Self assessment: a powerful learning tool to improve performance

Pauline M. Ross
University of Western Sydney
Year Level: 
First Year
Class Features: 

Large classes

Key Assessment Issue Addressed: 

Refection and self assessment

Encouraging students to reflect on what they know and do not know is perhaps the most powerful way whereby students and tutors understand what they do not understand. Recent studies have found that the quality of students' work can be improved through self assessment practices (Boud 2003), although the level of the learner and the level of the unit can influence the correspondence between the marks the students award themselves and those the teacher awards. Although, there are these discrepancies, insights from studies such as Falchikov and Boud (1989), may provide us with a way forward. This description gives an overview of how self assessment has been used to increase student performance and monitor progress of students in a large first year Biology class at the University of Western Sydney. In this unit, at the Hawkesbury campus, self-assessment was used in the Biology practical, as a strategy to enable students to 'learn how to learn' as a process in itself. It is important that these self assessment activities be viewed as part of an overall scheme to encourage students to self assess which runs throughout Biology.

Self assessment may be a promising formative assessment strategy to improve performance and encourage students to take responsibility for their learning to progress in economically restraining times.

The four self assessment activities which are detailed here (see questionnaires below), come from practicals which are on the topics of:

  1. Graphs and Handling Data
  2. Measurement
  3. Microscopes
  4. Observing Cells and Drawing

These are completed by the students at the end of each practical and checked by demonstrators in the following week. They provide students with an indication of their understanding and skills, and demonstrators with an idea of the areas they need to focus on with students. In the past we have provided 5% of the total assessment mark for completing these activities.

Evidence of the Initiative's Effectiveness: 


Additional Material: 

Boud, D (2003) The impact of self-assessment on achievement: The effects of self-assessment training on performance in external examinations. Assessment in Education 10 (2): 209
Falchikov, N., Boud, D (1989) Students self-assessment in Higher Education: A meta analysis. Review of Education Research 59(4): 395-430.

For Further Details
Contact Name: 
Pauline M Ross
Contact Faculty/School: 
College of Health and Science
Contact Institution: 
University of Western Sydney
Contact Email: