What is the purpose of assessment?

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What is assessment?

An assessment is a method of collecting evidence to establish the level of performance of a learner. Some teachers believe that assessment drives students' learning. A wise academic once said that higher education institutions "live or die by their assessment practices", and despite a huge amount of research, assessment is still a hotly-debated subject. Are we getting it right for our students?

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To explore the idea that assessment drives learning and other concepts, please access Dorothy Spiller's (2009) handbook: Principles of Assessment.
  • Read the introduction (pages 1 to 5), where Spiller discusses how assessment tends to be used.
  • Familiarise yourself with the purposes of assessment - for students and teachers, and also for professional and institutional reasons.
  • Reflect on whether assessment, in your experience, has promoted learning.
  • Record your thoughts.

Create your definition of assessment

Please check out: four different definitions of assessment on the University of Connecticut website. After considering these definitions, how do you define assessment?

What is the purpose of assessment in your teaching area?

Choose as many items as you like, and make notes to justify your choices.


  • enables selection and placement of students
  • motivates students
  • provides a focus for student learning
  • consolidates and structures student learning
  • guides and corrects student learning
  • determines readiness to proceed (diagnostic)
  • is used for certification or for grade achievement (ensuring standards)
  • evaluates teaching
  • Secures funding
  • Measures how and what students learn
  • Develops new and varied educational experiences for students to develop their talents and abilities
  • Determines whether students master the skills and knowledge and develop behaviours that courses and programs promise
  • Determines whether changes and interventions actually enhance student achievement and success.