Setting – Step by Step

This section considers how to set work at the module/assessment task level. The information and resources in this section are applicable when assessment and re-assessment tasks are being written and submission dates established.

Module Leaders who are modifying their modules (see modification process) are responsible for consulting with all relevant stakeholders before seeking approval of modifications (e.g. current students, staff from other faculties who teach on the course, External Examiners).

The content provides a practical approach to the following:

Setting assessment tasks
There are a range of assessment tasks that can be used for formative and summative assessment purposes. These can be categorised as: written examinations, coursework and practicals. These are the KIS categories (HEFCE, 2012). Within these categories there is a range of assessment activity types, including essays; presentations and oral examinations; portfolios; peer and self-assessment; group work; dissertations; and projects. Each of these activity types needs to be adapted to ensure an appropriate fit with purpose and context.

Click on Assessment Tasks in the left hand menu for a full list and description of a range of assessment tasks.

See A-Z Assessment Methods for further information.

How can technology help?

Assessment can be enhanced by technology (See Technology Enhanced Assessment & Feedback document in the ‘Resources’ section for more information.). Some support formative outcomes more than summative – and vice versa. Each of these approaches, and the other techniques used to support and evaluate successful learning, allow for the many variables that enable academics to customise them so that they work for them and their students.

Feedback and Assessment NUS Benchmarking Toolkit for feedback and assessment is based on 10 principles of effective practice – use it to map your practice and suggest areas for improvement.

Assessment Tariff

In order to ensure that students and staff are not overburdened with assessment, the University suggests an Assessment Tariff to ensure consistency between modules with equal weightings across the University’s courses. An assessment tariff details the assessment methods and balance of assessment loading across a module. Suggested lengths of examinations and coursework word guidance are available in section 2.3 of Principles and Procedures for Summative Assessment.

Word Limits

It is recognised that there are many forms of written assessment tasks being set for students. Standardisation of word limits is neither desirable nor achievable in practice across the University.

Although the University does not set a policy on word limits, word guidance must be provided to students for all assessment tasks. Word guidance provides a clear steer to students of the number of words that are expected to answer a question appropriately. Guidance on length of assessment for summative tasks is available in section 2.3 of Principles and Procedures for Summative Assessment.

The University recognises that there may be subject areas who wish to set word limits for specific assessments, and to set a penalty for students who do not reach or who exceed the word limit.  Where a limit is set and penalties applied, it must be clearly articulated to students how the word limit is managed. The feedback to students on an assessment which breaches the word limit must clearly show how the penalty has been applied.  It is considered good practice to have a consistent course approach to the penalties set.

Threshold Standards relating to assessment and feedback Threshold Standards

Identifying suitable approaches to feedback
There are various approaches to giving feedback. These include: personal written feedback; online objective feedback; feedback grids; objective feedback; audio feedback; generic feedback; peer feedback; self-regulated feedback; feed forward; dialogic feedback. Some of these methods are more about the practical means of giving the feedback, while others describe feedback more in terms of how it engages the learner. Both of these dimensions should be considered when deciding how feedback will feature in an assessment strategy. With each of these approaches consideration needs to be given to the quantity (length/ duration), style and voice, role /purpose of the feedback (i.e. formative or summative).

Formative feedback refers to the information and advice students receive about their performance and how they can improve it. The timing of formative feedback is often important so students can apply it, for example before assessment tasks are attempted.

Summative feedback refers to the formal comments made by the academic with responsibility for assessing a student’s work so that the student is clear about their level of achievement, the way their work has been assessed, and how their work could be improved. As a formal component of assessment design, summative feedback aligns closely and consistently with the course learning outcomes and often relates directly to assessment criteria.

Summative feedback should help students to reflect on what they have done and how they can do better and, in this sense, is also formative in nature. Often the formative aspect of feedback on assigned tasks will help the learner to develop their capability as a learner. In this way it is more likely to be applied to future assignments.

