Assessment Literacy at the University of Adelaide

By Andrew Kemp (Learning Enahncement & Innovation)
Dr Helena Ward (Faculty of Health & Medical Sciences)
Dr Matthew Dry (Faculty of Health & Medical Sciences)

The theme of this year’s Festival of Learning and Teaching was ‘What Works? Perspectives on Feedback and Assessment’. Professor Elizabeth Molloy’s keynote set the tone by emphasising that assessment for learning and as learning is as important as assessment of learning. During the festival, we saw the many wonderful ways feedback is being trialled and used across the university to help students learn, and in the closing plenary, our PVC of Student Learning, Professor Phil Levy, helped tie everything together with the notion of feedback literacy and assessment literacy.

Assessment literacy ‘refers to understanding the process of making academic judgements, how this may be achieved and the benefits and limitations of different approaches’ (Jisc, 2015). Assessment literacy comes from being transparent and including students in the ‘academic processes’ of assessment throughout their course or program so they understand how everything ties together. Assisting learners to understand the assessment purpose and process helps raise their reflective ability in terms of their own progress and this understanding has positive effects on grades (Smith, Worsfold, Davies, Fisher & McPhail, 2013).

In short, by helping our students understand the purpose of the different forms of assessment, and how they measure performance at different stages of the course, their meta-awareness of their own learning is increased. This awareness allows the student to navigate the curriculum more effectively.

Assessment literacy has been included as one of the three pillars of the University’s planned BMS/MD program. Dr Helena Ward, assessment lead for the program, explains that this will involve developing dialogues between educators and students and providing students with skills to take more responsibility for their learning, including facilitating and using feedback. In order to embed assessment literacy, it is essential that assessment is coherent and structured across the entire program, not as a series of multiple tasks in individual courses (Price, Rust et al. 2012). This will help students develop a sense of being partners with the educators in an academic community, as described by Sambell and Graham (2011). The work of Baxter Magolda (2012) on learning partnerships is also informing the development of the BMS/MD assessment framework. In the learning partnerships model, students share assessment expertise with staff and other students and can transform from dependent learners to autonomous agents. This process has started for the BMS/MD program with a series of workshops where students, staff and recent graduates are involved in designing learning activities. Other co-creation opportunities will be explored to allow staff and students to engage with all aspects of assessment inlcuding standards, criteria, marking and feedback.

Academics can also benefit by incorporating assessment literacy explicitly into their course design. We can see examples of practices that are currently being employed in undergraduate teaching that are broadly aligned with its principles. For example, Dr Matthew Dry, Psychology 1A/B Coordinator, relates that incorporating these ideas has helped him reflect on how assessments are used and tied together. He explains, “we have been:

    1. 1. Explicitly (and repeatedly) telling the students that the exam questions are based on the learning outcomes we have listed beneath each of the online lectures,


    1. 2. Providing the students with multi-choice questions that are representative examples of exam questions, and;


    3. Using the tutorials to work through these examples in order to demonstrate best-practice approaches to answering MCQs.

Further, if we think about ‘literacy’ in the broader sense, as a ‘way of interpreting’ or a ‘way of reading’ then the way we work through the MCQ examples in the tutorials is actually helping to improve the students ‘MCQ-literacy’ in that they are encouraged to employ tactics such as the process of elimination to remove obviously incorrect answers in order to increase the likelihood of identifying the correct response.”

Assessment literacy is a burgeoning area at the University of Adelaide and helps student outcomes even when it is incorporated in simple ways. To discuss what this may look like in your course, contact a Learning Designer or begin your own discovery about this area of assessment.


Baxter Magolda, M. B. (2012). Building Learning Partnerships. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 44(1): 32-38.

Jisc. (2015). Assessment literacy. Retrieved July 27, 2018, from

Price, M., C. Rust, B. O’Donovan and K. Handley (2012). Assessment Literacy: The Foundation for Improving Student Learning. Oxford, Oxford Brookes University.

Sambell, K. and L. Graham (2011). Towards an Assessment Partnership Model? Students’ Experiences of Being Engaged as Partners in Assessment for Learning (AfL) Enhancement Activity. Staff-Student Partnerships in Higher Education. S. Little. London, Continuum: 31-47.

Smith, C. D., Worsfold, K., Davies, L., Fisher, R., & McPhail, R. (2013). Assessment literacy and student learning: The case for explicitly developing students “assessment literacy.” Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 38(1), 44–60.

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