Effective tutoring 3: Feedback, assessment and marking

Assessing your students

La Trobe's policy on assessment sets out the purpose, principles and approaches to assessing student learning, and where responsibility lies for maintaining standards and the integrity of processes. Some brief extracts from the policy document are reproduced below.

Assessment Policy

Policy Statement

'The University is responsible for defining the criteria for success at particular award levels. Assessment of student work must be criterion-referenced and aligned to specified learning outcomes, including graduate capabilities and the generic skills they encompass.

Within a subject, there should be both formative and summative assessment.

Assessment should be moderated using appropriate methods.Assessment should be equitable, objective and auditable and meet the needs of a diverse student population.

All examinations should be marked anonymously and staff should avoid situations requiring them to assess a student with whom they have, or have had, a significant personal relationship.'

LTU Academic Board, 2007


  • Formative assessment: monitoring student progress against standards and providing them with feedback comparing their progress to the standards with a view to helping them to achieve the standards.
  • Summative assessment: making judgement about student achievements against explicit standards and translating that judgement into a grade; used at the end of a subject.
  • Criterion-referenced assessment: students work is assessed with reference to written criteria derived from explicit learning outcomes.
  • Normative assessment: grades are awarded based on a predetermined distribution. The most common form of normative assessment assumes grades/marks are distributed according to a standard normal distribution curve. Each student's grade in the subject is determined in part by how well other students in the subject do.

Source: La Trobe academic policies on assessment

Assessment Procedure

Approaches to assessment and feedback

Various types of formative assessment can be used, including:

  • Self-assessment
  • Peer assessment
  • Teacher individual feedback
  • Teacher group feedback

Feedback should promote learning, be informative and constructive. It should address expected learning outcomes, identify strengths and weaknesses, give guidance on how to perform better and encourage students to develop strategies to prepare for future tasks.

Various forms of feedback may be given, including:

  • On line discussion
  • Tutorials
  • Written individual explanations
  • Lists of assessment criteria provided to students.

Feedback should be effective in its communication to students and its demands on staff time.

LTU Academic Board, 2007

How students learn: Surface and deep learning approaches

Good teaching is getting most students to do higher level or deep learning (Biggs & Tang, 2007).

Models of student approaches to learning mainly reflect a distinction between two orientations to learning (Ramsden, 2003; Biggs and Tang, 2007). These can be described in various binaries: meaning orientation or reproducing orientation, deep or surface learning, higher order learning or lower order learning, active learning or passive learning.

Active learning approaches in tutorials help create an environment in which students are more likely to engage in deep learning. Approaches to deep learning can be described as promoting intimate, critical, applicable, embodied understanding, which develop students' ability to adapt complex and critical understanding to real-life professional situations. Approaches to surface learning are useful for memorisation, recall, rote learning. While rote learning has its place, it is of limited value in solving problems in complex and ever-changing contexts.

Approaches to learning: Feedback and formative assessment

Feedback is any information or activity which "affords or accelerates learning …" (Hounsell, 2005). Its key function is to evaluate progress and achievement, and provide support and encouragement. It is important that students, tutors and teaching staff have a clear understanding of what feedback is particularly as it is included in the evaluation items for the Student Feedback on Teaching (See 5. Evaluation and Improvement)

Hounsell (2004), in his paper, Reinventing Feedback in the Contemporary University, makes the following points:

  • Feedback can be extrinsic (assessment focussed) or intrinsic (activity and practice based).
  • Feedback can be immediate and verbal – there is lack of engagement when it arrives after an assessment.
  • Feedback can be to a whole class e.g. the minute paper.
  • Feedback can be many to many - peer feedback. Student involvement in identifying strengths and weaknesses in their own and others' work.
  • Feedback can be a loop – it can be given on unfinished work.
  • Feed-forward – enables students to engage constructively with tutors' comments and to gain practice in revising.

McGowan (2008) suggests the use of marking rubrics (a set of printed instructions for marking and grading) as formative assessment. Formative assessment is typically aimed at providing early feedback to help students improve their learning, and is often ungraded. Summative feedback, on the other hand, such as examinations, tests and essays, is evaluative feedback usually summed up in a mark or grade.