Designing your feedback

There is no single off-the-shelf ‘solution’ for providing effective feedback. Feedback methods need to be carefully considered and adapted to meet the teaching and learning context. Here are some things to consider:

  • Acting on feedback – A student should be able to act upon the feedback they receive. Are you clear about what you expect the student to do with the feedback you are giving? How will this be communicated to the student? How will you monitor their engagement with the feedback they have received?
  • Useful and usable – Feedback reinforces and is integral to the teaching. It relates to assessment criteria and intended outcomes. Feedback should respond directly to a piece of work, but it should also be part of an ongoing dialogue that occurs in diverse formal and informal situations.
  • Aligned with the assessment criteria – Feedback should bring clarity and focus, create consistency, encourage and support self and peer assessment, to explain what is expected and promote self-regulated improvement.
  • Orienting, dialogic and motivating – Good feedback on assessment keeps the learning alive.
  • Supportive and personal – Inadequate feedback can send a strong message about a lack of interest in the student and their work, and this can lead to alienation. Feedback provides you, as tutor, with a way to demonstrate your interest in the work of each student, thereby fostering self-efficacy and affecting a sense of belonging and student motivation.
  • Ready when needed – Feedback needs to be accessible for when the student is ready to engage with it, now and in the future too. Can technology help?
  • Connected – Think about the student’s course experience – how can you give feedback so that your feedback can be applied by the student at other points in their course?
  • Strategic and targeted – Are you, and therefore the student, clear whether this is a general point or is it a specific point about their work that you are making? Is this what the student needs now?
  • Focused – How much detail is useful? How broad should the scope of the feedback be? What is the best way of giving feedback this time? Good focused feedback excludes some comments – be clear about, or develop, other approaches to addressing some needs.

There is an interactive PowerPoint presentation in the Resources section (Electronic Feedback Guide) which takes you through the various electronic feedback methods and tools you can use to facilitate your online feedback. 

See Framework for Feedback on Assessment for reference.

How can technology help?

Feedback can be enhanced by technology in the majority of cases.  See Technology Enhanced Assessment & Feedback document in the ‘Resources’ section for more information.

Technology offers:

  • Convenience in the production of feedback and the access it provides students
  • Timeliness: easy management, effective distribution; time-saving; just-in-time use
  • Variety of electronic tools and media
  • Legibility and comprehension, making feedback more usable
NUS Feedback and Assessment Benchmarking Toolkit is based on 10 principles of effective practice – use it to map your practice and suggest areas for improvement.

Threshold Standards relating to assessment and feedback Threshold Standards

Assessment criteria
The accepted practice at the University is the use of criterion-referenced grading for measuring learner performance. Its purpose is to measure an individual’s achievement against precise and explicit criteria, with clear levels of achievement.

Assessment criteria should enable learners and other stakeholders to be clear about what is being assessed and when; how are marks allocated; and how grades are decided.

Students expect assessment briefs and grading criteria to be readily available for all assessments. These must be made available at the start of each module e.g, via module guides and module Blackboard sites.

Assessment criteria are a set of criterion statements that clearly explain how students’ submitted work will be judged in relation to the course or module learning outcomes. Well-defined assessment criteria should:

  • relate directly to the module learning outcomes;
  • indicate what is required at a pass level, in a positive way;
  • help learners know what they need to do and how to do it;
  • help learners understand what is expect at differing levels of achievement;
  • be understandable to all stakeholders;
  • be manageable in number;
  • be distinct from each other;
  • be seen as an indication of achievement rather than an exact measurement.

Further information about what is required to achieve a particular grade/mark should be expressed in a more detailed breakdown of each criterion. These breakdowns or differentiated descriptors articulate how the level of achievement will be judged.

When developing criteria, it is helpful to think of them in terms of a flow chart, linking one stage to the next:



Further guidance on writing learning outcomes can be found in the ‘Resources’ section.

Faculties are responsible for ensuring that all reassessment instruments are published to students in a timely and consistent fashion.

Module leaders will normally set referral/deferral tasks at the same time as setting the first sit tasks, prior to release to students at the start of teaching. Reassessment of work is undertaken on a task-for task basis.

