This section introduces you to:
- Formative and summative assessment
- What makes feedback effective
- Evaluating students and writing reports
The student assessment context at LSE
Students at LSE are expected to do two types of assessment during their studies. Class work or course work is submitted to the class teacher for formative assessment, to help the students develop their skills and understanding. This work may well be graded, to give students a feel for how they are progressing. But much more important will be the feedback you provide, which should help them to improve and develop – this is often termed “feed-forward” as it is future-focussed. In addition, students are required to produce assessed essays and projects and to take unseen written examinations for summative assessment, designed to evaluate their current level of academic achievement.
Formative course work
Normally, GTAs will only be involved in marking formative assignments, designed to help the students progress in their studies and to provide opportunities for individual feedback.
Below are examples of formative coursework required by two different departments.
Class teachers should keep an accurate record of student grades and performance and include a summary of this information in their class reports.
The Code of Good Practice for Undergraduate Programmes indicates (paragraphs 3.7 and 4.4) that permission to sit exams may be denied to students who regularly miss class and/or do not provide required course work. You may wish to point this out to students. However, before taking students to task, do check whether there are good reasons for their apparently poor work record (eg. disability-related reasons such as hospital appointments, or particular personal and emotional difficulties). Depending on the situation, this could be done by talking directly with the student or, perhaps preferably, through their academic mentor or the lecturer in charge of the course.
Formative essays provide an opportunity to raise and check student awareness so that they comply with the highest standards of academic conduct. (For more information, see the Regulations for Assessment Offence: Plagiarism in the LSE Calendar.) Students would benefit from having this information in advance of preparing their first assignment; but it can be reiterated and reinforced through written feedback.
Summative course work
A growing number of courses include summative assessment. This normally takes the form of essays, dissertations, projects, and more practical assignments such as conducting and reporting empirical or data analysis projects. An important point to note is that where students are working on formally assessed essays which count towards the final degree classification, you need to check with your department on the nature and extent of advice you can give the students. For example, many departments allow students to seek tutorial advice prior to getting down to writing, including advice on literature and format specifications, and possibly on the structure of an outline. However, many departments do not allow students to get feedback on draft essays that will be summatively assessed and on dissertations after the end of the Summer term. For disabled students, it is also important to be aware of the advice in the Inclusion Plan.
As noted above, many courses at LSE include a closed, fixed time examination. These are usually of three hours’ duration, though some are slightly longer – for instance, some courses add a further 15 minutes of “reading” time for long papers – and some are shorter, such as some half units or courses where there are essays as well as exams. Most GTAs are not involved in marking exams, but some departments do involve GTAs in marking summative exams. Where this is the case, it is important that you:
- are clearly briefed to this effect, and agree to it in your contract;
- are paid for marking (usually on a “piece” rate, rather than an hourly rate);
- are properly trained and advised on marking standards, criteria and practice.
Since 2017, there has been a school-wide push to implement assessment diversification. Simply put, it is about adopting a blend of assessment methods that is both formative and summative to achieve a significant positive impact on student learning and performance. Most departments and programmes at the LSE have adopted this approach and consequently there are fewer courses being assessed by a single exam at the end of the course, and more courses that feature an assessment mix. For instance, the LLB programme has moved from assessment exclusively by exam in 2017-18 to a more varied assessment diet in 2018-19 that comprises essays, exams, take-home assessments and portfolio work.
The LSE Assessment Toolkit offers insight into a number of assessment methods and practices to both evaluate as well as support student learning, and should be of practical use to class teachers as well course convenors.
Quote box: “Diversified assessment is the way forward: it is less stressful, more rewarding, and leaves you with a better and deeper understanding of your subject.” Bhadra Shreejith, Third-year Government and Economics student writing in The Beaver
Marking students’ course work
Below are some tips, guidance and prompt questions to help you with the marking and feedback process. Anyone wanting more detailed guidance may wish to find and read some of the resources recommended in the Further Reading section at the bottom of the page.
Checking things out
First, there are some important preliminaries you may wish to check out if you are new to marking, or if you are new to the institution. Things to consider include:
- Learning outcomes: these are usually incorporated into course guides but you may need to check with the course convener for the course.
- Assessment regulations and requirements: see the relevant section of the Calendar, plus departmental handbook or relevant course outline.
- Assessment criteria: in most departments there is a set of agreed assessment criteria for work, but again you may need to check with the course convener for the course. The LSE Assessment Toolkit discusses marking criteria more here.