  • Feedback: Use rubric as cover sheet, with ticked boxes for overview of strengths and weaknesses.
  • Feed-forward: Provide rubric as guideline before assignments, to set out criteria and levels of achievement).

A range of feedback techniques for use in classrooms are described by Angelo and Cross (1993) as Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATS). Some CATs that you might want to consider include:

  • Minute paper: Is a reflective exercise where students are asked to take a minute and write down their thoughts. This is often used as an evaluation strategy; the key in making best use of the minute paper is not the questions you ask but how you make use of the feedback from students to guide their future learning (See 5. Evaluation and Improvement p37).
  • Misconception/Preconception check: ask students before you start a topic what their ideas are about it. Then use this as the starting point for talking about how the area is understood within your discipline.
  • Categorising grid: when approaching problems, students often need to understand which category of problem they are dealing with. By providing them with a grid that lays out the problem solution space and then getting them to suggest where the problem sits you can get an idea about how they are approaching problems.
  • Concept Maps: Students draw a diagram or maps between major concepts showing mental connections.
  • Group Instructional Feedback Technique: Students are asked three questions about the class: What works? What doesn't? What can be done to improve it?

Transition, development, and achievement

Assessment is most effective if students receive formative feedback before the final, summative assessment. Taylor (2008), set out a model of assessment in which low risk, early assessment is integrated into the semester, and formative and summative assessment is organised as assessment for transition, for development, and for achievement.

Marking and consistency

Assessment at La Trobe is criterion-referenced, as described in the policy statement:

  • Assessment of student work must be criterion-referenced and aligned to specified learning outcomes, including graduate capabilities and the generic skills they encompass.

The distinction is made between criterion and normative assessment:

  • Criterion-referenced assessment: students' work is assessed with reference to written criteria derived from explicit learning outcomes. That is, each student's work is compared against a set standard of quality or performance and no student's grade is influenced by any other student's performance.
  • Norm-referenced assessment: grades are awarded based on a predetermined distribution. The most common form of normative assessment assumes grades/marks are distributed according to a standard normal distribution curve. Each student's grade in the subject is determined, at least in part, by how well other students in the subject do.
    Source: Assessment Policy, La Trobe University

The Assessment Policy further describes conditions for assessment:

  • Within a subject, there should be both formative and summative assessment. Assessment should be moderated using appropriate methods. Assessment should be equitable, objective and auditable and meet the needs of a diverse student population. Assessment Policy, La Trobe University

La Trobe University Grading Schema

80 - 100%:  pass A
70 - 79%:    pass B
60 - 69%:    pass C
50 - 59%:    pass D
Ungraded pass P (May also denote satisfactory completion of a Masters Prelim course or postgraduate thesis)

Consistency in marking

Consistency in marking, or moderation, is aimed at ensuring fairness in marking, and requires finding or establishing agreement between markers.

Procedures for marking are set out in La Trobe University's assessment policies (Assessment Procedures):

  • Where there is more than one marker, selected pieces of work from each assessment task should be reviewed by the subject co-ordinator to verify the level and consistency of the marks allocated by the markers. This process, called moderation, increases the reliability of the assessment process and application of standards, promotes consistency, supports objectivity and establishes a shared understanding of standards and fairness in assessment.
    (Assessment Procedures, La Trobe University)

Each faculty has its own interpretation of the assessment policies, along with slightly different implementation practices. You will, therefore, need to ask your subject coordinator about local practices concerning issues such as submission of work, applications and penalties for extensions, assessment criteria, moderation, collation of grades, double marking requirements, academic misconduct and plagiarism.

Where large cohorts of students are involved, moderation can be approached at the subject coordination level, as a team process, involving meeting at:

  • The assessment design stage – to review marking criteria.
  • The marking stage, before processing of marks. Where there is more than one marker, selected pieces of work from each assessment task should be reviewed by the subject coordinator to verify the level and consistency of the marks allocated by the markers.
  • The end of semester, to review the subject assessment procedure.

