"A comparison of the way students respond to different assessment environments has shown that it is not when criteria are spelled out in detail for each assignment that students are clear about goals and standards, but when they get plenty of practice at the same kind of assignment with good written and oral feedback, so they come to understand, over time, what is expected."
Transforming the Experience of Students through Assessment (TESTA)
Why is assessment patterning and scheduling important important?
This is an essential component of good assessment design. Incorrect assessment order or timing can affect real learning opportunities.
You must distribute student effort fairly evenly across all important topics rather than concentrating it at particular times of the year. This needs combining with a developmental approach where assignments build on prior learning to become increasingly complex and demanding over time (see the information on programme focused assessment in our section on assessment design).
This can be a difficult balancing act. Too many similar assignments become trivial yet too much variation may not allow students sufficient practice at each type of assessment. It may be more difficult for students to see the relevance of feedback when the next assignment is significantly different in form.
What are the common problems?
These include over-assessment and too much emphasis on summative assessment without sufficient formative opportunities.
Over-assessment can have a detrimental effect on student attainment as with too many different assignments to complete, students cannot concentrate sufficient effort on each one. This is a particular problem if combined with 'assessment bunching' where the deadlines to submit assignments fall closely together.
Where there is too much emphasis on summative assessment, students may overly focus on the final mark and feel less inclined to read and act on feedback. This is exacerbated when having so many assignments to mark. It means that tutors are unable to return marks and feedback in a timely manner to inform the students' approach to the next assignment (see also the section on feedback and feed forward).
How might we use technology and what are the benefits?
It can help students to engage with assessment criteria and standards through the use of online templates for assignment briefs and marking rubrics.
Digital information about the curriculum can model assignment scheduling and present information about deadlines.
How does assessment patterning and scheduling relate to the lifecycle?
This is a curriculum design issue that relates to the specifying stage. It's most relevant at the setting stage when the precise requirements for a specific instance of curriculum delivery will be put in place.
What resources can help?
- The University of Hertfordshire's assessment timelines tool outlines the impact of assessment timing
- The University of Greenwich programme mapper can help you mange staff and student workload
- TESTA's guidance outlines revised assessment patterns that work
- TESTA's guidance 10 steps to auditing a programme includes a completed audit example showing good points and areas for improvement from an anonymised course
- The University of South Wales' video outlines the creation of online assessment diaries for students.