Designing Summative Assessment

Overview and Expectations


Assessment is a key driver of student work, and should be designed to make the maximum contribution to capturing student learning. 

Assessment remains located within individual modules. The York Pedagogy aims to ensure that summative assessment is designed coherently and collectively across the whole programme. Summative assessment of modules should reflect the stage of development of the PLOs through each year of study, capture learning and support students’ progressive achievement of these concepts and skills in the most effective way. This means that the assessment is:

  • effective in supporting and measuring students’ progress toward the achievement of programme learning outcomes;
  • ambitious enough to challenge and stretch our students to the highest standards at every stage;
  • efficient in terms of workload for both students and staff.

Expectation for change

Programme teams need to ensure their summative assessment practices align with the Programme Learning Outcomes, the designed Student Work and the agreed Staff – Student Contact pattern. For example, the nature and timing of assessment should be designed to evaluate and make the most effective contribution to student learning at that particular point in the programme, in relation to the progressive development of programme learning outcomes. 

The assessment plan will need to be recorded in the new Programme Specification document and will be used to produce a clear picture of the assessment pattern for staff and students.


Research and Associated Materials

ASKe - the Assessment Standards Knowledge exchange - Pedagogy Research Centre

ASKe  was established as a Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) based at Oxford Brookes University Business School. ASKe has produced significant research in the area of HE assessment, marking and feedback and numerous resources.

The PASS Project (Programme Assessment Strategies)

Funded by the HE Academy's NTFS project strand, this project aimed to confront the fundamental issue of how to design an effective, efficient, inclusive and sustainable assessment strategy which delivers the key course/programme outcomes.


Sustainable Assessment

Sustainable assessment is based on the proposition that assessment must support learning. More than this, it must support the processes of learning that students need beyond the point of graduation. This means that our conception of assessment needs to move beyond that of testing what has been taught, or measuring learning outcomes, to encompass one that builds the capacity of students to be effective assessors for themselves and for others.

David Boud (2000) Sustainable Assessment: Rethinking assessment for the learning society, Studies in Continuing Education, 22:2, 151-167:

Re-Engineering Assessment Practices in Scottish Higher Education (REAP) 

A website produced by the Universities of Strathclyde, Glasgow and Glasgow Caledonian, with funding from the Scottish Funding Council. The project piloted the redesign of formative assessment and feedback practices in large-enrolment first-year modules and developed strategies for embedding new thinking about assessment into institutional policies and processes.

Shared Understanding and Assessment Literacy

Rust, C., O’Donovan, B., and Price, M. (2010) A social constructivist assessment process model: how the research literature shows us this could be best practice.

Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education. Oxford Brookes University, UK:

Presentation by Margaret Price at Southampton University: Assessment literacy: making the link between satisfaction and learning:

Roediger, H.L., Smith, M.A., Putnam, A.L., (2012) Ten benefits of testing and their applications to educational practice. In Mestre, J, Ross, B.H., Psychology of Learning and Motivation, Sand Diego: Elsevier Academic Press.


Available Support and People to Consult

The central York Pedagogy project team is able to help you to explore the issues arising from this theme.  

They can work to review current assessment practice in terms of volume, formative Vs summative balance; timing; type and amount of feedback.  This can then provide data on which to base discussion regarding improving the shape of learning, feedback and assessment throughout a programme.

  • facilitation of a discussion on matching programme learning outcomes to types of assessment e.g.
  • mapping assessment level and challenge against PLOs – how to ensure that progression is designed into the programme and that feedforward support is given to students;
  • mapping assessment against time – ways to avoid bunching. 

The central team is also able to offer advice and workshops for programme or faculty teams on themes such as:

  • developing shared understanding of assessment standards and expectations
  • using technology to support assessment and feedback: defined response testing (formative and high stakes); approaches to e-marking and the use of e-portfolios; online submission of student work. Further details on the support that the ELDT offers is available here
  • how to use more varied assessment types (e.g. group-work; Posters; Paired Presentations; Assertion / Reason MCQs)
  • planning progression through writing-based assessment, marking and feedback
  • engaging students with formative assessment– developing peer-marking and peer-feedback practice
  • marking fairness and consistency e.g. undertaking table-marking
  • using oral assessments: presentations, posters and vivas
  • the University’s Assessment, Standards, Marking and Feedback rules
  • assessment information needed for the programme specification documents.



