Assessment Design

Assessments are a critical part of teaching. They provide instructors a way to see if their students understand the material. Assessments vary greatly, so it is important that you think carefully about what assessments will help your students succeed in your particular course. Remember that assessments should be student-centred and in alignment with your course goals.


Varying Types of Assessment: When choosing the assessments for your course, it is important to consider the variety of assessment options. Because the types of assignments (such as laboratory reports or annotated bibliographies) vary greatly across disciplines, this guide will focus on categories of assessment rather than specific types of assignments. The three main categories of assessment are 1) diagnostic, 2) formative, and 3) summative. Each category has a different aim and tests a different type of learning.

Diagnostic: Used before the learning process
Formative: Used during the learning process
Summative: Used at the end/after the learning process

Diagnostic: Shows where your students are before learning begins
Formative: Provides feedback while the learning is in process
Summative: Evaluates student learning by a standard after the learning

Diagnostic: Aim: Help students access prior knowledge and what they do not know
Formative: Aim: Help students build learning and skills to complete larger assessments and identify gaps before formal assessment
Summative: Aim: Help students see what they have learned and where they still have gaps

Diagnostic: Ungraded
Formative: Ungraded or graded
Summative: Graded

Diagnostic: Examples: Student survey, quiz, one-minute paper, muddy points
Formative: Examples: Summary or abstract, lab report
Summative: Examples: Final exam, final report or essay

Be mindful that assessments do not rigidly fit into only one category and sometimes one form of assessment can be used to test more than one category. Use your course learning outcomes to help you determine what type of assessment is most appropriate.

Varying Stakes of Assessment: Equally as important as choosing your assessments is deciding on the level of stakes of each assessment. Low stakes assessments, which have already been discussed in section 3.4, will be most useful for diagnostic and formative assessments because they can be ungraded. High stakes assessments will be assigned a grade; since they are worth more they carry larger consequences for students. Some examples of high stakes assessments are research papers or final exams. These high stakes assessments typically rely on a deeper understanding of the material and a more complex skill set than low stakes ones. It is best practice to start with low stakes assessments that scaffold skills and knowledge for student as they build towards high stakes assessments. Then, when the higher stakes assessments come due, students are better prepared to succeed.




The planning phase for exams is similar to assignments in that a strong exam will consider the learning outcomes of the course. In writing quizzes, tests, and exams, however, you can connect a specific outcome with certain types of questions. Types of questions or formats include multiple-choice, case studies, essays (with the prompts given in advance or only during the exam), or take home tests. The University of Toronto has a repository of old exams. Because academic integrity is important, you will need to use the secure login to access the old exams repository. Especially if you are writing an exam for the first time, it would be prudent to check out the variety of examination types and formats that have been given in your department.


You may also want to evaluate your own assessments for future improvements. After you create your assignments or exams, it is a good practice to have a peer review it. Consider, when seeking feedback, including guiding questions to your reviewer. Possible questions to pose:

  • Does this assessment connect with course learning outcomes? Which ones?
  • Are my assignments effectively scaffolded?
  • Is the assessment suitable for the level of the course?
  • Do students have adequate preparation and resources to complete the assessment?
  • Is the rubric or evaluation process clear to students, Teaching Assistants, and co-instructors?

You may also want to get some feedback from the students once they have completed the assessment. Some questions you might ask are:

  • What was the most difficult part of this assessment?
  • What was the most enjoyable part of this assessment?
  • Do you have any criticisms of the assessment? Please provide concrete examples.
  • Is there anything that you think should absolutely stay the same about this assessment?

This feedback will be a helpful addition to your teaching notes so that you have feedback available for the next time you use this assessment.