Assessment-Outcome Alignment

GuidelineAlign assessments with the level of cognitive processes stated in the Intended Learning Outcome(s).  Use authentic assessments whenever possible.

We know that students will inevitably tend to look at the assessment and structure their learning activities, as far as they are able, to optimise their assessment performance. We must therefore make sure that the assessment very obviously does test the learning outcomes we want students to achieve, that, by being strategic optimisers of their assessment performance, students will actually be working to achieve the intended learning outcomes. In other words, the ILOs, the learning activities and the assessment must all be aligned. The assessment criteria should differ from the ILOs only in so far as that they might give more detail of performance levels required for specific rewards. If we tell students that we want them to achieve something (ILOs) and then assess them against assessment criteria that do not match, they will feel cheated and will become cynical strategic surface learners. Alignment is really simply a matter of honesty and fairness that establishes the trust required for students to be confident that they can manage their own learning.

Houghton, W. (2004). Engineering Subject Centre Guide: Learning and Teaching Theory for Engineering Academics. Loughborough: HEA Engineering Subject Centre. Retrieved from

Assessments should measure the knowledge and skills needed to function in realistic contexts.

Assessment is authentic when we directly examine student performance on worthy intellectual tasks. Traditional assessment, by contrast, relies on indirect or proxy 'items'--efficient, simplistic substitutes from which we think valid inferences can be made about the student's performance at those valued challenges.

Wiggins, Grant (1990). The case for authentic assessment. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 2(2). Retrieved from


Additional Resources

Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (2011). Teaching for quality learning at university: What the student does (Vol. 4th). Philadelphia: Society for Research into Higher Education; Open University Press.

Case, S.M., & Swanson, D.B. (2003) National Board of Medical Examiners. Constructing written test questions for the basic and clinical sciences, 3rd ed.

Darling-Hammond, L., &  Snyder, J. (2000). Authentic assessment of teaching in context. Teaching and Teacher Education, 16, 523-545. or (direct to paper on university website)

Gibbs, G. (1995). Assessing student centered courses, The Oxford Centre for Staff Development, Oxford.

Pellegrino, J.W., Chudowsky, N., Glaser, R. (eds.) (2001). Knowing what students know: The science and design of educational assessment. National Research Council. National Academies Press.


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