- Inclusion Plan specifications for some disabled students will mean that there is a letter of relevant advice which should be taken into account attached to the exam paper (eg. about the impact of dyslexia on spelling). For more information on addressing neurodiversity in students, see here .
- Syllabus: see the Calendar course guides plus departmental handbooks and course outlines.
- Previous assignments/essays/exams for these students and for past students on this course. Check if there is a bank of past student work that you can check out.
- Marking/feedback sheets: some examples are offered in the Appendices, but do check to see if the course convener has their own, or if there is a departmental version. (NB: If you produce your own, the LSE Eden Centre would love to see it!)
- Likely grade distribution: it is worth checking around as to how others are grading, how last year’s students did on essays, exams, etc..
- How grades will be used: for example, General Course students will obtain an exam mark and a coursework mark from classes based upon their marked coursework, presentations and their participation in class. Both marks go forward to their course transcript.
- The preferred grading convention for the course. Both percentages and letter grades are used at the School. From the student perspective, an important part of understanding grading conventions is to know how these might relate to grades in exams or other formal assessment. Students also prefer it when faced with one (rather than multiple) set of grading conventions.
Getting down to marking
Marking often creates considerable anxiety amongst new GTAs, and many find it helpful to talk to colleagues, especially when starting out. Several departments now offer practice marking sessions to new GTAs, or do some moderation of class work grading to ensure that class teachers are marking to a similar standard. The course convener for your course may also ask or offer to look at a sample and check on your grading and feedback to students.
If you are concerned about a piece of work (eg. worries over plagiarism), or realise, for example, that there is a problem with either the framing of the model answer or a problem set question, do seek advice from the course convener for the course.
You may wish to keep your own records on each student. Several class teachers now use feedback templates or cover sheets, and fill them out electronically. This enables them to keep their own copies, which can be helpful in building up feedback to students over time.
Marking for the first time – some pointers
When you are faced with your first set of marking, make sure you give yourself time and space to mark. It requires good concentration even at the best of times, and especially the first few times. Here are some tips:
• Sort work into sets – similar/same topic; similar approaches
• Take the first five scripts, read them quickly, do not attempt to grade them but try to get a feel for the standard and range of approaches
• Mark using marking scheme/student feedback sheets. Take breaks and monitor yourself to make sure you are applying the same standards to each piece of work fairly
• Ask yourself about any biases or preconceptions you might have. If possible, it is best to mark “anonymously”, but this is not a requirement for class work. You may recognise student handwriting or points of view, so you need to be vigilant, and be prepared to reassess a piece of work before returning it to a student
• Record the grades on the online class register
Feedback plays a vital role in student learning. The School’s Academic Code recognises this and sets out clearly what students can expect from their lecturers, teachers and programme support staff.
In particular, it states:
Feedback on formative tasks will be returned to students within 3 weeks of the submission deadline, where students submit their work on time.
Students have the opportunity to receive individual feedback on all summatively assessed tasks and exams (including resits):
- For assessments set in Michaelmas or Lent Term, feedback within 4 weeks of the date of submission/exam;
- For assessments set in the Summer Term, feedback within 4 weeks of the beginning of the following term for those whose degree programme is continuing;
- Final year graduates and undergraduates who complete dissertations within the final year of their studies, will receive feedback within 4 weeks of the beginning of the following term in which the dissertation was submitted.
The aim of any feedback is to inform the students about the strengths of their work and to identify areas for development in future work.
More specifically, for feedback to benefit learning, students must know:
- What good performance is (goals, criteria)
- How current performance relates to good performance (compare)
- How to act to close the gap
So, in any kind of feedback format, focus on giving students feedback that will help them in the future and enable them to understand why they got the mark they did. (It is worth giving some thought as to whether the ‘future’ might mean their next course essay, exam preparation or preparing detailed ideas to come through well in a forthcoming interview for getting on to a higher degree.) One type of question students often ask is “How could I upgrade this answer from a 2:2 to a 2:1?”
Make sure that your feedback is timely. There is plenty of research evidence that indicates that the closer the feedback is to the actual doing of a piece of work, the more the student can learn from it. At the LSE feedback on formative assessment needs to be turned around in three weeks and feedback on summative assessments generally within four weeks. In the case of courses using weekly problem sets, class teachers are advised to check what the expectations are, both for students to turn work in, and for it to be marked. The ideal is weekly hand-in and turnaround of marked papers, but this is often not a formal requirement.
