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Writing Effective Assessment Criteria

Assessment criteria are descriptive statements that provide learners and instructors with information about the qualities, characteristics, and aspects of a given learning task. Assessment criteria make it clear to learners what they are expected to do to demonstrate achievement of the learning outcomes and factors instructors will take into account when making judgments about their performance. Sharing assessment criteria with students at the beginning of the course is an effective way to help students build confidence in their learning and improve their performance. Making assessment criteria explicit helps them recognize what is important and valued in the curriculum, focus their efforts on key learning outcomes and evaluate their own performance through self-assessment and reflection. Assessment criteria are a way to provide formative feedback throughout a course to support ongoing learning, as well as to provide end-of-term summative evaluation.

Assessment criteria take the “guess-work” out of grading for instructors and students. Well-defined assessment criteria allow instructors to evaluate learners’ work more openly, consistently and objectively. This increases a sense of fairness from the students’ perspective and makes it easy for the instructor to explain / justify how marks have been awarded.

Examples of Assessment Criteria

  • create a design brief that incorporates design process and principles
  • analyze distributions using probability and data analysis techniques
  • use tools and models to integrate quantitative and qualitative information in problem-based analysis using relevant tools and models
  • adopt a variety of roles on a consulting team task force
  • justify management's actions in selecting specific recommendations among alternative possibilities

Relationship of Assessment Criteria to a Program of Study

Before writing assessment criteria it is important to understand how assessment criteria relate to course design. The following diagram illustrates how assessment criteria both inform and are informed by learning outcomes.


Planning a unit of study (adapted from Rosie Bingham, 2002)

Writing Effective Assessment Criteria


Elements of a learning outcome statement

1. Review learning outcomes and assessment tasks

Check to ensure that course learning outcomes are carefully constructed to clearly articulate what students will know, be able to do, and value at the end of an educational experience.

Check to ensure that assessment tasks are designed to provide adequate opportunity for students to demonstrate that they’ve achieved the intended learning outcomes and are constructively aligned with the learning outcomes, learning opportunities, and assessment method.

2. Distinguish the difference between “criteria” and “standards”

Assessment criteria include two components - criterion and performance standards (Sadler, 1987). Criterion is a property or characteristic by which the quality of something may be judged but make no statement or assumptions about actual quality. Standards are about definite levels of quality (or achievement, or performance).

3. Refer to relevant resources

Relevant resources include, for example: Academic Regulations: Section 4: Grading Scales; faculty, school or department resources (e.g., guidelines, models, exemplars, program learning outcomes); school or department program curriculum maps or, examples of assessment criteria from other course and institutions

4. List, describe, curate and organize criteria

List all the things that students need to know and be able to do to pass the course (or the assignment). Keep the list to a manageable size so students can handle the cognitive load and clearly understand what is expected of them - four or five criteria per unit are usually sufficient or between 3 and 10 per course. These criteria should be roughly of equal importance. Prioritize the topics in terms of their perceived importance. Generally, students should be expected to gain a higher level of understanding in those topics perceived to be most important.

5. Create a marking scheme

Decide how many standards to describe. The number of levels of verbal descriptions depends on the marking scheme, the practice in your school and/or the ability of the assessment task to make fine distinctions in a reliable way and the degree to which fine discrimination is required.

6. Label the verbal descriptors of standards

If your school does not have verbal descriptions of standards or levels of achievement that link to the model used to calculate final grades, see some examples of “labels” are provided in the table below.

Standard TypeLevels of Achievement
Grade Point0.02.673.003.333.674.004.33
Letter GradeFB-BB+A-AA+
% Bands0-69%70-72%73-76%77-79%80-84%85-89%90-100%
Marks/200-13.5141515.516-16.517-17.518-20
LevelsLevel 1Level 2Level 3Level 4
LabelsFails to meet threshold level of achievementA moderate level of achievementA high level of achievementA very high to outstanding level of achievement

7. Describe the standard(s) for each of the criteria

Describe levels of expected performance for the assessment. When describing standards: describe demonstrable behaviour - not the student, avoid vague terms which are open to a wide range of subjective interpretation such as “critical”, “appropriate”, “excellent”, “analytical”, use terms likely to be understood by students – avoid the obscure or esoteric and point out what was done in demonstrating lower than optimal standards is often more supportive of learning than listing what was not.

8. Weight the criteria

As soon as you have more than one assessment criterion you will also have to make decisions about their relative importance (or weighting). Weight of the criteria should commensurate with the weight of the unit, the importance of the concepts, the significance of the learning outcome to the course/program and take into account student’s workload.

9. Create grading criteria

Define the threshold or lowest pass assessment criteria. This would be the quality of performance that would necessitate a bare pass. Define 2-3 intermediate levels of performance and the excellence level of performance.

10. Review and revise to ensure appropriateness and relevance

Check for: organization and consistency style, mechanics, grammar and format; alignment with program and institutional grade descriptors and policies and appropriateness of the marking schemes or criteria.

Remember: Assessment criteria should enable you to assess students’ work openly and fairly, and make it possible for you to provide valuable feedback to students and to easily justify how marks have been awarded.

Learn more about Assessment Criteria.