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The University of Southampton
Quality Handbook

Assessment Descriptors

The University has statements of generic characteristics for the range of classifications of its Honours awards. Some Schools have customised these 'generic characteristics' appropriate to their discipline(s), so as to provide guidance to students on what they need to demonstrate or achieve to obtain a particular mark.

With the development, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (FHEQ) and Programme Specifications, Schools have become more explicit about the attainment levels expected of students. The fuller use of interim exit awards also makes it necessary for clarification of attainment at the different levels of award.  The FHEQ by its very nature provides pointers to the different levels of achievement for qualifications/awards.

Few examples are available of a breakdown of attainment expectations by level of award. There is a general understanding that progression through the levels of award (e.g. Cert. HE through to Honours) is typically demonstrated by a growing independence in student learning and acquisition of more detailed and complex knowledge and techniques of analysis.

The assessment descriptors we have selected to use are:

This list of assessment descriptors is by no means exhaustive, but does cover the attributes which, in the main, are likely to be of key concern to Schools.  This list also does not relate explicitly to 'key' skills, apart from for presentation and communication issues.  Clearly, there are no descriptors here that relate to subject-specific skills, for example specialist laboratory skills or professional/vocational expectations, although these may be covered by the use of the "technical and practical competence" category.

These four tables should help inform Schools in the development of their assessment criteria for each year of study/exit award.

Table A

A summary of the key attributes expected of students for attainment of each qualification is presented in Table A. The University of Southampton has decided to formally adopt Table A as guidance of the minimum attributes one would expect from a student at each level. These nationally accepted descriptors should be used as a minimum standard upon which Schools can build their own bespoke set of attributes, as appropriate, for a particular subject.

Whilst Table A describes what students have to demonstrate to get a particular award, it does not provide guidance on grading these attributes. Table B provides guidance to Schools about grading students’ work at all levels expected for taught modules/programmes, and also indicates the typical progression of learning.

Table B

Table B provides a guidance framework for grading students’ work at each level and will be a valuable means of ensuring consistency of grading across the University at each level. The categories indicate what is typically expected of a student at each grade, at each level, although of course, students do not always fit into neat boxes and so academic judgement will always be necessary in order to arrive at a suitable grade for a piece of work. It must be emphasised that Table B is simply meant as a guide to grading students’ work; some Schools may wish to amend, add or delete categories if they are not relevant (e.g. the technical and practical competence category may not be useful for some subjects in humanities/social sciences).

Key skills such as problem solving, group skills, self-appraisal, and planning/management of own learning are areas of growing importance and specification in programmes. Schools may therefore wish to modify Table B to include such elements where appropriate.

Table C

It is recognised that Table B is large and complex, so an easy-viewing "snapshot" version (Table C) has been created based upon the text in Table B.

Table D

Correct and consistent grammar, punctuation and spelling has been adopted as a summative assessment criterion for all such significant pieces of independent learning , and is to be explicitly included in the assessment rubric. An example of assessment criteria by degree classification mark-band is given in Table D, though Schools may wish to develop their own to fit their academic discipline.

Modifications and Refinements

It should also be noted that different forms of assessment assess different skills and attributes, assessment criteria may therefore need to be refined as appropriate for the assessment method.

Links to external websites

Outcome classification descriptions for FHEQ Level 6

SEEC creating learning opportunity through credit Credit Level Descriptors for Higher Education - 2016

Master's Degree Characteristics Statement

Doctoral Degree Characteristics Statement

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