The University of Southampton
Quality HandbookAssessment

Principles and definitions of assessment

Assessment Principles set out the key aspects of assessment practice that should be reflected in all assessment practice and procedure. 

Assessment Descriptors

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 Faculties. 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.

This list also does not relate explicitly to 'key' skills, apart from for presentation and communication issues. 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. Faculties may therefore wish to modify Table B to include such elements where appropriate.

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.

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 Faculties 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 Faculties 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 Faculties 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).

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.


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

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