How to use assessment criteria

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Acknowledgement: This document consists of relevant extracts from:

Gosling, D., & Moon, J. (2001). How to use learning outcomes and assessment criteria. SEEC.

What are assessment criteria?

Assessment criteria specify how student performance in respect of the course learning outcomes are to be recognised. They are statements which specify the standards that must be met and what evidence will be taken to show achievement of learning outcomes. Assessment criteria have to be understood relative to the definition of the level of the course and the course learning outcomes.

Assessment (or performance) criteria provide clear indications of how achievement may be demonstrated’ (InCCA, 1998, p.36).

The purpose of assessment criteria is to establish clear and unambiguous standards of achievement in respect to each learning outcome. They should describe what the learner is expected to do,  in order to demonstrate that the learning outcome has been achieved (NICATS, 1998, p.37).

Assessment criteria: Descriptions of what the learner is expected to do, in order to demonstrate that a learning outcome has been achieved (CQFW et al., 2001)

The assessment criteria are not to be confused with the assessment tasks themselves, e.g. to design x, or write an essay about y. The assessment criteria specify how the task e.g. the design, the essay, the project, the dissertation will be judged.


Three elements:

Learning outcome:

By the end of the module students will be expected to be able to design a page layout to a given brief.

Method of assessment:

Lay out the information attached as a book cover using the following publisher’s brief.

Assessment criteria:

– clarity of chosen font

– appropriate colour combinations

– attractiveness of the design

– match with publisher’s brief within stated budget

Three ways of using assessment criteria

Assessment criteria may be used in three ways. They may specify:

  1. Threshold standards: Description of what the learner is expected to do, in order to demonstrate satisfactory achievement of learning outcomes.
  2. Grading criteria: what is required for achievement of each of the grades being awarded e.g., for a pass at 50%, for grades of 60%, 70%, 80% and so.
  3. General criteria: a template of characteristics or qualities against which the student’s performance of the assessment task will be judged.

At GIHE, assessment criteria are used to specify grading criteria.

How to write assessment criteria

When writing assessment criteria many of the points to be kept in mind are the same as for writing learning outcomes. Clarity and brevity are important and as far as possible, ambiguity should be avoided. The language too should be clear to all those who will use the criteria – students and staff. The criteria must be capable of being measured or assessed in a valid and reliable way. The criteria are concerned with essential aspects of performance for the achievement of a pass or the specified grade.

Steps in writing assessment criteria

  1. Consider the learning outcome being tested (for example: demonstrate a critical awareness of Luxury Industry trends).
  2. Consider the assessment task set (for example: make a presentation of an analysis and recommendations about a specific Luxury Industry trend. )
  3. Brainstorm requirements for, or attributes of, successful performance of the assessment task (for example: requirements for a satisfactory presentation clarity, fluency, appropriate to audience etc.; requirements for satisfactory demonstration of ‘critical awareness’ for example, knowledge of different theories, application of theory to the case study, evidence of personal argument…)
  4. If necessary, specify the range to clarify contextual factors and the level (for example: which theories students are expected to refer to, which types of urban issues they can be expected to deal with).
  5. Focus on what is essential and categorise the requirements or attributes into clearly worded criteria.
  6. Check that the criteria are measurable or assessable in valid and reliable ways and that the  criteria are clear and unambiguous (for example: have another colleague read the criteria to see if s/he interprets them in the same way as you do).
  7. Repeat steps 3, 4, 5 until you are fully satisfied

Some key points to keep in mind

Assessment criteria should be written with the following factors in mind:

the published aims of a programme

learning outcomes for the module

the level at which the criteria will apply

the nature of the discipline or subject area

comparability of standards with equivalent degree programmes elsewhere

the nature of the assessment task

All of these are important, so let us examine each in a little more detail:

The criteria should reflect what has been published about the overall aims of the programme. If it has been said, for example, that the programme  will enable students ‘to Identify, analyze and solve a range of complex problems using both recognized and innovative tools and evidence ’ then the criteria within relevant courses will need to indicate what will constitute ‘recognized and innovative tools’.

The criteria should be informed by the published learning outcomes of the course. If, for example, the module has as a learning outcome that students will be able to ‘Critically interpret a firm’s financial information within its business and competitive environment’ then the criteria should make it clear that an analysis of a specific ‘business and competitive environment’ will be expected and reflected in the marking scheme. However, note that the assessment criteria should expand on the information provided in the learning outcome and not be repetitive (InCCA, 1998 p.36).

Assessment criteria should reflect the level of the course. Thus, because FHEQ level four of higher education is less demanding than FHEQ level five, the assessment criteria will need to reflect this fact. Higher level learning will be reflected in the cognitive action verbs chosen to describe appropriate performance – for level five, rather than descriptive words such as ‘outline’ or ‘define’ (from the ‘understand’ level of Bloom’s taxonomy) use ‘differentiate’, ‘examine’, ‘organise’ (from the ‘apply’ level of Bloom’s taxonomy).

Each subject or discipline has distinctive epistemological characteristics, which will be reflected in the kinds of criteria written for that subject / discipline. Such characteristics might be demonstrated in the type of enquiry in which students are engaged, the type of evidence on which they will draw and the type of activities on which they will be assessed. GIHE assessment criteria may reflect the epistemological characteristics of management or business.

It is important that the assessment criteria are comparable to standards expected on similar degree programmes elsewhere. Whilst each programme will have its own distinctive characteristics the overall standard should be comparable with other degree or diploma or postgraduate awards in other comparable institutions. Reference to the European, Swiss and UK HE qualification frameworks, qualification descriptors, level descriptors and subject benchmarks will help here.

The assessment criteria need to relate to the specific requirements of the assessment task. For example, the criteria for a good oral presentation are different from those for a written assignment and the criteria for a good business report will differ from those for a reflection. Equally the criteria for a group work project task need to be different in some respects from the criteria for an individual piece of work. Make sure the criteria describe the performance required for the task set.


CQFW, NICATS, NUCCAT, SEEC. (2001). Credit and HE Qualifications: Credit guidelines for HE Qualifications in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. CQFW.

Gosling, D., & Moon, J. (2001). How to use learning outcomes and assessment criteria. SEEC.

InCCA. (1998). A Common Framework for Learning. DfEE.

NICAT. (1999). A manual for the Northern Ireland credit framework. NICAT.