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Category Academic
Type Guideline
Approved by Senate
Date Guideline Took Effect 27 August 2014
Last approved revision 30 November 2022
Sponsor Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic)
Responsible officer Senior Analyst, Research and Policy

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 to the appropriate PVC/Dean.

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.


Any testing, marking, examining or evaluating of students' performance (including online 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.
Evaluative information provided to the student in response to an assessment task, which can be used as a basis for improvement.
Formative assessment
Assessment intended to help students to improve their learning and academic performance.
Group work
Learning that involves students working with others and, crucially, learning together on a foundation of student-student interaction, usually to perform a particular task. Group work includes the terms: cooperative learning, collective learning, peer learning, reciprocal learning, or team learning.
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 should also be formative, where possible.
Internal assessment
All components of assessment that contribute to a final grade but which are not derived from performance in a final examination.
Late submitted assignment
An assignment submitted after the advertised submission deadline, except where an extension has been formally approved.
Validity of an assessment
The extent to which an assessment fulfils its intended purpose(s), such as its alignment with learning outcomes, 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.
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).
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.
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.
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

  1. 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 at the start of the paper to give students time to fit them in alongside their other commitments.
  2. 2. Assessment Arrangements

    1. 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).
    2. Every University paper should include sufficient formative assessment to provide students with feedback to inform their learning.
    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 assessment criteria, 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 in the paper supplementary information on the University website.
    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.
    5. Internally assessed work should not normally be due between the start of the last teaching week and the first day of examinations (except for a low-weight laboratory report from the previous week being submitted early in the last teaching week).
    6. If a paper has no final examination and all summative graded assessment is internal, then it may be reasonable for students to hand in the final assessment during the last week of teaching. It is recommended that, in these circumstances, an assessment task be worth less than 20% of the final grade, though that may be higher in postgraduate papers (e.g., where the final assignment is a culmination of the learning objectives, for example in the case of a research proposal).
    7. If a paper has no final examination, an internal assessment task may be submitted at any time during the examination period but with a deadline of the last day of examinations. Any final assessment must be marked and available to students before the deadline for confirming examination results for the relevant semester.
    8. Announced assessment arrangements in each paper may be changed only after consultation with students and approval by the Head of Department.
    9. 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 then to the relevant Divisional Academic Board.
    10. Procedures for Student Assessment in Te Reo Māori
      Refer to Māori Language Policy – Ngā Kaupapa mō te reo Māori

    3. Penalties for Late Submitted Assignment

    1. Using a late submission penalty is at the discretion of the paper convenor. Where used, information setting out the use of a late submission penalty must be included in the paper material provided to students.
    2. Where a late submission penalty is used, the standard penalty shall be 5% of the maximum mark per day late or part thereof. For example, if submitted up to 24 hours late, reduce available marks by 5%; 24-48 hours late, reduce available marks by 10% etc. Examples applying this Schedule include:
      1. An assignment is marked as 17/20 (20 marks being the maximum available marks). If this was submitted one day late, this mark is reduced by 5% of 20 (-.05 x 20 = -1), meaning that the final awarded mark is 16/20; if submitted two days late, the final awarded mark is 15/20 (-.10 x 20 = -2); if submitted three days late, the final awarded mark is 14/20 (-.15 x 20 = -3) etc.
      2. An assignment is marked as 25/40 (40 marks being the maximum available marks). If this was submitted one day late, this mark is reduced by 5% of 40 (-.05 x 40 = -2), meaning that the final awarded mark is 23/40; if submitted two dates late, the final awarded mark is 21/40 (-.10 x 40 = -4); if submitted three days late, the final assigned mark is 19/40 (-.15 x 40 = -6) etc. Penalty calculator
    3. All penalty timeframes are inclusive of weekends, public holidays, and university semester breaks and closure times
    4. Late submitted assignments, without prior approved extensions, will not be accepted after the feedback on the assessment task has been returned to any student by the marker. Timeframes for returning marks should be provided to students in the course outline.
    5. Assignments submitted after seven days of the deadline, or after feedback is returned if this is less than seven days, also will not be marked.
    6. Requests for time extensions should normally be applied for prospectively (before the submission deadline), unless there are mitigating circumstances preventing that request being made (e.g., unable to submit the request due to hospital admission, sickness etc). Information regarding the extensions process should be included in the course outline. Approving retrospective extensions is at the discretion of the marker.

    4. Emphasis Given to the University Graduate Profile

    1. Assessment tasks should be aligned with the relevant graduate attributes in the University Graduate Profile.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.

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

    1. 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.
    2. The proportion of marks awarded through internal summative assessment should be in accord with the previous guideline 4(a). 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).
    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.
    4. 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.

    6. The Use of Terms as Mandatory Course Requirements

    1. 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 pedagogical 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.
    2. 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.
    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.

    7. Feedback on Student Work

    1. Assessment during the semester (including drafts of thesis chapters) should be returned with feedback as soon as practicable after the work was submitted, and normally no later than three teaching weeks after the day the work was due.
    2. 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, (excluding the final thesis copy for submission).
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. All internal assessment not relevant to the final examination should be marked and available to students before the day of the final examination.
    6. 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.

    8. Summative Assessment of Group Work

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. Instructions for students about how to successfully complete group tasks, expectations of the group, and conflict resolution procedures, 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.

    9. Oral Assessment

    1. Oral assessment should be used selectively, where the oral format is particularly suited to the skills and students being assessed.
    2. Where oral assessments are to be used, students should be given clear information at the start of the paper about the purpose, nature and scope of the assessment. They should also be given organised opportunities to practice the skills involved.
    3. Formally arranged oral examinations should normally involve at least two examiners.

    10. Student Workload

    1. 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.
    2. Departments and schools should attempt to spread the assessment load for students taking popular combinations of papers.

    11. Monitoring and Moderation Procedures

    1. Staff are encouraged to consult appropriate peers when setting assessment tasks and deciding how to grade student responses to tasks.
    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.
    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.
    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 adjusted.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. 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, Master's, and Master's coursework programmes.
    8. 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.

    12. Academic Staff Development

    1. Heads of Departments should ensure that all academic staff are familiar with the University of Otago Teaching and Learning Plan (and Divisional and Departmental plans) and these guidelines before beginning teaching and assessment, or designing new papers.
    2. Heads of Departments should ensure that all tutors or demonstrators receive training before undertaking assessment of student work.
    3. 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.
    4. HEDC will arrange sessions that will help staff become familiar with the provisions of these guidelines and their justification.

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:

Senior Analyst, Research and Policy

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