Assessment methods: What are the affordances & key points?

Various methods can be used to assess your students. There are no perfect assessment methods and what works for one may not work for another. Each method has its own strengths and weaknesses and you will often have to find what is most appropriate in your specific context. You could, and probably should, use to combination of methods to address the learning outcomes in your module.

Many examples are available at this link as well as here.

Some are explained in more detail below:


What is it?

The portfolio is not the easiest type of assessment to implement, but it can be a very effective tool. Along with student reflection, it provides valuable information about how each student learns and what is important to him or her in the learning process.

Rather than a pile of student work that accumulates over a semester or year, a portfolio contains a purposefully selected subset of student work. “Purposefully” selecting student work means deciding what type of story you want the portfolio to tell. For example, do you want it to highlight or celebrate the progress a student has made? Then, the portfolio might contain samples of earlier and later work. Do you want the portfolio to capture the process of learning and growth? Then, the student and/or lecturer might select items that illustrate the development of one or more skills with reflection upon the process that led to that development. Or, do you want the portfolio to showcase the final products or best work of a student? In that case, the portfolio would likely contain samples that best exemplify the student’s current ability to apply relevant knowledge and skills. All decisions about a portfolio assignment begin with the type of story or purpose for the portfolio.

Portfolios may be entirely written texts or may be multimodal, but typically include evidence of student reflection, the rationale for portfolio construction, and criteria for assessment. Portfolios are often included with other types of authentic assessments because they move away from telling a student’s story through test scores and, instead, focus on a meaningful collection of student performance and meaningful reflection and evaluation of that work.

Useful tips: When starting the portfolio process, remember to keep it simple. Start with a single unit. Determine your goals and purpose for the portfolio. Create a checklist. Explain the process to students and encourage them to take an active role in the development of their portfolios. What you might discover is a very valuable and meaningful evaluation tool that effectively assesses student learning.

What are the affordances?

Portfolios typically are created for one of three purposes: to show growth, to showcase current abilities, and to evaluate cumulative achievement.

  1. Growth Portfolios
  • to show growth or change over time
  • to help develop process skills such as self-evaluation and goal-setting
  • to identify strengths and weaknesses
  • to track the development of one more products/performances
  1. Showcase Portfolios
  • to showcase end-of-year/semester accomplishments
  • to prepare a sample of best work
  • to showcase student perceptions of favourite, best or most important work
  • to communicate a student’s current aptitudes to future teachers
  1. Evaluation Portfolios
  • to document achievement for grading purposes
  • to document progress towards standards
  • to place students appropriately


Design tips

A series of questions that need to be addressed when considering the design of a portfolio assignment:

  1. Purpose: What is the purpose(s) of the portfolio?
  2. Audience: For what audience(s) will the portfolio be created?
  3. Content: What samples of student work will be included?
  4. Process: What processes (e.g., selection of work to be included, reflection on work, conferencing) will be engaged in during the development of the portfolio?
  5. Management: How will time and materials be managed in the development of the portfolio?
  6. Communication: How and when will the portfolio be shared with pertinent audiences?
  7. Assessment: If the portfolio is to be used for assessment, when and how should it be assessed?

More reading

Birgin, O & Baki, A 2007. The Use of Portfolio to Assess Student’s Performance. Journal of Turkish Science Education, 4(2):75-90.

Milton, L & Van Wyk AE 2010. The portfolio as an authentic assessment tool for learning: Is it serving its purpose? Yesterday & Today, 5:141-162.



Multiple choice questions (MCQ)

What is it?

A multiple choice question, also referred to as an item, consists of two parts. These include the problem statement (referred to as the stem); and several response options (referred to as alternatives). The alternatives usually contain one correct or best answer (referred to as the keyed response), with the rest being incorrect answers (referred to as distractors).

What are the affordances?

Some of the most compelling reasons for using MCQs include their perceived objectivity (removing assessor bias, making them more reliable), reduced marking time, the fact that they can scope large portions of work and can offer immediate feedback. This also makes them ideal for online formative assessment, where students can take the test in their own time. Most online platforms (including SUNLearn) has built-in statistical analysis tools that offer useful information for improving the questions and controlling the standard of the test.

Contrary to what is often assumed, MCQs can assess at multiple levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. However, designing good MCQs that accurately assess higher order thinking skills, are time-consuming as they require skills and expertise to design well. It has also been argued that MCQs might:

  • encourage students to adopt superficial approaches to learning
  • be answered correctly by guesswork,
  • disadvantage students with lesser reading skills, regardless of how well they understand the content that is assessed.

The use of MCQs should be aligned with the outcomes it is meant to assess. There might be cases where MCQs might not be able to accurately assess the outcomes, e.g. if the outcomes center around writing skills.

Design tips

General guidelines for writing MCQs

Each question should focus on an important concept or testing point.

What do you want the test-taker to know or demonstrate?

Each question should assess application of knowledge, not recall of an isolated fact.

The number of response options can vary among questions. There is little difference in difficulty, discrimination, and test score reliability among questions containing two, three, and four distractors.

Always review questions to identify and remove technical flaws that add irrelevant difficulty or benefit savvy test-takers.

As you review it, ask yourself the following questions.

  • If the response options were removed, could a knowledgeable test-taker still answer the question correctly?
  • Is there anything in the phrasing or text that could confuse the knowledgeable test-taker?
  • Are there any clues that could help a test-wise student to guess the correct response option?

Finally, you should ask a colleague to review the question you have written, in particular for content, clarity, and appropriateness for your particular test-taker population.


Follow this link to a self-paced tutorial on how to design MCQ’s (45minutes):


More reading

Brame, C., (2013) Writing good multiple choice test questions. Retrieved September 2018 from sub-pages/writing-good-multiple-choice-test-questions/.