Beyond Essays And Exams

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4 Innovative Assessment Ideas

What is assessment for? All too often, the clue is in the title: it’s a way of measuring or grading how much someone has learned. Knowing that a timed exam or an essay deadline is impending can also encourage students to apply themselves. However, assessment can encourage learning in other ways. Here are four ideas for assessments that fill that remit. 

Poster conference

Set a task, such as defining a term, critiquing media images, solving a problem, or giving a brief analysis of a current issue. Provide examples of informative, effective poster presentations from professional and academic conferences. Ask each student to create a poster, to be presented during a class session in the form of a poster conference.

On the day, divide the group in half. Group A will put up their posters and stand by them, ready to answer any questions that members of Group B have, then the roles will switch. Provide all students with peer-assessment checklists, to be submitted at the end of the session. You should also look at all posters and take assessment notes.

After the session, collate peer-assessment results and append these (anonymised) to your own assessment. This could form the basis for marking the work, or you could allow students to use peer and lecturer assessment to refine their poster before submitting it for a final mark.

Reflexive journal

A reflexive journal is a series of individual entries made by a student as they reflect on a module, or on a specific problem or issue they are asked to consider over the course of a term or year. It can be free-form, like a diary, but when used for assessment it should include specific responses to class content, such as readings, lectures, fieldwork, or placement experiences. A structured form can help.

When using a reflexive journal in formal assessment, students find examples of the kinds of entries you expect to see helpful, along with formal assessment criteria.

Make sure students understand the difference between a reflexive journal and an essay, including that you expect to see changes in opinion and focus over time in a journal.

Observation project

Ask students to observe an aspect of practice in their field in a real-world situation, either individually or in small groups. This will require them to obtain permission, assess risks, and follow your instructions about what to observe and how to take notes.

Their notes should then be written up, with reference to literature or material from your lectures. This can be in essay form, or you could develop a structured form. Permissions, risk assessments and site data should accompany this.


Divide students into small groups and ask them to design, prepare and deliver a short seminar on a specific topic. Discuss potential formats for seminars: Do they want to ask classmates to read certain material in advance? Do they want to include an activity?

Ask the group to self-assess after delivering the session, and use a feedback sheet to see how well it was received by other students. Reference this in your feedback.

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