Technology-enhanced Learning Handbook

Technology-enhanced Learning Handbook – particularly:

Section 6: assessment and feedback

E-assignment – online submission of work

  • Feedback can be pushed through e-vision
  • Blackboard – on screen marking
  • VLE exam – potential for automated marking (see VLE exam case study)
  • Formative assessment – technology for auto-marking – online peer assessment?
  • Case study: assessment activity in the VLE

Transforming Assessment in HE

This is one of a series of strategic frameworks produced by the Higher Education Academy (HEA). The framework offers a structure for higher education providers to engage with the process of transforming assessment.


The TESTA Project (Transforming the Experience of Students through Assessment)

Transforming the Experience of Students through Assessment (TESTA) is an approach to curriculum review which aims to improve the quality of student learning through addressing programme-level assessment. The TESTA approach has been used with more than 100 programmes in over 40 UK universities, and in Australia, India and the USA. TESTA works with academics, students, and managers - and for academics, students and managers - to identify study behaviour, generate assessment patterns to foster deeper learning across whole programmes, and debunk regulatory myths which prevent assessment for learning. Co-ordinated programme-wide assessment policy and practice is requirewd to address both these issues (see Gibbs, 2016). 

Fifteen departments at the University of York have undertaken TESTA and used the results to inform improvements in feedback and assessment. These include:

English UG
History UG
Archaeology UG
Economics UG
Health Sciences UG
Management UG
Social Policy UG
Sociology UG
Education UG
Computer Science UG
Maths UG
Physics UG
Chemistry UG
Environment UG and PGT

Running TESTA

TESTA is run in conjunction with ASO. Departments are also free to bid for Rapid Response Funding to support their own GTAs and postdocs in the gathering and analysis of student data. 

TESTA is comprised of six key steps:

  1. Programme audit
    Programme leaders work with their ProPEL contact to map out the various forms of assessment and feedback available to a student on a typical programme pathway.

  2. Student data
    Students participate in an Assessment Experience Questionnaire (AEQ) and a series of focus groups to give an in-depth insight into how assessment and feedback practices influence their study patterns. ProPEL contacts work with the department to schedule the gathering of data, and usually a GTA is employed the analyse the data. 

  3. TESTA report
    The ProPEL contact produces a report that summarises this data and suggests areas of assessment and feedback practice for further consideration.

  4. Departmental discussion
    Departments meet as a whole (at a Board of Studies, Teaching Committee, or staff away day) to explore the report within the context of wider programme enhancements. 

  5. Action plan
    The department produces an action plan outlining any changes of enhancements they wish to make, and any forms of support needed to implement theses changes. 

  6. Change process
    With the ongoing support of ASO, departments implement their enhancement plans.

TESTA and the Pedagogy

 The main themes arising from TESTA reports undetaken to date include:

  • the timeliness of feedback (particularly in relation to its usefulness as a tool for feeding forward),
  • ensuring progression is demonstrated through assessments throughout the programme,
  • the appropriateness of assessment formats (including high volumes of exams in some programmes adn high volumes of coursework in others, with assessment through group work also notes as an area for review),
  • the high number of assessment formats (in terms of range),
  • the clarity of assessment critera,
  • the quality of feedback. 

TESTA outcomes for a number of programmes also noted the following discussion points:

  • streamlining programme aims an PLOs,
  • developing a shared understanding of programme aims for staff and students,
  • improving programme coherence and structure,
  • engaging students more effectively,
  • reducing the volume of assessment,
  • balancing formative and summative assessment,
  • providing opportunities for formative feedback,
  • reducing the possibility of students taking a strategic approach to assessment choices.

Who to Contact

Please contact either Cecilia Lowe in ASO ( or your ProPEL contact for further information.

Further Reading

Gibbs, G. and Dunbar-Goddet, H. (2007) The effects of programme assessment environments on student learning. York: Higher Education Academy: