Assessing Large Groups

Published 7/09/2021

See an overview of assessment and feedback for links to research and principles of curriculum design.

There are a number of ways of making assessment of large groups manageable for staff whilst still supporting effective learning for students including:

  1. Reduce the amount of summative assessment
  2. Increase opportunities for students to receive feedback without increasing staff workload
  3. Manage the process of summative assessment
  4. Make use of online multiple-choice tests

1.      Reduce the amount of summative assessment

Fewer summative assessments: By focusing on programme level outcomes, summative assessments across a programme that concentrate on fewer, academic challenging assessments can promote more effective student learning (Elkington, 2020).

Shorter and authentic assessments: There is also scope to shorten some assessments, especially if some authentic tasks are introduced such as: press releases/news articles; reports to a target audience; paper abstracts/executive summaries of research; information leaflets. Such tasks can help students develop their skills in summarising and communicating information (Sambell and Brown, 2021).

Group assessment: the advantages of group assessment for students include helping develop team working skills essential for future employment, as well as providing opportunities for students to work together, interact and feel like they’re part of a learning community. Group presentations, reports, posters and videos are some ideas for group assessment tasks, and by assessing students in groups this can reduce assessment workload (Overton and Chin, 2010).  Ensuring group assessment is fair can sometimes be challenging, but this type of assessment can also be used as a formative assessment or feedback opportunity.

2.      Increase opportunities for students to receive feedback without increasing staff workload

Hattie and Timperley (2007) argue feedback is the most powerful influence on achievement and can have a hugely positive impact. Improved student work has also the potential of decreasing marking time. Some ideas for increasing feedback opportunities without impacting staff time include:

Self-assessment: for example, by engaging students with a checklist that they are required to submit with their assessment, encouraging them to assess their work in terms of common errors, e.g. word count, referencing, format etc (Carless et al., 2010). The checklist could also include self-reflective questions e.g. ‘I would like feedback on x’, ‘I think the strongest/weakest aspect of this piece of work is…’.

Peer assessment: for example, by engaging students in discussing/exploring marking criteria and model answers and then applying the criteria to excerpts of each other’s work to give each other feedback.

Whole class feedback: giving feedback to the whole class on a sample of student work can be an effective way of highlighting what has been done well or badly, and/or common mistakes or misapprehensions, and can be combined with self and/or peer assessment by asking students to apply the feedback themes to their own or other’s work.

In-class tasks and quizzes: for example, students can engage in a short activity such as completing a graph or answering some questions/a quiz. These can be self or peer marked and be followed up with whole class feedback. TurningPoint can be used for quizzes and polls in person and online to give immediate feedback.

3.      Manage the process of assessment

Feedback sheets and proforma: one way of speeding up the process of marking whilst maintaining standards is making use of assessment feedback sheets/pro-forma which clearly identify students’ strengths and areas for improvement against marking criteria. These can be combined with marking rubrics/grids. Taking such an approach also supports consistency amongst markers. 

Use statement banks: where a list of common comments that you can apply to students’ work is collated and then used in feedback as appropriate to speed up the process. Consider combining this approach with making feedback personal (for example in the final summary comment) to indicate to students their work has been engaged with and valued.

4.      Make use of online multiple-choice tests/quizzes

Quizzes and online multiple-choice tests: these are excellent for giving students instant formative feedback. Using online tests as summative assessment can be challenging as this requires considerable front-loaded effort in order to write enough good quality questions, adhere to University regulations and ensure fairness, security and academic integrity. More advice about online assessment and the tools available can be found here.

Case studies and resources

Professor Nigel Savery talks to Amy Palmer about how summative assessments were reduced and opportunities for students to receive feedback increased in Biochemistry during 2020/21.  

TESTA at Bristol: summary findings about Assessment and Feedback

Assessing large cohorts


Carless, D. et al. (2010) ‘Developing sustainable feedback practices’, Routledge, 36(4), pp. 395–407.

Elkington, S. (2020) Essential frameworks for enhancing student success: Transforming Assessment in Higher Education. Available at: (Accessed: 2 June 2021).

Hattie, J. and Timperley, H. (2007) ‘The power of feedback’, Review of Educational Research. Sage PublicationsSage CA: Thousand Oaks, CA, pp. 81–112.

Overton, T. and Chin, P. (2010) Assessing group work. Available at: (Accessed: 18 August 2021).

Sambell, K. and Brown, S. (2021) ‘Changing assessment for good: building on the emergency switch to promote future-oriented assessment and feedback designs’, in Baughan, P., Moody, J., and Morris, E. (eds) Assessment and Feedback in a Post-Pandemic Era: A Time for Learning and Inclusion. Advance HE, pp. 11–21.