Creating self-assessment tools for your students

Written by: Dr Andrew K Shenton | Published:
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Reflecting, referring, progressing and researching – there are varied uses of self-assessment tools for students. Andrew K Shenton explains some of the benefits he has found with students taking the extended project qualification

No doubt many readers are familiar with the long-established practice in education that begins with a group of students sitting some form of test prior to a teaching programme, either to determine their suitability for it or to provide a baseline understanding of their skills in advance of the work.

The programme is delivered and a post-test applied. The results of the two tests can then be compared in order to ascertain the effectiveness of the learning.

In recent months, I have experimented with a softer, multi-faceted variation, whereby students assess their own skill levels before and after a course leading to the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ), which, at my own school – Monkseaton High – features an extensive programme of training in good academic practice before the students embark on their own independent learning projects.

The principles and individual stages within the evaluation method can, of course, be transferred to a range of learning situations and merit consideration far beyond an EPQ context.

The introduction above gives some insight into the diverse uses that can be made of such a procedure. The paragraphs that immediately follow outline what may be done to create the necessary tool.


The first step lies in developing a series of prompting sentences dealing with the skills inherent in the learning outcomes which it is anticipated will result from the course in question.

An appropriate scale for rating must then be applied. The creation of my own instrument was informed by what I had seen of an electronic “skills checker” that had been developed by Anne Archer at the Robinson Library of Newcastle University (see further information).

This had been prepared to enable post-18 students to gauge their skills before and after undertaking an information and library skills module. The university instrument used a standard Likert scale featuring the responses: strongly agree, agree, not sure, disagree and strongly disagree.

I opted for four possible reactions that were somewhat more informal and conversational:

  • This is new to me.
  • I’m not really sure I do this.
  • I have some ability here.
  • I’m confident I can do it.
I felt that these responses were more appropriate for my younger learners. On giving each reaction, the student was presented with advice that indicated appropriate parts of the teaching programme to come which would increase their knowledge, skills and understanding in terms of the area involved.

Initially, I wondered about asking the students to complete their before and after self-assessments at each end of the formal EPQ teaching component but I soon realised that a more logical approach lay in using the self-assessments to book-end the EPQ course as a whole.

Consequently, the guidance that was given in the instrument referred the students to such varied strands as:

  • Elements within the group teaching sessions.
  • Aspects of the study visits to local libraries that were integral to the course.
  • Formal feedback from the teaching staff in relation to entries written by the students in their research diaries.
  • Teaching points that would be made in personal tutorials as the students approached the pertinent phase of the project.
The degree of specificity given within the advice is largely a matter of personal choice. The guidance could be as general as referring to a particular lesson in the programme, for instance, or as precise as a mention of a certain handout.

How far the students conscientiously embrace this direction is a decision for them. My own view is that such personal autonomy is vital for the reinforcement of the EPQ’s emphasis on independent learning.

Thus it is up to the learners themselves to take advantage of the opportunities open to them if they are to improve their skills in areas where they know they are currently weak.

My final task lay in suggesting resources that students could consult after they had completed the EPQ course so as to extend their understanding further. These included in-house learning materials produced within the school and items prepared by others and available externally, for example, via the web or as commercial booklets. Again, the focus on self-action emphasises the wider priority given in the course to independence.

The individual stages

In generic terms, any teacher wishing to create their own such instrument would be well advised to follow these 10 steps.

  1. Ensure that the learning outcomes of the course involved have been clearly defined.
  2. Accommodate these in suitable statements to which the students will respond.
  3. Devise or adopt an appropriate scale for the individuals to rate their reactions.
  4. Point to elements within the course that will help everyone to secure the anticipated outcomes.
  5. Consider what can be done by the students after the course to increase their knowledge, skills and understanding with regard to consolidating or extending the intended learning outcomes.
  6. Ask the students to complete a pre-assessment.
  7. Stage the course.
  8. Highlight in the teaching those elements that make an especially important contribution to achieving the learning outcomes.
  9. Ask the students to complete a post-assessment, the content of which is exactly the same as the pre-assessment.
  10. Provide the necessary scope for the students to progress further.

Benefits of the instrument

There are several attractions to devising a tool of the type that forms the subject of this article.

  • It requires the student to reflect on their level of skill both at the outset of a course and immediately after it. Such comparison encourages a degree of analytical thinking – a worthwhile ability in itself.
  • It refers the learner to opportunities within the teaching programme that they should exploit so as to maximise the extent to which they are able to achieve the desired outcomes.
  • It indicates how members of the group can develop in the future by suggesting what they may wish to do to enhance their skills after the completion of the learning programme, thereby laying the foundations for on-going, life-long learning.
  • It provides data that can be used by the educator in a research capacity in order to improve the teaching programme, and move forward by concentrating especially on those aspects where students may not have made as much progress as the educator would have wished.

Final thoughts

If the reader views the tool described here primarily as a means of evaluating a teaching programme, perhaps the most fundamental question for consideration is how far they are willing to accept the accuracy of the self-reported data that the pre- and post-assessments collect.

Students may have various reasons for being less than totally honest when offering their rating, notably a desire to present themselves in the most favourable light possible. These concerns can be at least partially countered by ensuring that the responses are made anonymously.

There is also the question as to the form that the instrument should take. In preparing my own, I was mindful that the university library’s “skills checker” was electronic and accessible online.

I pondered on making my own tool available as a SharePoint survey, which could be accessed by all the relevant students via a school-wide intranet. Ultimately, though, I opted to present it on a large, A3 sheet of paper. This enabled all four elements – the pre-assessment, the initial guidance, the post-assessment and the end-of-course suggestions – to be seen side-by-side and the neat linear progression that I had intended was clearly apparent.

Nevertheless, in attempting to state all the appropriate information relevant to the pre-assessment and the post-assessment together, I had to know in advance every detail that the course would involve.

Elements for which I was not directly responsible, such as the exact content of the study visits, might change unexpectedly, with the result that some of the information on my sheet may be rendered obsolete. The greater flexibility of the electronic environment renders this danger less far-reaching.

The problem also arose that a single handout can easily be mislaid by the recipient. To reduce this danger, I included the page as the last part in a comb-bound learning pack that all the EPQ candidates were given when they embarked on the course. On completing the post-assessment, each student retained their original document and simply provided me with an unnamed copy.

  • Dr Andrew K Shenton is curriculum and resource support at Monkseaton High School in Whitley Bay and a former lecturer at Northumbria University. To read his previous articles for SecEd, go to

Further information & resources

Skills Check, Robinson Library, Newcastle University:


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