Re-assessment submission points will be set up in a separate content area in Blackboard based on the re-assessment information provided over the summer. These will be created as unavailable but the module leaders will need to make these available closer to the time of re-assessment.

Here is some standard text which module leaders can make available to students about the wider support available to them when they’re undertaking reassessments:

Support for your academic studies is available from the Learning Essentials page on shuspace – follow the link at the top of the screen for information on sessions run by The Skills Centre covering all sorts of topics, from improving your writing to stats help to revision skills. Exam tips are also available online. The Help and Support link on shuspace also provides links to information about the full range of Student Support Services such as Wellbeing (mental health, counselling and chaplaincy) services.


Following referral, the assessment task will be capped at the minimum module pass mark, i.e. 40% for levels 3-6 and 50% for level 7 modules. For all modules referral will be on a ‘task for task’ basis:

  • The referral should normally be in the same form and content as the initial assessment task and normally a new piece of work should be set, except for an individual project or dissertation. Where variation is necessary this should be clearly noted during internal and external moderation of assessment instruments.
  • Where a module is not passed, the student should take all assessment tasks that have a mark below the minimum pass mark.
  • Where reassessment is taken, the best mark is used to calculate the overall module result.
  • Where reassessment is not taken, a mark of zero will be recorded but the previous mark will be used to calculate the overall module result. Following referral the assessment task will be capped at the minimum module pass mark.


If an Extenuating Circumstances Panel agrees that a student’s circumstances are valid and acceptable, the student will be given a deferral in the assessment task that the student claimed to be affected when the student has not achieved the minimum module pass mark

Deferred assessment is always task for task and should normally be in the same form and content as the initial assessment task and normally a different assessment task would be set, except for dissertations or individual projects. Where variation is necessary this should be approved by the relevant Departmental Assessment Board. The also applies to deferral against a referred attempt.

Extenuating circumstances will only be considered at assessment task level not sub-task level (i.e. not against an individual experiment in a collection of smaller sub-tasks, but rather the whole set). Exceptional extension requests should be used (where appropriate) where a student is unable to take an assessment task due to a valid and acceptable reason.

Extenuating circumstances cannot be submitted for in-module retrieval; exceptional extension requests may be used where appropriate.

Continuing Reassessment

At the Reassessment Board, if the student has not had all the normal opportunities for first sit, referral and / or deferral because of extenuating circumstances accepted by the University or if the student has to rework some assessment due to academic misconduct, then they will been given ‘continued reassessment’ in the module. The module leader will then need to prepare an assessment task for these students.

Sub Task Reassessment

The reassessment of a task which consists of sub-tasks must be clearly articulated to students. Two methods of reassessment are possible, the over-riding principle being that students must be given an opportunity to demonstrate achievement of the learning outcomes:

  • Sub-task for sub-task reassessment – this may not be a viable option for some sub-task assessments, such as weekly lab tests. A reassessment brief for each sub-task would need to be produced.
  • Task reassessment package – one reassessment package would need to be produced.

Assessment scheduling
Every year module leaders will need to check the summative task and sub-task assessment data for their modules to ensure information such as title of the assignment and due date/time are correct. This process usually runs from May to July. This process is supported in the faculties by Student Services who liaise with the academic teams to help validate assessment task information.

Course teams are responsible for avoiding assessment bunching by using the Task Clustering by Course report to manually check the submission dates for all modules on a course and, where necessary, agreeing alternative submission dates with module leaders. Guidance is here on how to use the report.

The assessment information provided will be inputted into SITS by faculty student services. This information will then be used before the start of teaching (to set up submission points in Blackboard and associated Grade Centre columns).

A staff view of summative task and sub-task assessment information will be available from the end of August 2017 through the Curriculum View which can be accessed via SITSOnline.

The Threshold Standards for Supporting Learning with Technology Policy identifies the minimum good practice relating to Assessments and Feedback.


Assessment statement, assessment calendar and 'to do' list
The Assessment Statement

The Assessment Statement will provide students with the formal and consolidated course view of the tasks and sub-tasks that contribute to their overall award (summative). Where sub-tasks exist, they will be listed separately under the main task. The statement will show assessment dates for current year and previous years only.

