University Assessment and Feedback Strategy 2022-30



The University of Bristol is aiming to be a UK top 10 university for teaching and research by 2030. Our new strategy sets out an ambitious approach for education which builds on Bristol’s strong research profile. Our student-centred, research-rich education will enable students to become agents of their own learning, challenging them to reach their potential, and nurturing their talents to grow in confidence and competence in their chosen field.

Assessment encompasses measuring students’ achievement, and all the learning processes which contribute to a deep understanding of the subject. Students learn by bringing things together, applying theories to real and imagined situations, and reflecting on their feedback about why they have gone wrong and why they are making good progress. Final assessments bring all their learning together and measure students’ achievements. However, students will miss out on the challenge of getting to grips with their discipline, and the joy of their achievements if they see assessment only as the outcome reflected in their grades. Assessment is also about the process of learning on the way to the grade.

This strategy sets out the pillars on which Bristol’s assessment rests. There are three ways to view assessment: first as the measurement of achievement and its certification; second as the process of developing ideas and refining these in the light of feedback, and third, the lifelong skills of evaluating quality through practising making judgements and reflecting on what good looks like, and how judgements are made. 

Why an Assessment Strategy?

Because we need to define a clear direction for assessment which builds on the innovation of colleagues, the scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL), and our learning from the pandemic.

Because we need to offer students a consistent experience of assessment which builds progressively across their years of study to support their learning and achievement.

Because our students’ ways of learning are changing, and our student cohorts are more diverse, requiring a shared and scholarly approach to assessment design in a changing context.

Because clear assessment priorities will help us to reap the benefits of the new Structure of the Academic Year and simplify our programme structures, working in tandem with school, faculty, and central education leaders.  

How will it help you?

If you are a student, it will help you understand the ‘why’ of assessment design decisions, what you can expect to learn from assessment, and what your teachers expect of you. It will also explain the kinds of assessment you experience across a programme of study, how they link to our curriculum framework, and how they make sense together. The assessment strategy corresponds closely to the Bristol Skills Framework where you can check your progress in developing skills through your degree.  Most significantly, the assessment strategy will improve your experience of assessment and feedback.

If you are a teacher or a programme director, the strategy will guide your assessment design decisions in line with clear pedagogic principles. Because there is a strategy, you will find more consistency of direction among the team of colleagues with whom you work, with support, ideas, and resources from university teams like BILT. Priorities set direction, and they also set limits, so you are likely to be clearer about design decisions.

Assessment and feedback priorities

Priority 1: Integrated

Integration is based on the principle that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Integrated assessment and feedback are designed holistically across a degree programme rather than unit by unit, with an overview of students’ experience as a key design element. Programme teams construct intended learning outcomes to reflect this holistic overview. Integrated assessment places an emphasis on the progressive nature of assessment (how it builds up), the sequence of tasks within and across units (how different assessments link, build on, and complement each other), the role of feedback in helping students to learn (how students act on feedback), and the balance of formative and summative assessment through the years of a programme of study (balancing learning and measurement; process and outcomes). Integrated assessment is challenging and rigorous; integrated feedback encourages students to reflect and act on feedback as an ongoing developmental process. Through the course of a degree, integrated assessment and feedback design enables students to become insiders to the ways of thinking and acting in a discipline through a sequenced and connected process. Integrated assessment is mainly about a shared programme approach to assessment and feedback design, with formative and summative tasks and varieties sequenced and balanced across the whole programme. Over time, as systems permit, integrated design may consist of programme teams identifying opportunities in each level of study for bridge-building assessment and feedback, potentially taking the form of:

  • One or more units in each year of study including a synoptic or capstone element which draws together the themes within that year’s units, or alternatively a programme-level requirement which sits outside any individual unit
  • Students being required to reflect on feedback from a previous related unit and show how they have used it in the subsequent unit, as an integral part of their assessment

What are the benefits of integrated assessment and feedback?

