How to Create Meaningful Assessments For Your Courses

When designed strategically, assessments are a meaningful part of the learning process as they can clarify goals, introduce thought and reflection processes, and prepare students for subsequent parts of a course or program.  Below are several suggestions to help make your assessments meaningful learning experiences for your students.  

Use rubrics to clarify your expectations. 

Using rubrics to clearly outline the criteria and standards that will be used to assess student work can help to alleviate anxiety by making the assessment process more transparent. Rubrics should be constructed to give students a clear understanding of what is expected of them and what constitutes quality work. Using exemplar assignments that have been graded according to the rubric is one way you can model your expectations and help students understand what quality work looks like in the context of your course.  Rubrics also help establish consistency in grading and feedback if you are working with teaching assistants or co-instructors. More information on how to design a rubric is available here [link to rubric KB].  

Align your assessments with your course learning outcomes.  

Assessments should directly evaluate the extent to which the course learning outcomes were achieved. The expectations of assignments and exams should match the knowledge and skills described in the course learning outcomes. The connections to your course learning outcomes should be transparent and easily understood by students. For example, this could be done by including a table in your course syllabus or assignment instructions that highlights which learning outcomes each of your assignments address. More information on connecting your course learning outcomes with your assessments is available here.  

Include opportunities for formative assessment and feedback.  

Formative assessment provides both students and instructors with an opportunity to monitor students’ progress in achieving the course learning outcomes. Formative assessment focuses on improving student learning, not just assigning grades. Provide multiple opportunities for timely feedback on students’ learning progress throughout the course so students have sufficient time to practice, reflect on the results, and incorporate feedback. More information about adding formative assessment opportunities to your course is available here.  

Ensure assessments are authentic 

Assessments requiring students to address complex problems that they might encounter outside of the classroom are often more interesting, motivating, and meaningful for students. Authentic assessments help students see how their course work translates to the work done in the discipline, including realistic contexts and constraints. Consider how assessments can simulate situations encountered in the workplace, or in students’ civic or personal lives. Ensure that expectations are realistic and that situations are adapted to the knowledge level of your learners. Examples of authentic assessment include: responding to a request for proposals; writing a grant or funding application; writing a letter to the editor or Op Ed; examining case studies; or analyzing data to answer a research question.  

Assessment strategies should also reflect and be aware of your student demographic and be representative of their positionality. For example, a math question that asks students to calculate the cost of landscaping their 2 acre backyard. Many students do not have a backyard and there is no authentic connection for the students. John and Karen are calculating the cost of their son’s hockey and their daughter’s ballet lessons for the year and realize they need to readjust their budget. This sort of question framing reinforces heteronormative stereotypes.  Review the names and examples that are used in the assessment instructions to make sure that they are inclusive to all learners.   

Use assessments as an opportunity to build a learning partnership with students. 

When introducing assessment strategies, consider letting students know the rationale behind them. Did the experiences of past students inform your decision to use a particular assignment or test? Debrief with your students after an assessment and use the feedback students share to evolve your assessment strategies. This makes it clear to students that you care about their experiences and that student voices impact your instructional choices.  

Vary assessment methods and offer choice when possible. 

Offering opportunities for both variety and choice in your assessment methods can increase student engagement and motivation, leading to more meaningful assessments. When possible, allow students to demonstrate their learning in different ways. Offer choice in terms of task or topic, but ensure all options are aligned with course learning outcomes. Allowing for choice and multimodal opportunities that still align to learning outcomes are important Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles. For more information on UDL please see the UDL KB [insert link here].


Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation. Assessment – Following Through on Learning Outcomes. Toronto, ON: Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation at the University of Toronto.  

Lindstrom, G., Taylor, L., & Weleschuk, A. (2017). Guiding Principles for Assessment of Student Learning. Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning Guide Series. Calgary, AB: Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning at the University of Calgary. Retrieved from 

Weleschuk, A.,Dyjur,P., & Kelly, P. (2019). Online Assessment in Higher Education. Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning Guide Series. Calgary, AB: Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning at the University of Calgary. Retrieved from