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Creating effective methods to assess and evaluate students learning and grading those assessments is one of the most challenging and time consuming tasks of an instructor. Chances are that when you hear the word "assessment" the first thing that comes to mind is "test".  While there are a variety of techniques for assessment, there are two general types:

Formative assessments

In this type the Instructor monitors student learning during the learning event or process. The results are used to identify areas where students are struggling so that instructors can adjust their teaching and students can correct their errors.  Formative assessments can be short, targeted, informal or formal and are  low-stakes (low point values).  They should happen early in the semester and frequently thereafter. Providing your students with feedback based on assessments is the best chance you have to improve student learning and enhance their skills. To be effective, feedback needs to be timely, encouraging,reference a specific expected outcome, and tailored to the student.

Summative assessment

Here the goal is to evaluate student learning at the end of a unit of instruction or the course. These are high-stakes assessments that measure how well the students have achieved the desired learning outcomes.

Objectives guide assessment strategies

A well-written learning outcome or objective, will guide your choice of assessment. For example, objectives focused on recall of information can be  evaluated by multiple-choice questions while objectives that ask students to synthesize information from different sources will likely be assessed in a written or oral reflection, report, or project.

Blooms Taxonomy and Objectives - what level of knowledge are you expecting?

Writing objectives

Choosing an assessment method

The use of active learning techniques has expanded greatly in recent years, as educators have recognized that learning needs to be more more focused on the development of skills and processes, rather than memorization of factual information. With this shift, alternate assessment methods to tests and papers are needed to allow students to demonstrate these skills in different ways. 

If you are looking for alternate methods, this easy to use chart comparing various assessment methods  is a great place to start.

Student Presentations

We have put together a Student Presentations toolkit that contains resources for Instructors and Students, including methods of assessing presentations, design guidance and technical resources for students.


Rubrics can be used for a wide array of assignments: papers, projects, oral presentations, performances and group projects. Using a rubric provides several advantages to both instructors and students.  A rubric can help Instructors communicate the requirements and standards of performance for an assignment.  When provided with an assignment, they can help students to monitor their progress towards those standards.   Rubrics can ensure that the instructor's grading standards remain consistent over time.  They can also reduce grading time by allowing instructors to refer to the standards rather than having to write the same comments repeatedly.   The rubrics page contains links to a diverse set of rubrics that should provide you with ideas on how to design a rubric for your field of study and type of assessment activity.

Quizzing and Testing

Recent research indicates that teachers could improve student learning by using tests as a study technique and not simply to measure learning for grading purposes. Taking a test involves retrieving information from your memory. In a 1011 study published in Science magazine, the researchers demonstrated that practicing retrieval produces greater learning gains than simply studying, or elaborative studying with concept mapping.  With the right kind of encouragement students might be persuaded to use practice tests  as a study strategy.

If you are using Cougar Courses for quizzing and testing, there are many different testing modes available to you, including allowing multiple attempts, different feedback modes and scoring methods. Research shows that giving feedback after each item on a test is less effective than giving feedback immediately after the entire test is complete. For help determining the best testing mode and settings for your quizzes, contact

For test design tips, see the test and question design page. 

Cheating and what you can do about it

Cheating happens when opportunities are available, the incentives are high and motivation is low.  You can reduce cheating by designing courses and activities that reduce the opportunities and incentives to cheat and give your students greater control over their learning, a key factor in motivation.  

  • Offering students a greater amount of choice and control over what they learn and how they demonstrate their learning
  • Use frequent low-stakes assessments that encourage mastery. Lower stakes reduce the incentive while frequent testing promotes retention of course material, which in turn leads to deeper, long-term understanding of the material.
  • Use grounded assessments that ask students to connect course material to their lives, aspirations, campus and community.

The quiz activity in Cougar Courses has many features that you can employ to encourage mastery and reduce the opportunity for cheating. Visit the Faculty Guides or  Contact us to learn how to make these functions work for you.

More Information

Learning Assesssment Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty, CSUSM Library ebook collection

Internet Resources for Higher Education Outcomes Assessment, a very comprehensive site from NC State University, includes resources, research, and links for more information covering just about everything related to assessment at the course, departmental and institutional level.

10 Assessment Design Tips for Increasing Online Student Retention, Satisfaction and Learning - part 1