to establish or measure what the learner has achieved, determine marks or grades, or provide a gateway to further progression?
Who is to carry out the assessment? Is it to be carried out by an external body of some sort, or are the course tutors to be responsible for planning and administering it? If the latter, could there be some advantage in involving the students themselves in the process, via peer assessment or self-assessment? (Both modes are becoming increasingly widely used in tertiary education.)
Is the assessment to be norm-referenced (in which the relative performances of students are directly compared), or criterion-referenced (in which the performance of students is assessed against pre-determined criteria, without regard to their performance relative to one another)? Increasingly, the latter form of assessment is becoming standard in tertiary education - especially in competence-based courses.
Is the assessment to be continuous (carried out on an on-going basis as students work their way through the course or course unit) or terminal (carried out once the programme of study has been completed)? Most courses now incorporate at least an element of the former, since it reduces ‘examination pressure’ on students and provides useful feedback on progress.
You should also give some thought to the method (or methods) by which the assessment is to be carried out. Different assessment methods are best suited to assessing different types of student learning outcomes, so you should try to match the two as effectively as possible. When assessing knowledge and understanding of the basic facts and principles of a subject, for example, the best methods are probably objective tests or short-answer tests of some sort. When assessing higher-level cognitive skills such as analysis, evaluation or problem-solving, on the other hand, tests based on extended-answer questions or continuous-assessment based on essays, assignments or projects are probably more suitable. For other types of skills, practical tests, situational assessment or portfolio-based assessment might be the best way to proceed.
If you wish to become an excellent tertiary-level teacher, make yourself thoroughly familiar with the full range of student assessment methods that are currently available, and try to choose the most appropriate assessment strategy in any given situation. The 1996 booklet on ‘Assessing Student Performance’ by Ellington and Earl (see ‘References’) could serve as a useful starting point here, with more detailed guidance on the planning and implementation of student assessment being available in any of the standard texts on the subject - eg, ‘Assessing Learners in Higher Education (Brown and Knight, 1994) or ‘Planning and Implementing Assessment’ (Freeman and Lewis, 1998).
Golden Rule 5 : Monitor and evaluate your teaching