When should learners be assessed? Advice from ATHE.

When should learners be assessed?


Learning has taken place when there has been a change in skill, attitude, knowledge or understanding. Measuring these changes are the key steps in the assessment process. In other words, it confirms that a learning outcome has been achieved and the standards determined by the assessment criteria have been met. All ATHE units are written in terms of learning outcomes which must be achieved for learners to succeed. The learning outcomes state what the learner will be expected to know, or do, or understand. Assessment criteria are the standards which a learner must meet for the learning outcomes to be achieved. When qualifications are graded, there may be additional tasks for learners to complete which will be at a higher level. But when should assessment take place? assessment2
  1. Before the course begins – diagnostic assessment
Diagnostic assessment takes place either before the course begins or at the first session. This can serve a number of purposes:
  • to help decide whether the unit/qualification is suitable for the learners’ needs
  • to help decide whether the learner should aim to achieve higher grades in the qualification
  • to encourage learners to identify their own needs and discover if the proposed learning is right for them
  • to help tutors identify individual learning and thinking styles
  1. During the course – formative assessment


Assessment can be used during learning to give feedback and support the learner’s progress. It will also inform both the learner and tutor of any action that needs to take place. Formative assessment will allow:

  • tutors to judge what knowledge/skills and understanding a learner has acquired and what they still need to achieve
  • tutors to plan the next steps
  • tutors to give appropriate feedback to a learner
  • tutors to encourage and motivate a learner including producing work for the higher grades
  • a learner to identify what has been learnt, what they need to learn and what they need to do to improve
  1. Towards the end of the course – summative assessmentassessment1
Summative assessment normally takes place towards the end of the learning programme or unit. This type of assessment measures the extent of learning that has taken place at the end of that phase of the learning experience. It enables a judgement to be made about whether the learner has achieved all the learning outcomes and met the assessment criteria within a unit. What evidence can be used for assessment?
  • portfolios
  • assignments
  • written examinations
  • time constrained internally assessed work
  • reflective diary
  • projects
  • research
  • questions and answers
  • talks and presentations
  • role play
  • group work
You can find out more about when and how to assess learners in our Delivering ATHE Qualifications Handbook.