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Guidelines for the Assessment of Student Performance

Category Academic
Type Guideline
Approved by Senate
Date Guideline Took Effect 27 August 2014
Last approved revision 18 April 2018
Sponsor Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic)
Responsible officer Manager, Policy and Compliance

Please note that compliance with University Guidelines is expected in normal circumstances, and any deviation from Guidelines – which should only be in exceptional circumstances – needs to be justifiable.


The purpose of the Guidelines is to establish what is considered best practice in all aspects of assessment of student performance. It is expected that these guidelines will normally be complied with, and any variation from recommended practice should be justifiable.

The Guidelines should be read in conjunction with Best Practice in the Assessment of Student Performance, which provides further details and advice on recommended assessment practice.

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 or not it counts towards the final grade for any paper or other course component.
Criterion-referenced assessment Assessment of student performance against stated objectives and expected standards.
Norm-referenced assessment Assessment of student performance against the performance of other students in the same 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. Summative assessment may also be formative, particularly if feedback on work is provided.
Internal assessment All components of assessment that contribute to a final grade but which are not derived from performance in a final examination.
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.
Paper outline A document containing information about a paper, sometimes also referred to as a course outline.
Plussage Where a student receives the best possible mark from two or more predetermined ways of combining their assessment results (for example the higher final mark out of (i) internal marks combined with the examination mark, or (ii) the examination mark alone).
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 examination and/or be deemed to have met requirements for completing a paper.
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 assessment for any paper or groups of papers or other course components in order to maintain equity and academic standards.
External moderation A check of assessment carried out by a Moderator who is not employed by the University.


1. Principles

(a) Assessment of student performance at the University of Otago follows four principles:

1. Assessments will centre on essential knowledge and skills.

2. Assessment will be criterion-referenced; each student’s work will be judged on its own merits with grades awarded on the basis of demonstrated achievement against established learning outcomes and standards.

3. All internal assessment will have a formative component and inform learning.

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.

2. Assessment Arrangements

(a) Most University papers will include a mix of internal assessment(s) and a final examination, but this pattern may be varied as appropriate to the learning outcomes of the paper (see also clause 4).

(b) Every University paper should include sufficient formative assessment to provide students with feedback to inform their learning.

(c) 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 format, timing, percentage weight and focus of each assessment, and should be available in the paper outline, on the learning management site and/or in other documents made available at the start of the paper. A summary of assessment should also be available to students considering enrolling in the paper, for example via a list of assessment tasks with percentage weightings on the paper description page on the University website.

(d) 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.

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

(f) Where changes to assessment arrangements impact a paper such that the content changes by 25% or more, a new paper proposal is required and should be submitted to the Board of Graduate Studies or Board of Undergraduate Studies as appropriate. Significant changes to assessment arrangements that do not require a new paper proposal should be notified to the Head of Department and approved by the relevant Divisional Academic Board.

3. Relative Weights Given to Different Paper Goals

(a) 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.

(b) 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.

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

(a) The weights given to different summative assessment components included in final grades should reflect the stated learning outcomes of the paper. This is the central requirement for validity of the grades.

(b) 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 (up to and including one hundred percent summative internal assessment).

(c) 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.

(d) Only where good academic reasons exist should a specified level of result in the final examination be required to pass a paper. Students must be informed in the paper outline and in the first class should this requirement be part of the summative assessment.

5. The Use of Terms as Mandatory Course Requirements

(a) 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 paper outline and in the first class should this requirement be part of the assessment.

(b) 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.

(c) 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.

6. Feedback on Student Work

(a) Assessment during the semester should be returned with feedback as soon as practicable after the work was submitted, and no later than three teaching weeks after the day the work was due.

(b) 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.

(c) 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.

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

(e) All internal assessment not relevant to the final examination should be marked and available to students before the day of the final examination.

(f) Notwithstanding clause 6(a), for papers which do not have final examinations (excluding thesis and dissertation papers), any final assessment must be marked and available to students before the deadline for confirming examination results for the relevant semester.

(g) Feedback timeframes may vary in papers less than a standard semester in length (e.g. Summer School papers), but the principle of providing students with feedback in a timely manner so as to inform subsequent assessment tasks, including the final examination, should be adhered to.

7. Summative Assessment of Group Work

(a) Performance on group tasks is an acceptable component of student final grades. The percentage contribution from group tasks should be justifiable in terms of the objectives of the paper.

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

8. Oral Tests and Examinations

(a) Oral tests and examinations should be used selectively, where the oral format is particularly suited to the skills and students being assessed.

(b) Where oral tests or examinations are to be used, students should be given clear information, in advance, about the purpose, nature and scope of the assessment. They should also be given organised opportunities to practice the skills involved.

(c) Oral examinations should involve at least two examiners.

9. Student Workload

(a) 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.

(b) Internally assessed work should not normally be due during the last teaching week before a final examination period.

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

10. Monitoring and Moderation Procedures

(a) Staff are encouraged to consult appropriate peers when setting assessment tasks and deciding how to grade student responses to tasks.

(b) 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.

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

(d) 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.

(e) Departments and programmes should develop coherent approaches to assessment, put in place processes to ensure that assessment is appropriate and matched to expected learning outcomes, and examine assessment practices across their papers.

(f) Departments and professional schools should review obtained grades in papers before finalising marks, making adjustments where appropriate. While marks should not be fitted to pre-determined grade distributions or pass rates, it may be appropriate to treat mark/grade distributions as one factor to be considered when finalising marks.

(g) External moderation prior to the finalisation of marks is required for papers (including research projects and dissertations) that contribute to final year Honours, Postgraduate Certificate, Postgraduate Diploma and Master’s programmes.

(h) The Board of Undergraduate Studies and the Board of Graduate Studies will monitor the appropriateness of assessment arrangements in the design of new and significantly altered papers.

11. Academic Staff Development

(a) Heads of Departments should ensure that all academic staff receive copies of the University of Otago Teaching and Learning Plan and these guidelines before beginning teaching and assessment duties.

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

(c) The Higher Education Development Centre (HEDC) will provide opportunities for new and established academic staff members to discuss assessment practices and enhance their assessment skills and procedures.

(d) HEDC will arrange sessions that will help staff become familiar with the provisions of these guidelines and their justification.

12. Procedures for Student Assessment in Te Reo Māori

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

Related policies, procedures and forms

Contact for further information

If you have any queries regarding the content of these guidelines or need further clarification, contact the Manager, Policy and Compliance on