Types of assessment

Assessment can serve different purposes and the method you choose will depend on its purpose.

Diagnostic assessment

This is used at the start of a programme of study to gauge your cohort of students’ preparedness and helps identify gaps in knowledge, skills and understanding. The assessment can be repeated at the end of your teaching to determine its effectiveness.

Formative assessment

This is designed to help students learn more effectively through giving them feedback on their performance indicating how it can be improved. Formative assessment also offers a valuable tool for the teacher in determining how well students are attaining the learning outcomes of the teaching they have received.  Feedback could be given on exercises such as an in-class test, a critical bibliography (example), or an essay which is marked but does not count towards the final marks given for a course. The results can help you offer appropriate follow-up sessions or supplementary materials to address gaps in understanding.

Summative assessment

This is used to indicate the extent of a student’s success in meeting the intended learning outcomes of a unit of study or programme and determines the final mark the student receives. Examples might be an essay, dissertation or traditional examination.


Types of informal assessment you might use within your class

There are various short in-class assessment techniques you can use to gauge understanding within the group.  For example:

  • Ask students to state the ‘muddiest point’ so you can go over the material again to provide clarification.
  • Instigate a group discussion with your students.
  • Ask students to summarise the content of the lesson in a sentence.
  • Ask students to show how they would explain a concept you have covered to a person in the street.
  • Invite students to devise their own test question(s) covering the content of the class.  This will reveal what they considered to be the most important concepts covered, and you can compare with what you had intended to be the key learning points.
  • Ask questions (your own, or those generated by your class) and get students to vote on the answers, e.g. by using Poll Everywhere or Kahoot online polling software.

Types of more substantial assessment you might discuss with your School

An annotated bibliography

Students could be asked to identify a specified number of references relevant to a particular topic, cite them correctly, and justify why they are relevant with a short evaluative summary of each. This could, for example, be a formatively-assessed exercise to give students a chance to practice these important skills, and receive feedback, prior to the submission of a summatively-assessed essay.

Case study: a critical annotated bibliography

Since 2008, Welsh School of Architecture first year undergraduates have been required to present an annotated critical bibliography in advance of submitting their first architectural history essay. This formative exercise was originally borne of the School’s desire to emphasise the importance of the writing element of a design-heavy BSc.


In the years since its inception, the critical bibliography exercise has been adapted to reflect the changing architectural history curriculum and the consequent changes to information literacy teaching. Initially based on Brabazon’s annotated bibliography exercise (Brabazon 2007, pp. 30-36), it became evident that asking students to present a wide range of varied source material was both diluting their efforts to critically evaluate the sources and creating an artificial research environment, as they endeavoured to find sources to impress, rather than to inform their essay writing. I no longer define the type of material to be represented in bibliographies and I limit source selection to no fewer than three. As architectural essays are required to be illustrated and visual literacy is a core competency for the student of architecture, I now also require that an image, which appropriately illustrates their building study, is presented, referenced and critiqued.


Originally submitted and marked manually, the critical bibliographies are now submitted via our virtual learning environment using a tool, GradeMark Turnitin, which allows for both inline and general comments. The inline comments are particularly suited to referencing corrections. And a set of standardised notations may be created, allowing for consistency of marking. The feedback I offer has developed with my increased subject knowledge, to the point where I am now confident critiquing students’ choices of buildings to study and remarking on the architectural merit of images.


Assessment is an exceptionally time-consuming process. Each year I spend approximately 50 hours marking 80+ students’ critical bibliographies. However, the benefits are considerable. As a result of this work, I now have four information literacy lecture slots within the architectural history module, students recognise the central role the library plays in their written and design work, and it’s easy to identify areas where my teaching requires adjustment. Most significantly, academics anecdotally report an improvement in students’ writing.



Brabazon, T. 2007. The university of Google: education in the (post) information age. Aldershot: Ashgate.


Sarah Nicholas – Bute Library



A research trail

This is a longer exercise, which could, for example, be submitted alongside an essay, as part of a summative assessment. The research trail would supplement, rather than replace, the list of references or bibliography at the end of the written work.

A typical research trail might require the student to:

  • Set out the research plan or strategy they adopted
  • List the keywords selected to find information
  • List the full bibliographic details of all the items identified as being relevant to the research (the list might include material not eventually cited in the written work)
  • Outline the steps taken to uncover the relevant information
  • Reflect on how useful they found each item listed, according to various qualities such as relevance, reliability, authority and objectivity
  • Consider what changes they would make if asked to undertake the research process again

i-maps and other forms of assessment

An i-map (short for ‘information-handling map’) is similar to a research trail and is used in conjunction with a conventional essay and document a student’s information gathering and handling process.[1] In addition to recording how information was found, the i-map will record thought-processes and how the student’s ideas developed. It takes the form of a “map” or diagram and may be particularly suitable for visual learners. Examples of i-maps are featured in Waldon and Peacock (2006).[1]

  • Other methods:
    • A multiple choice or short answer test  – example
    • Preparation of a review of recent literature on a topic
    • Critical appraisal of a journal article
    • An essay or report or presentation, for which a percentage of the marks (say, 25%) is allocated to evidence of research (e.g. the presentation of background information or wider reading and a bibliography)
    • Reflective journal or blog of the process undertaken to carry out research for a piece of work


In the next section we look at the various types of marking scheme which you might use.


References for this page

[1] Walden, K. and Peacock, A. 2006. The i‐Map: a process‐centered response to plagiarism. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 31(2), pp. 201-214. doi: 10.1080/02602930500262510