Students will be able to access the statement via My Student Record from the ‘My Assessments’ page and then selecting ‘Assessment Statement’.

Staff can access any students statement via SITS online from the ‘Module Delivery and Assessment Page’ and then selecting ‘Assessment Statement’.


If a student has an approved extension, the agreed extension date will be displayed next to the original deadline date for the task.

Some coursework assessments will be set over a date range e.g. some group or in class work. For these types of assessment, the date of the last assessment in the range will be the one initially published in the Assessment Statement. Where this is the case, exact dates for each group assessment need to be confirmed by the module leader in advance of the assessment and should be provided to faculty Helpdesk teams so this information can be added to SITS and show in the students’ assessment statement.

If a student is referred or deferred in a task, the date for this will be shown in the statement as soon as the students mark has progressed through the assessment boards and reassessment is confirmed.

At start of year, exam deadline dates will not show in the statement, only that an exam is part of the assessment for the module. Exam periods will be accessible from the academic calendar and this will show the date range of when exams will be held. The specific date for each exam task will be confirmed in the assessment statement following publication of the exam timetable. The student’s exam schedule can also be accessed through their personal exam timetable and this is their primary mechanism to access exam timetable information.

To note: Staff can view assessment task information via Curriculum View or Student View through SITS Online.

Blackboard calendar

The Blackboard calendar provides a consolidated course view of all tasks that have a deadline date in the module sites that students are enrolled to. This includes tasks that contribute to the overall award (summative), tasks that do not contribute to the overall award but are used to support learning (formative) and any non-assessed tasks such as DBS checks or risk assessment forms.

Students can access this via the Assessment Channel on shuspace.

Exam tasks will not show in the Blackboard calendar but can be seen either on the student’s assessment statement or via their personalised exam timetable. Staff can view this information via curriculum view or student view.

For some coursework assessments set over a date range e.g. some group or in class work, the date of the last assessment in the range will be initially the one showing in Blackboard and in the calendar. Exact dates for each group assessment will need to be confirmed by the module leader to the cohort.

Normally, approved extension dates will not show in the Blackboard calendar. The extension deadline date will be confirmed to the student via email but students will be asked to submit their work to the original submission point which will remain open.

If a student is referred or deferred in a task, the date for this will be shown in the calendar as soon as the students mark has progressed through the assessment boards and re-assessment is confirmed and the Module Leader has made the re-assessment task available.

Blackboard calendar


Blackboard ‘to do’ list

Another tool for students to help manage and organise their time is the Blackboard ‘to do list’. This provides a chronological list of upcoming deadlines. ‘What’s due’, displays information on any upcoming assignments or tests. ‘What’s past’ displays any assessment that has passed its due date without submission. Students can access this via shuspace.

Blacboard to do list

A video overview for staff of the Blackboard notification tools, including using the Calendar to publish feedback return dates is available. View on Medial and YouTube.

Other assessment setting considerations

See the left hand menu for Key Considerations, that may be applicable when setting assessments for your modules:

  • Sub tasks – this section defines the two categories of sub-tasks; should you need to set a number of tasks for skills assessment
  • Avoiding bunching – this section outlines the assessment management and scheduling that takes place to avoid bunching of assessment
  • Exemptions to the Standard Model – this section outlies the process for exemptions to meet the requirements of any changes to professional body regulations
  • In Module Retrieval – the section confirms the process for the in-module retrieval coursework assessment tool which allows a student to rework a course assessment task if they have achieved below 40% on their initial attempt
  • Grade Based Assessment – this section outlines the move to a different approach in which the grade given for individual assessments is based on degree classifications instead of being expressed as a percentage
  • How technology can help – a reference document that outlines the use of technologies to support and enhance assessment and feedback
  • Assessment item type – Held in SITS, the assessment item type should be confirmed at the time of assessment data validation and will govern what is set-up by the automatic Blackboard set-up process which will run at the start of the academic year. Details of the item types can be found on the right-hand side under Supporting Information / Resources a-z.