Assessment and Feedback Notes from a Keynote Presentation by Professor Phil Race (25/03/2015)

Here are some selected key points taken from Professor Phil Race’s Keynote presentation on Assessment and Feedback. Note that most of the bulleted points have been taken as they are from the presentation. The rest of the presentation, and more information about Professor Phil Race is found on his website.

Phil identified some of the practices that are still going on in Higher Education learning, teaching and assessment which he thinks are not working anymore hence regards them as ‘madness’. These are:

  • Lecturing in the traditional way – students don’t now expect to write notes, and often don’t come with pens.
  • Hand-writing feedback – lecturers spend hours writing comments on students work but the students take little notice and they get the feedback too late.
  • Marking Essays – reliability of essays as an assessment method is notoriously poor.
  • Marking huge piles of exam scripts – written exams only measure what comes out of pens. It is what’s in heads that needs to be tested.
  • Ignoring the fact that the students can get to some of the best ‘content’ in the world by themselves, at no charge, on their laptops, tablets and mobile phones.

He suggested that instead, staff should focus on helping students to become excellent learners, getting feedback to them in ways that work much better than written comments; and transforming assessment into something which causes learning, not just attempting to measure snapshots of what has been memorised.

Seven factors underpinning successful learning

Phil suggested that staff should be doing the following in order to make learning happen:

  1. Striving to enhance our students’ want to learn;
  2. Helping students to develop ownership of the need to learn;
  3. Keeping students learning by doing, practice, trial-and-error, repetition;
  4. Ensuring students get quick and useful feedback – from us and from each other;
  5. Helping students to make sense of what they learn.
  6. Getting students deepening their learning by coaching other students, explaining things to each other (verbalising).
  7. Allowing students to further deepen their learning by assessing their own learning, and assessing others’ learning – making informed judgements.


Is more effective when:

  • It is used to engage students in learning that is productive
  • Feedback is used to actively improve student learning.
  • Students and teachers become responsible partners in learning and assessment.
  • Students are inducted into the assessment practices and cultures of higher education.
  • Assessment for learning is placed at the centre of subject and program design.
  • Assessment for learning is a focus for staff and institutional development.
  • Assessment provides inclusive and trustworthy representation of student achievement.

The five NSS statements in the UK (to bear in mind)

  1. The criteria used in marking have been clear in advance.
  2. Assessment arrangements and marking have been fair.
  3. Feedback on my work has been prompt.
  4. I have received detailed comments on my work.
  5. Feedback on my work has helped me to clarify things I did not understand.

Students’ thoughts about assessments

Student evaluations frequently reveal poor assessment practices that:

  • Lack authenticity and relevance to real world tasks;
  • Make unreasonable demands on students;
  • Are narrow in scope;
  • Have little long-term benefit;
  • Fail to reward genuine effort;
  • Have unclear expectations and assessment criteria;
  • Fail to provide adequate feedback to students;
  • Rely heavily on factual recall rather than on higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills.

Students need assessment literacy among other things in order to succeed in Higher Education. They need to be able to do the following:

  • Make sense of key terms such as criteria, weightings, and level;
  • Handle a variety of assessment methods (e.g. presentations, portfolios, posters, assessed web participation, practicals, vivas etc) and get practice in using them;
  • Be wisely strategic in their behaviours, putting more work into aspects of an assignment with high weightings, interrogating criteria to find out what is really required and so on;
  • Gain clarity on how the assessment regulations work in their University.

Feedback and Feedforward on exams

Even good feedback on coursework does not necessarily prove much help regarding structuring exam answers. Phil suggests having typical exam answers, about 3, typed up (with students’ permission), with track changes comments added as they will be useful for future candidates. The typical answers should be made available to students in advance but not too far in advance.

Feedforward is defined as a strategy that aims to increase the value of feedback to the students by focusing comments not only on past and present, but also on the future – what the student might aim to do, or do differently in the next assignment or assessment if they are to continue to do well or to do better.

How to give feedback to a large group within 24 hours

Feedback should be timely, given to students while it matters to them and in time for them to use it towards further learning, or to receive further assistance. The following is a suggestion of how to give feedback to a large group within 24 hours. The rationale is that most students would still have been doing the work in the last 24 hours before they handed it in such that they would remember what they were doing, what they didn’t do and what they missed out because they couldn’t understand it.

An assessment deadline is set such that students hand in their work during lecture time. E.g. for a 10-11 lecture on a given day, the deadline can be set to 10:03. The lecturer hands out to the students a coloured sheet containing numbered points. Then when giving feedback, students can be referred to a particular point, e.g. ‘please see point 3, blue sheet’, etc. The coloured sheet can contain illustration of what is expected as evidence of achievement of each of the intended learning outcomes; likely mistakes; features of a good answer; frequently needed explanations; and things that the lecturer would have to write time and time again on students’ work. The students are given about 3 minutes to study the points and then the lecturer spends a few de-briefing the whole group and talking them through one point on the handout. Such feedback contains tone-of-voice, facial expression, body language, emphasis, etc. which lack in written feedback. The lecturer then takes the students’ work away to mark in less time with comments now relating more to each individual piece of work. When students get their marked work back with feedback, they are more likely to use it as it’s personal.


Adapted from Professor Phil Race’s Presentation

Feedback without marks

It is perceived that marks destroy the value of feedback to students because students may be blinded by the mark or grade they get and may not try to make sense of the feedback they receive as a result. If the mark is good, they rejoice and file the work without reading the feedback, but if it’s low they frown and bin the work. Phil suggests a way round it as giving students their work with feedback but with no marks or grades while keeping a record of their marks. Then the students are asked to work out their marks from the feedback they were given, and also from the feedback others were given. They are advised that if their self-assessment scores are within (say) 5% of their own scores, the higher number will go forward into their assessment record (this will motivate the students to assess themselves, and also that the lecturer will talk individually to those students whose score is different by more than 5% from the one they are given. The lecturer then collects the students’ marks/grades and arranges to talk to the students whose marks are more than 5%. It was observed that most students, about 9 in 10 will be within the 5%.

Students who under-estimate their grade will need their self-esteem boosted and also to be reminded about the assessment criteria, and how these illustrate the intended standards associated with the learning outcomes. Students who over-estimate their grades will require a walk through their work to find out where exactly they lost points they thought they had gained.