Orrell (2006), describes some strategies to achieve reliability:

  • Multiple marking of the same paper by either the same assessor or by two different assessors.
  • Blind marking.
  • Marking all responses to the same question in the case of tests that contain several short answer questions.
  • Establishing standards using model assignments.
  • Neutral external examiners.

Example of Marking Procedures

From the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences academic policies:

Marking procedures

In subjects from first to third year level the all individual written work worth 25% or more of the available marks must be marked in the following manner. It is the responsibility of Schools to ensure that where non-written work, such as a performance, is assessable, comparable procedures are adopted to ensure reliable assessment.

  • Double-marking of all As and Ns; this need not be "blind", but may simply be a check on the appropriateness of the mark.
  • In the event of disagreement:
    • the markers are to discuss the work and attempt to arrive at an agreed mark which will then stand;
    • where agreement cannot be reached on the mark, the result will be the average of the two marks provided the markers agree on the grade
    • where agreement on the grade cannot be reached the Program Coordinator (or Head of School if the Program Coordinator is one of the markers) will appoint a third marker who will, after considering the opinions of the two previous markers and the work in question, act as an adjudicator and determine the final mark.
  • Assessment meeting: subject co-ordinators must arrange a meeting of all staff involved in assessment in the subject to discuss criteria and to expose new markers to the expectations of the subject.
  • New markers will be involved in cross-marking with an experienced marker either at the assessment meeting or by submitting a sample of their marked work to an experienced examiner before returning it to students.

Assessment criteria examples

The selected examples below are not meant to be illustrative of the huge variety of assessment situations within all of the faculties.

Examples of Assessment Criteria

The following two examples are from the University of Sydney's Economics Unit of study outline guidelines,

Example 1: Assessment criteria for discussion board

Criteria 1: Active participation throughout the semester (number and continuity of contributions).
Search and print out your discussion board record with title and date.

Criteria 2: Use of appropriate computer mediated communication protocols.

  • Ability to follow threads.
  • Can attach documents.
  • Can compose messages when appropriate.
  • Can post correctly to topic or forum.

Criteria 3: Collaborative learning

  • Demonstrates reading of other contributions either by commenting or adding to other postings.
  • Encourages others to respond because of the nature of the contribution (e.g. posing questions, provocative statements, widens debate).
  • Fail = no attempt to be collaborative, just posts textbook answer or 'I agree with everyone' with no further collaborative approach.
  • Pass = makes attempt to be collaborative not just 'I agree with everyone else'.
  • High Distinction = effective engagement (e.g. # responses or style of language), summary of previous discussion points, provocation to encourage debate.

Criteria 4: Application of theory
Demonstrates ability to apply theory in other situations (e.g. at work, family, group, uni).

Criteria 5: Appropriate analytical annotations
Demonstrates ability to plan and analyse postings to ensure incorporation of theories,
collaborative comments. 

Example 2: Assessment criteria for class presentation
(marking guide for major essay)
Marking criteria Very poor Poor Satisfactory Good Very good MARK

CONTENT (? Marks)

The student has:

  • Interpreted the instruction/question appropriately.
  • Clearly addressed the topic with appropriate elaboration of relevant sub-topics, appropriately weighted and within the prescribed word count.
  • Demonstrated an understanding of the necessary concepts/perspective/theories.
  • Used sufficient and appropriate material from relevant and credible sources to effectively support the key points.
  • Followed any instructions on the number and type of references to be used.
  • Demonstrated the ability to critically reflect upon key ideas/issues/findings. 


  • The introduction is appropriate to the type and format of response and clearly outlines the focus.
  • The body of the response is well structured, with coherent and logical development of key ideas in appropriate sections/paragraphs.
  • Each section/paragraph has a clear focus and line of thought.
  • The conclusion is appropriate to type and format of the response, successfully summarising the key ideas/issues/findings.


