demonstrate their achievement of the Programme Learning Outcomes. They can thus provide a powerful means of drawing learning together at Programme level and can be used to provide supporting reflection and narrative for project outputs or dissertations.

Efficient assessment of portfolios - Report prepared by the Centre for Recording Achievement exploring HE practices in portfolio assessment and moderation and offering advice on maximising efficiency and effectiveness of portfolios as an assessment tool.