Assessment in higher education

“Our assessment practices are the single most influential driver of what our students do…” David Boud

We know assessment drives learning, so we should use this to our advantage and assess what will be important to learn.


Assessment is an integral part of the teaching and learning process and can be defined as: “the systematic evaluation of a student’s ability to demonstrate the achievement of the learning goals intended in a curriculum” (CHE, 2016). This is often interpreted as making judgements about students’ abilities at the end of the module or course to decide if a student can pass or progress to the next level. This is also referred to as summative assessment, or assessment of learning.

The Council on Higher Education (CHE) policy however suggests that assessment is not just about the measurement of outcomes, but could also be “a means to develop lifelong learning”. Assessment should therefore be more than the conclusion at the end of a module or course, and some authors argue that more emphasis should be placed on formative assessment, or assessment for learning and sustainable assessment, or assessment as learning. Find more information on this in a next section on the purpose of assessments.


On a national level,  the CHE’s Policies on the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL), Credit Accumulation and Transfer, and Assessment in higher education set out to provide directives and procedures guiding our assessment practices and can be found here.

At an institutional level, the Assessment Policy and the Implementation plan for flexible assessment at Stellenbosch University can be found hereBoth of these documents are currently under review.


It is essential that your assessments are aligned with your learning outcomes and learning opportunities. Refer to the Outcomes Resource for information on outcomes and constructive alignment. Ask yourself if your assessments provide evidence of students achieving your learning outcomes and if your chosen assessment strategies promote the kind of learning you want for your students. One way to improve this alignments, is to design your assessments before you plan your learning opportunities. We will therefore not leave the assessments as a last afterthought, but start with how you will gather evidence of learning and then design learning opportunities that will enable this.