How could we improve student learning by using frequent assessment and feedback?

Students could be frequently assessed and provided with feedback by tasking them to do assignments throughout the module, not just at the end. The type of assignment may differ, it may range from a weekly test with 10 multiple choice questions to a weekly essay of 4000 words. The type of feedback could also differ:

  • feedback on the task (e.g. ‘your score is 8 out of 10),
  • feedback on the learning process (e.g. ‘you held 4 interviews and processed them in time’);
  • or feedback on the person of the student (e.g. ‘you did well’).

Offering feedback frequently is one method of promoting regular study effort as well as engaging students with the course. Students’ study effort, or time spent on studying, is a predictor of study success. The more time students spend on learning, while the quality of education remains the same, the better they perform.

Intermediate assessments support students in increasing their time on tasks and spreading their learning efforts more regularly throughout a period of time, and affects learning outcome positively (Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006). Research shows that formative feedback based on, for example, a series of assignments or tests, supports students in their attempt to spread their learning effort more evenly throughout a period of time (Hattie, 2009). This evenly spread learning positively effects learning outcome (Black & William, 1998; Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006; Hattie & Timperley, 2007).

Regarding the design of feedback, Hattie and Timperley (2007) make a distinction between feedback about the task (FT), about the processing of the task (FP), about self-regulation (FR), and about the self as a person (FS). They argue that FR and FP are powerful in terms of deep processing and mastery of tasks, and FT is powerful when the task information subsequently is useful for improving strategy processing or enhancing self-regulation (which it too rarely does). FS is the least effective type of feedback.

Getting started

  • Divide the subject matter into small sections (e.g. the subject material per week).
  • Formulate test questions for each part.
  • Write feedback per answer (multiple choice), per question (different forms of examinations) and/or per group of questions. Include in the feedback a reference to the course material.
  • Ask a colleague to take the test and check for mistakes.
  • Select an appropriate kind of test, for example a pen-and-paper test or a test through the digital learning environment.



  • Black, P., and Wiliam, D. (1998) Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 5(1), 7–74.
  • Hattie, J. & Timperley, H. (2007) The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77 (1), 81–112.
  • Nicol, D.J. and Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006) Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: a model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31 (2), 199–218.
  • Shute, V. L. (2008) Focus on formative feedback. Review of Educational Research, 78 (1), 153–189.