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Guidelines for the Assessment of Student Performance

Category Academic
Type Guideline
Approved by Senate, 27 August 2014
Date Guideline Took Effect 27 August 2014
Last Approved Revision
Sponsor Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic)
Responsible Officer Manager, Policy and Compliance, Academic Services
Review Date 27 August 2017


The purpose of the Guidelines is to establish what is considered  best practice in all aspects of assessment of student performance.

Organisational Scope

The Guidelines apply to all staff and students of the University of Otago.


Assessment - any testing, marking, examining or evaluating of students' performance, whether of not it counts towards the final grade for any paper or other course component.

Criterion-referenced assessment - Students’ performance is assessed against stated objectives and expected standards.

Norm-referenced assessment - Students’ performance is judged or interpreted by comparing the levels of performance of different students taking a paper.

Formative assessment - Assessment intended to help students to improve their learning and academic performance.

Summative assessment - Assessment in which student performance is graded and marks count towards the final marks for a paper and the award of a degree.

Internal assessment - All components of assessment that contribute to a final grade but which are not derived from performance in a final examination.

Reliability of an assessment - The extent to which an assessment produces a stable or reproducible pattern of results.  Reliability is only important to the extent that it enhances validity.

Validity of an assessment - The extent to which an assessment fulfils its intended purpose(s), such as fairly measuring what it sets out to measure, guiding student learning, and motivating student learning activity.

Plussage - A system in which a student’s final mark can be based either on internal marks plus exam mark, or their exam mark alone.  The final mark will be the higher of those two.

Terms - The fulfilment of certain specified conditions, such as attending classes or completing oral, written or practical work, before a student may sit a final exam.

Paper co-ordinator
- An academic staff member who is responsible for co-ordinating the organisation of a paper and the efforts of staff members involved in the paper.

Marker/examiner - a person who marks questions for written or oral examinations or other assignments or who undertakes the assessment of theses, dissertations, research essays, research projects, or similar works required for degrees and diplomas.

Moderator - an appropriately qualified person appointed to check on the standards of summative and formative assessment for any paper or groups of papers or other course components in order to maintain equity and academic standards.

External moderation - a check carried out by a Moderator who is not employed by the University.

Policy Content


Assessment of student performance at the University of Otago follows four principles

1.    All internal assessment should have a formative component and inform learning;

2.    Assessments will centre on essential knowledge and skills;

3.    Both internal assessment(s) and final examinations will usually be necessary;

4.    The workload associated with assessment requirements will be reasonable and the tasks will be fully described early enough to give students time to fit them in alongside their other commitments.


1.    Assessment arrangements

1.1    Grades in University papers should be awarded only on the basis of demonstrated achievement (not on progress, potential, or other grounds).

1.2    Each student’s work should be judged on its own merits.  Predefined pass rates or grade distributions should not be used.  However, it may be appropriate to treat mark/grade distributions as one factor to be considered, in conjunction with careful review of borderline papers against desired standards, when making final decisions on the standards to be set in a paper.

1.3    In each paper, students should receive specific, clear, and early information about what they need to do to pass the paper or to obtain a grade.  The information should include details about the timing, percentage weight and focus of each assessment.  This information can be included in a paper outline, on the web site and in documents made available at the start of the course.

1.4    Where an internal assessment test is held outside the scheduled meeting times for a paper (for instance, a single evening test for two or more lecture streams), the date, starting time and duration of the test should be announced at the first class and in the paper outline.

1.5    Announced assessment arrangements in each paper may be changed only after consultation with students and approval by the Head of Department.

1.6    If changes to assessment are made that alter the learning outcomes for a paper by 25% or more, these should be notified to the Head of Department and approved by the Divisional Academic Board.

2.    Relative Weights Given to Different Paper Goals

2.1    Assessment in all papers should give substantial weight to deeper learning (the development of conceptual understanding and skills in applying knowledge to new situations), while not neglecting to give credit for learning core factual material.

2.2    In addition to short term goals, assessment in all papers should give explicit emphasis to long-term goals such as synthesis of knowledge and the development of written and oral communication skills, research skills and thinking skills, thus better equipping graduates for lifelong learning.

3.    Relative Weights Given to Summative Internal Assessments and Final Examinations

3.1    The weights given to different summative assessment components included in final grades should be selected to best describe students’ capabilities at the end of the paper.  This is the central requirement for validity of the grades.

3.2    The proportion of marks awarded through internal summative assessment should be in accord with the previous guideline.  Given the diverse goals and teaching arrangements of different papers, this proportion can be expected to vary widely.

