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  2. Guidance
  3. Inclusive learning and teaching
  4. Inclusive assessment design
  5. Inclusive assessment design

Inclusive assessment design

Ensuring our course and unit assessments meet the needs of all learners can feel like a daunting prospect. However, by following some sound design principles, we can reduce potential barriers to assessment.

Three key approaches

The following inclusive assessment guidance introduces a range of practical approaches which promote:  

  • choice and flexibility.
  • clarity around expectations and processes.
  • opportunities for students to practise and learn from their assessments.

We can apply these three approaches to all types of assessment. Use the tabs below to explore more about each.

  • When planning assessments at course level, consider whether the course provides a range of assessment types as identified in the University’s Assessment Taxonomy. Whilst variety will remove the frequency of barriers associated with a specific assessment type, try to avoid using so many different and unfamiliar types of assessment that students then become overwhelmed
  • When designing for a specific assessment, consider whether it is possible to build in flexibility and choice in terms of how a student can demonstrate their learning to meet the learning outcome. For example, rather than specifying that a student must be assessed by a presentation, consider whether a poster or blog could also enable the student to meet the required learning outcome.
  • It is also possible to build greater choice into an assessment at design stage by ensuring questions enable students to draw on real world examples from their own experience or by using case studies which a diverse cohort can relate to (Oxford Brookes University).
  • Although there are many benefits to online assessments, not all students will have equitable access to a physical or digital environment which is conducive to assessment. Try to ensure students are able to access suitable alternative provision where required. 
  • Students may experience hurdles linked to assessment processes and procedures, rather than the actual assessment itself. Where possible introduce new and unfamiliar exam processes (e.g. software or procedures for submitting work) to minimise additional hurdles which may undermine confidence and detract from the assessment activity itself.  
  • Explicitly communicating exam arrangements and processes to students in a timely manner will help students better prepare for the assessment. This can be particularly important for students who have a Disability Access Plan (DAP) and who may be entitled to special exam arrangements or the use of assistive software. 
  • Assignment briefs can grow organically over time and, as a result, key messages can become diluted or hidden. Spending time considering how a brief is put together and checking that the instructions are clear and explicit can help to ensure that students do not misinterpret the criteria or task. Asking a colleague or peer who works in a different discipline to look at how a brief is organised and communicated can also enable us to view the documentation through fresh eyes. 
  • Encourage students to make the most of opportunities for practising a particular form of assessment e.g. a formative assessment task for presenting will enable students to practise and receive feedback before completing the summative presentation.
  • Remind students that a summative assessment in one unit can provide a valuable formative assessment opportunity for other unit assessments. 
  • When building in formative assessment opportunities it can be tempting to introduce a like-for-like practice run. Sometimes, a more focused formative task can better prepare students for tackling the summative assessment (and reduce staff workload!). For instance, rather than asking students to produce a draft report or assignment, or to read several articles, select a focused version of the task such as producing a couple of paragraphs, or reading and critiquing part of an article. 

Application to specific assessment types

The approaches above are relevant to all types of assessment. Below we have provided some examples of how these might be considered in more detail for specific types.


Helpful considerations you can make as part of the design and delivery of this assessment include: 

  • Provide students with information relating to the type of questions that will be included in the exam (MCQ, short answer, essay). 
  • Ensure students have had the opportunity to practise and/ or have had prior experience of the type and format of the exam. 
  • Support students with DAPs to use their special exam arrangements when practising for the exam. 
  • The logistics of an exam can be more unnerving for some students than the actual exam content. Being provided with logistical exam information in advance such as knowing where the exam is taking place or how to use the exam platform, can help students to give their best exam performance.

Helpful considerations you can make as part of the design and delivery of this assessment include: 

  • Provide explicit guidance on how long should be spent on answering questions and how much work to produce. 
  • Provide current working examples of past-papers available, particularly if students have not been exposed to this type of assessment. 
  • Provide practise opportunities for students to be able to trial new aspects of the exam format which they may not be familiar with e.g. uploading documents. The logistics of the exam can be more unnerving for some students than the actual content of the exam. 
  • If students are able to take in a document or small amount of information for the exam, encourage students to produce an aide-memoire which works to support their thinking. For example, a visual or diagrammatic aide- memoire may be more helpful for some students than linear notes. 

Helpful considerations you can make as part of the design and delivery of this assessment include: 

  • Pay careful attention to the clarity and length of the question stem and distractors. Consider using only three answer options for MCQs. 
  • Many digital accessibility features are built-in to software packages including support for screen readers, large print and extra time. 
  • If students are entitled to exam arrangements such as extra time, try to ensure students can use this for their summative in- class tests, if welcomed by the student (this may need to be handled sensitively). 