  • A team approach to design leads to more manageable assessment loads: less summative assessment and less repetition, duplication, with lower marking loads
  • Formative assessment is designed into the system with different kinds of feedback: in class, peer, generic, sampled, or individual tutor feedback
  • Students learn more from formative feedback and use it to improve
  • More connected feedback leads to action and agency from students – and improvements!
  • Students make connections across units and see links between their assessment
  • Teachers can innovate across unit assessments, with students integrating learning and making sense of disciplinary ways of knowing, acting, and being
  • In each year of the course students have an opportunity to bring together all they have achieved across the course – what they know and what they can show.

Priority 2: Designed for all

Assessment and feedback are ‘designed for all’ in the sense that they embed principles of inclusivity from the start. Starting with the intended learning outcomes, teaching and learning build towards summative assessment with students having opportunities to learn from practice tasks and formative feedback. Programmes offer different varieties, choices, and topics of assessment which enable students to play to their strengths and minimise disadvantage. Where appropriate, alternative assessments are planned from the start to reduce the risk of stereotyping which individual special arrangements pose. Students’ backgrounds are seen as a valuable resource in teaching and assessment, with the result that students may demonstrate their understanding by drawing on their own experience. A programme overview of assessment avoids several deadlines occurring simultaneously, builds in gaps between assessments, promotes staggered hand-ins, and tames the volume of summative assessment so that students can engage fully and deeply with each assessment and act on feedback. Feedback designed for all highlights strengths, explains why, uses plain English, focuses on key points, and suggests ways to improve. Where appropriate, feedback may consist of alternative formats such as audio or screencast. Preparing students for assessment is integral to inclusive design, and includes practice tasks, the use of exemplars to show and discuss worked examples, both good and bad, and plenty of formative and dialogic feedback. Programmes share and make transparent marking criteria, involving students in discussing the meaning of more abstract concepts. These discussions prompt the development of more ‘plain English’ criteria and facilitate the inclusion of all students. 

What are the benefits of designing for all?

  • Assessment aligns with teaching and learning and enables students to fulfil learning outcomes
  • All students are supported to succeed through regular formative practice and feedback
  • Students experience a range of assessment to demonstrate their understanding
  • The tone and approach to feedback enables students to act on it
  • Programmes design a proportionate volume of assessment enabling students to learn in depth without feeling overwhelmed
  • Inclusive design equips all students to understand assessment expectations
  • Staff feel confident to ‘design for all’ using the principles of inclusive assessment.

Priority 3: Authentic

Authentic assessment and feedback enable students to apply theory to practice, often to address contemporary challenges which students may face in their life and work in a globalised world. Authentic assessment takes many different formats, but one constant is that it usually has an audience beyond the marker, with feedback coming from a variety of sources and authorities. It is often collaborative and involves a process with milestones and feedback. Authentic assessment invites students to exercise their agency in making choices and being creative. It mirrors disciplinary and/or professional practice, setting out to engender in students an inquiring and curious mindset, and requiring them to produce an artefact which has worth beyond the classroom. Some authentic assessment takes the form of simulations, asking students to model solutions to challenges. Overall, authentic assessment encourages students to think critically, conduct disciplinary research and to work with others to produce or represent knowledge in new ways.

What are the benefits of authentic assessment?

  • Students find it worthwhile to undertake because it has wider resonance
  • Authentic assessment has the potential for dialogue with a wider range of stakeholders
  • It challenges students to think about the purpose of their learning for their discipline, society and for themselves
  • Authentic assessment enables students to produce work as insiders and participants in a discipline
  • Producing assessment for a wider audience creates accountability and encourages acting on feedback from credible sources both within and outside of academia
  • Making choices to shape an assessment reinforces the value of slow and deep learning
  • Marking authentic assessment is usually rewarding and exciting
  • Students generally enjoy undertaking authentic assessment and it is often the most memorable part of their studies.