3.3    Adjustment of internal summative assessment marks through the use of ‘plussage’ procedures may be appropriate for some assessment components in some papers.  These components should be clearly identified in paper outlines.

3.4    Only where good academic reasons exist should a certain level of result in final examinations be required.  Students must be informed in the course outline and at the first lecture should this requirement be part of the summative assessment.

4.    The Use of Terms as Mandatory Course Requirements

4.1    All summative assessment components included in final grades must reflect performance on paper objectives.  It is not appropriate to give grading credit for attendance at class sessions.

4.2    Terms requirements, detailing minimum levels of attendance or experience required before a final examination can be sat or a final grade awarded, can be enforced where there is a clear rationale.  The requirements must be communicated clearly to all students to whom they apply.  Students must be informed in the course outline and at the first lecture should this requirement be part of the assessment

4.3    Where terms requirements are in force, procedures for monitoring compliance with the requirement should be thorough, with fairness further ensured through proper early warning and appeal procedures.

5.    Feedback on Student Work

5.1    Where one summative assessment task in a paper is dependent on another, the second task should not normally be due until at least one week after feedback has been provided on the first.

5.2    In papers that do not have a final examination, other than theses and dissertations, all internal summative and formative assessed tasks must be marked and available to students before the end of the relevant final examination period.

5.3    All internal assessment not relevant to the final examination must be marked and available to students before the day of the final examination.

5.4    If the internal assessment task is at all relevant to preparation for the final examination feedback should be provided at least one week before the final examination.

5.5    Students, other than thesis or dissertation students submitting their work for examining, should receive their work back with feedback as soon as possible, and no later than three teaching weeks after the day the work was due.

5.6    In addition to receiving a grade, students should receive a clear indication of the strengths and weaknesses of their work, normally accompanied by guidance on how to perform the task or a similar task better.

6.    Summative Assessment of Group Work

6.1    Performance on group tasks is an acceptable component of student final grades.  The percentage contribution from group tasks should be able to be justified in terms of the objectives of the paper.

6.2    If more than thirty percent of a final grade is associated with such tasks, before individual grades are finalised the teacher(s) should take account of additional information about the contributions of individuals to group task results.

7.    Oral Examinations

7.1    Oral examinations should involve at least two examiners.

7.2    Where oral examinations are to be used, students should be given clear information, in advance, about the purpose, nature and scope of the examination.  They should also be given organised opportunities to practice the skills involved.

7.3    Oral examinations should be used selectively, where the oral examination format is particularly suited to the skills and students being assessed.

8.    Student workload

8.1    Internally assessed work should not normally be submitted during the last teaching week before a final examination period.

8.2    The number of internal graded summative assessment tasks in each paper should be kept to a minimum consistent with the educational objectives for that paper.

8.3    Departments and schools should attempt to spread the assessment load for students taking popular combinations of papers.

9.    Monitoring and Moderation Procedures

9.1    Staff should be encouraged to consult appropriate peers when setting assessment tasks and deciding how to grade student responses to tasks.

9.2    Paper co-ordinators should ensure that tutors and demonstrators receive guidance and training for their assessment activities, and that these activities are monitored for consistency of standards and quality of feedback provided.

9.3    Where two or more staff share marking of an assignment or examination question, efforts should be made to achieve consistency and monitor its attainment.

9.4    Where students are offered a choice of examination questions, the comparability of marks awarded for the different options should be monitored, evaluated, and where necessary improved.

9.5    Departments and professional schools should review the obtained grade distributions in papers making adjustments where appropriate.

9.6    External moderation should normally be required for the papers (including research projects and dissertations) that contribute to final year Honours, Postgraduate Certificate, Postgraduate Diploma and Masters programmes.

10.    Academic Staff Development

10.1    Heads of Departments should ensure that all academic staff receive copies of the Teaching and Learning Plan and these Assessment guidelines before beginning teaching and assessment duties.

10.2    Heads of Departments should ensure that all tutors or demonstrators receive training before undertaking assessment of student work.

10.3    HEDC should provide opportunities for new and established academic staff members to discuss assessment practices and enhance their assessment skills and procedures.

10.4    HEDC should arrange sessions that would help staff become familiar with the provisions of these guidelines and their justification.  Departments and programmes should develop coherent approaches to assessment and examine assessment practices across their papers.

11.    Procedures for Student Assessment in Te Reo Māori

Refer to Māori Language Policy - Ngā Kaupapa mō te reo Māori

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