Helpful considerations you can make as part of the design and delivery of this assessment include:   

  • Draw students’ attention to the type of thinking they will be engaging in when writing their essay; students can sometimes focus on the content and overlook the instruction words in an assignment title, leading them to be overly descriptive rather than analytical or evaluative in their writing. 
  • Provide students with a range of focused exemplars which demonstrate what a ‘good’ introduction and effective paragraph looks like, explicitly demonstrating why. 
  • Heavier scaffolding may be required in earlier parts of the course to help students practise and develop their essay writing skills. Lessen or remove the scaffolding as students build their confidence and make progress. 

Helpful considerations you can make as part of the design and delivery of this assessment include: 

  • Provide clear guidelines for specific sections to ensure students do not inadvertently misinterpret the individual components which make up the report. 
  • Provide templates and exemplars which provide clarity on layout and format. 
  • If a report depends on a student’s ability to attend sessions, such as lab classes, ensure there is more than one opportunity to do so within a unit, to support those students who many not be able to attend due to circumstances beyond their control.

Helpful considerations you can make as part of the design and delivery of this assessment include:   

  •  If providing an overview to the dissertation structure/skills etc at the start of the year, revisiting guidance with students whilst they are working on the dissertation can be beneficial as they can directly apply this to their learning. For example, research methods guidance, data interpretation, reviewing the literature. 
  • Interim deadlines or progress markers can help students to breakdown the dissertation into manageable steps in order to build confidence and see progress. 
  • Refer to other places in the course where students may have encountered elements of the dissertation, helping transfer of skills/knowledge; students can regard this form of assessment as distinctly different and more complex than other forms of assessment they may have engaged in. Support students to see that they have encountered elements of the dissertation previously in the form of critiquing research, formulating a discussion in an essay, referencing etc. 

Helpful considerations you can make as part of the design and delivery of this assessment include:   

  • Reflective prompts can help to scaffold student thinking and ensure that the reflection avoids becoming overly descriptive and is worthwhile. For example, giving students a real- world focus for their reflective thinking or writing can help to ensure that their reflection is impactful. 
  • Encourage students to draw on positives as well as negatives when engaging in personal reflection, as students can sometimes overlook this. 

Helpful considerations you can make as part of the design and delivery of this assessment include:   

  • Students can feel anxious about falling behind with regular set exercises and may need support and reassurance to catch up. 
  • Students may need to be reminded that the purpose of set exercises is to help them to develop their skills and knowledge over a period of time, rather than fixating on the individual marks they achieve. 
  • Make the process surrounding set exercises transparent for students so that they are clear on expectations in terms of how to format and submit their work. 
  • If implementing new learning technologies for learners with DAPs, staff need to review if the tool responds appropriately to students digital accessibility requirements (e.g. NUMBAS accessibility statement). 
  • Consider how to maintain student effort and motivation over a longer period.  The learning design may require pre-planned scaffolding activities to aid this.
  • Group tasks might be divided into separate tasks completed by individuals, not encouraging the collaboration intended by the assessment design.  
  • If prior learning has not prepared students for working through setbacks and hurdles, (which is a natural and useful feature of project work) they may need support to navigate this and recognise the value in this type of learning. 
  • Consider how to support groups to work with others, as some students may have not worked in this way before. 

Helpful considerations you can make as part of the design and delivery of this assessment include:   

  • A portfolio assessment can support built-in assessment choice, particularly if students are given options on what to include in their portfolio. 
  • Students may need explicit guidance to demonstrate how their submitted work meets the portfolio marking criteria 

Helpful considerations you can make as part of the design and delivery of this assessment include:   

  • Students could be given an element of choice about the format of their presentations. 
  • If students are presenting online consider whether cameras need to be switched on as part of the assessment criteria. 
  • Encourage students to give consideration to the accessibility of recoded material for all users, including using captions, transcripts, colour contrast etc. This may be particularly important if students are being peer-assessed. 

Helpful considerations you can make as part of the design and delivery of this assessment include:   

  • Support students to actively manage nerves associated with presenting in order to help them prepare for the final assessment and overcome barriers they may face. By encouraging students to think in terms of which specific aspects of presenting make them most anxious (e.g. remembering what they need to say, being in the spotlight, gaps in their knowledge), we can equip them to target specific aspects with which they are struggling. 
  • If students are new to, or particularly anxious about, presenting, consider whether they can present to a smaller audience or present in pairs/a small group in order to build confidence. 
  • Be clear about what you are assessing them on. For example, is it the content, style of delivery and/or their ability to engage the audience? 

Further resources

Toolkit: making the language of assessment inclusive – resources from a 2023 QAA project

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