  • The writing style is appropriate to the task.
  • The writing is fluent, exhibiting grammatically correct sentences that are appropriately punctuated.
  • There are no spelling or typing errors and due regard is given to rules of capitalisation and abbreviation, etc.
  • Key ideas from the literature are effectively paraphrased and cited, and direct quotes are appropriately incorporated. 


  • The response conforms to the appropriate style guide advice and the requirements of the specified format (font, margins etc). 


  • In-text citations and direct quotes follow referencing guide rules.
  • Reference list and/or bibliography appropriately compiled. 
Top available marks - ?              Total mark obtained /?
Example 3: Group peer assessment
Please assess your group members individually by ticking the appropriate box in each of the following ten categories. 
Name (of colleague being assessed):
  Criteria not met Meets criteria Exceeds criteria  
Regularly makes a useful contribution in group discussion e.g. (X)    Finds it difficult to be a contributing group member
Can be relied upon to carry out allocated duties accurately and without supervision     Needs more supervision than most in carrying out instructions assigned to him/her
Works amicably with others as a member of a team     Has difficulty in working with colleagues and is sometimes not accepted as a member of the team
Responds well to instructions / advice / criticism     Resents criticism and is reluctant to accept advice
Is consistently courteous and helpful to colleagues     Appears off-hand and casual in dealing with colleagues
Shows excellent ability to plan and complete own work     Has not yet learned to organise own work effectively
Is outstanding in ability to organise and supervise work of others     Is not able to organise and supervise work of others
Grasps essentials very quickly     Has difficulty in recognising essentials
Successfully anticipates the requirements of new situations and takes appropriate action     Has difficulty in recognising implications of new situations
Is good at solving problems     Has difficulty in suggesting solutions to problems
Your name:                                               Date:
Example 4: Rubric for evaluating online discussions
Weekly online discussions rubric
Criteria Excellent Good Average Poor
Timely discussion contributions 5-6 postings well distributed throughout the week 4-6 postings distributed throughout the week 3-6 posting somewhat distributed 2-6 postings not distributed throughout the week
Responsiveness to discussion and demonstration of knowledge and understanding gained from assigned reading Very clear that readings were understood and incorporated well into responses Readings were understood and incorporated into responses Postings have questionable relationship to reading material Not evident that readings were understood and/or not incorporated into discussion
Adherence to online protocols all online protocols followed 1 online protocol not adhered to 2-3 online protocols not adhered to 4 or more online protocols not adhered to
Points 9-10 8 6-7 5 or less

Source: Dabbagh, 2000

Academic Integrity and plagiarism

Academic integrity means being honest in academic work. University work needs to meet the highest standards of integrity because university research has impact on many communities. La Trobe University is committed to academic integrity, so it promotes academic honesty and teaches the conventions of academic acknowledgment.

Academic Integrity at La Trobe

Student Learning and Engagement
An approach to academic integrity that brings both an ethical and formative assessment
approach to teaching and learning.

Referencing to promote academic integrity and avoid plagiarism
Subject resources and referencing guides

The text matching software Turnitin, which can be used to identify coincidences between a
student's paper, published materials, and other works submitted to Turnitin.


Plagiarism occurs when you use another person's words, ideas or other work but do not clearly indicate that you have borrowed or used these. For example, you might copy or reproduce words, sentences or whole sections from a book, journal, website or even another student's essay without acknowledging that you have used this work. It is also considered to be plagiarism if you copy or reproduce pictures, diagrams and other non-text materials without acknowledgement.

According to section 1 of The Academic Integrity Policy: Guidelines for Identifying and Avoiding Plagiarism (2010, p. 1) there are many forms of plagiarism.

These include:

  • Direct copying of sentences, paragraphs or other extracts from someone else's published work (including on the Internet and in software) without acknowledging the source;
  • Paraphrasing someone else's words without acknowledging the source;
  • Using facts and information derived from a source without acknowledging it;
  • Using ideas directly derived from an identifiable author without acknowledging the source;
  • Producing assignments which should be the student's own independent work in collaboration with and/or using the work of other people (e.g. A student or tutor).

Further Reading