What are assessments, and how to prepare for them?

This section will look at different forms of assessment.  It will give you some practical ideas on how to prepare for them, and how to get the most out of them.


Presenting assignments to audiences was a real pain at the beginning, but little by little it became easier.
(Finnish student)

Assessments are the means by which your tutors can gauge how you are progressing on your course, allow you to receive feedback, and can also provide the grades which will allow to move on to your next stage of study.  Assessments generally fall into two categories: formative and summative.

Formative assessments

These assessments are generally informal, and do not count towards a final mark or grade. They could take the form of a crit that takes place during a unit, a blog post on a group blog that invites comment from fellow students or staff, a reflective journal, or a first draft of a piece of work.

Summative assessments

These are the assessments that generally come at the end of a project or unit, and provide you with a grade or mark that may count towards your overall mark. They could take the form of a final essay or dissertation, a portfolio of work, a final presentation or an exam (for specific advice on exams read How to manage exams).

In order to make sure that everyone is marked fairly, your tutors will use a set of criteria to mark against.

  • Learning Outcomes outline WHAT you’re meant to know and be able to do by the end of a unit. An example of a learning outcome could be, ‘Apply organisational skills that will facilitate a time-efficient response to independent, directed studies, and team work.’
  • Assessment Criteria identify HOW your tutor measures your work against defined Learning Outcomes. An example of assessment criteria might be, ‘An ability to communicate clearly and coherently in visual and verbal forms.’

How could this affect me?

Many students find assessments stressful, but you should remember that they are an important way for you to receive feedback, which will allow you to develop and improve your work, and to move forward.

It was difficult to hand in assignments on time and to present work in front of people.
(Finnish student)

Many autistic students told us that one of the main challenges with exams is to organise the time for revision – doing little by little over a longer period. Also, nerves can get in the way during the exam itself, especially when there are distracting noises in the room. Read our separate article on how to manage exams.

With coursework the challenges can be similar – organising your time so that you don’t have to rush things towards the deadline. But also knowing when to stop work on an assignment: getting regular feedback from a tutor on your work-in-progress is crucial here.

Feedback comes from a range of sources and will provide different ways for how you might improve your work. Feedback can sometimes be contradictory but learning to respond to feedback is a vital skill for all students.

Think about whether the feedback is informed or uninformed – for example, feedback from a technician about a technical process is informed, specialist knowledge. It has a different level of usefulness from opinions offered by family and friends or even your tutor. Your tutor will often give you guidance that is intended to help you meet the Learning Outcomes of the unit.

All feedback is an active dialogue which relies upon you to respond and not repeat the same mistakes in your future work.

I needed help with organising myself for a big research essay.
(UK student)

Reasonable adjustments

If you are struggling with assessments and have already disclosed your autism, you should speak to the Disability and Dyslexia Support Service. They may be able to suggest a reasonable adjustment be made, to enable you to participate in the assessment process. Your Learning Support Plan can include information about reasonable adjustments for assessments. For example, a reasonable adjustment could be making a video presentation instead of presenting in person, or showing your work to the tutor in private, rather than in front of the whole seminar group.  Read more about arranging reasonable adjustments and how to work with your tutor on finding the most appropriate way of assessment for you.

What to do next?

Make sure that you are aware of what the Assessment Criteria are at the start of a project or unit.

Practical tips

Familiarise yourself with the ‘Learning Outcomes’ and ‘Assessment Criteria’ from your module/unit brief or handbook. Knowing these will allow you to stay focused and work towards specific targets.

Create opportunities for feedback so that you can continuously improve. Here is how:

  • Make your work available for tutors and classmates; don’t hide away and isolate yourself.
  • If you find it difficult to ask for feedback, think of ways that you might be able to receive it in an indirect way – maybe online through a blog or other social media.
  • Try to accept feedback in a professional manner; don’t take it as a personal insult.
  • Likewise, if you are giving feedback, keep it related to the work.
  • Make use of ‘301: Academic Skills Centre‘ if you would like help to develop your writing skills.

Make sure that you aware of deadlines for formative and summative assessments

  • Use a calendar to prompt you a few days before a deadline, so that you have time to get everything ready.
  • Most academic departments request that students submit their assignments electronically via Turnitin.  It’s a good idea to ensure you know how you’re going to submit your assignment via Turnitin before the submission deadline.
  • If you need to hand in a paper copy of your assignment, find out in advance how to do this and where you need to take it and allow enough time to get to wherever it is you need to be to hand your work in; always factor in public transport, traffic issues etc.
  • If your assessed work is to be printed, make sure that you allow time in case of any technical issues with printers.
  • Likewise, if you are giving a presentation, make sure that the projector works, and your presentation is in the correct format.

Take note of any feedback and use opportunities for discussing any feedback that you receive. Many tutors will offer a tutorial after giving feedback, which will give you the opportunity to discuss any concerns, and ask for advice in moving forward.

Deadlines and penalties

If you are worried that you are to going to be late in submitting an assignment, you must contact your module tutor to discuss this. Penalties for late submission apply to all coursework unless an extension to the deadline has been agreed by your department.  Deadline extensions are not automatically put in place – if you need to request an extension to a submission deadline, you must contact your academic department to discuss this and to ask how to request an extension.  The extension request would then be considered by your department.  If the Disability and Dyslexia Service has already sent a Learning Support Plan to your department, the department will check and refer to this when considering a student’s request for an extension.

Questions to think about

  1. What is the difference between formative and summative assessment?
  2. How can I encourage feedback on my work?
  3. How can I use formative assessment to improve my work?
  4. Where do I find details of what the tutor will be assessing me on?
  5. What are the dates for assessment?
  6. Where do I need to present my work for assessment?
  7. What format should my assessable work take?
  8. Who can I discuss my feedback with? Do I need to book a tutorial/one-to-one?