Consult the guidance documents on feedback produced by the LSE Eden Centre on a variety of topics such as feedback on quantitative work, collective feedback on exams, feedback on oral presentations, self-assessment and peer feedback. Some of these guidance documents are accompanied by templates and pro-formas which you could use or adapt for use in your class.
Class Teacher reports
Most courses require their class teachers to provide a report on each student’s progress at the end of Michaelmas and Lent Term. For students, these reports are an opportunity to obtain both feedback on the past term as well as guidance for either the next term or their summative assessment (for example, clear pointers as to how to improve and develop their work).
Class reports also play an important role in enabling the School to have an overview of a student’s academic progress, and can thus be available to other people in the School. Chief amongst these are Academic Mentors, but, depending on each student’s situation, there may also be several other people who will need to see them. Reports are used in three main contexts:
- Students are expected to meet with their Academic Mentors throughout their academic career at the LSE. For these meetings, it is important for Mentors to have an understanding of a student’s general level of work and to also be aware of any serious study problems a student may be facing.
- Academic Mentors and Department Tutors are often asked to provide references for students. To do this they will often rely on the insight provided by class teachers in their reports.
- The Committee on Student Progress will decide how the School responds to a student with a failing mark on a course. To understand such results, the Committee needs clear and accurate information on a student’s attendance and general engagement with the course and its work.
Writing class reports
When writing reports for your students:
- Be clear, be consistent, and be constructive.
- Be positive, but do not ignore academic problems.
- Do not record sensitive or confidential information.
In thinking about what to write for these reports, it may help you to consider the following questions:
- How well-prepared is the student for classes? (Eg. Do they: complete the weekly assignments/undertake core reading/contribute to class discussions?)
- How has the student progressed over the course so far: are they improving or do they face increasing problems?
Providing accurate answers to these questions can help all those who use these class reports, and not just the students.
You can visit this page for some example class teacher reports (staff-protected).
Class grades for General Course students
In addition to providing feedback on coursework and on general progress, you may have to provide separate class grade for General Course students in your class.
Towards the end of the Michaelmas Term, you will receive an email from Registry with a list of General Course students in your classes. You will also be directed to guidance notes on how to formulate the class grade and how to input this via LSE for You. You will need to submit half unit Michaelmas Term grades by Week 4 of Lent Term and all remaining grades by the end of Week 2 of Summer Term. The class grade is meant to be an overall assessment of the work the General Course student has done in the class over the course of the year. There is no fixed algorithm for this but it needs to take into account their attendance, their overall level of participation, any presentations they may have given, and the problem sets and/or essays they have completed. Given the steep learning curve that General Course students go through in adjusting to LSE and the UK higher education system, you may want to weight your assessment towards the latter half of the course.
This class grade will form part of the LSE transcript the student receives at the end of their year at LSE. It is important that the class grade be a fair and accurate assessment of the student’s overall performance. It is not meant to be your prediction of how they will perform on the exam. Nor should you mark General Course students harshly as a way of incentivising them to perform well on the exam. The table below shows the standard LSE classifications, how these map on to standard percentage grades and the equivalent letter grades for use with General Course students.
The reason this is important is because the class grade, along with the grade they receive for the end of year exam, will play an important role in determining whether the General Course student receives credit for the course at their home institution. In some cases, the class grade and exam grade may be averaged and factored into the student’s GPA at their home university. If you have any queries about grading General Course students please contact the General Course administrative team.
A note on data protection
It is always worth bearing in mind that under the Data Protection Act any individual is entitled to see anything written about them including job references, reports or exam feedback. When writing feedback, references or reports, be frank but fair even when a student has been difficult to work with. Ensure that what you write is what you would be prepared to say to them face-to-face with evidence to back it up. Refer to the School’s Data Protection Policy for more information.
- Brown,G, Bull, J and Pendlebury, M (1997), Assessing student learning in higher education, Routledge, London, pp317, in particular Chapter 5, “Assessing Essays”. LB2367.G7 B87
- Campbell, A, and Norton, L (2007) Learning, Teaching and Assessing in Higher Education: Developing Reflective Practice, Exeter: Learning Matters Ltd, pp 176. LB2331 L43[MB16]
Revision Questions: What would you do if …?
Consider the questions and make notes about how you might approach these scenarios should they arise in your class. Feel free to share your thoughts with a more experienced colleague from your department or the LSE Eden Centre.
- What will you do if a student submits an assignment late?
- Do oral presentations have to be submitted in advance of the class they are due?
- Should you provide feedback to students on their work individually or prepare general talking points for the whole class?
- What advice or feedback can you offer a student who appears to be unclear about academic conduct expectations on the course?