Assessment Design: types of assessment task

Synthesis Portfolio

What is it?

This kind of portfolio is used for building up skills in smaller sections over the period of a unit. It is particularly useful at levels 3 and 4 and for introducing new skills at higher levels. Students are usually given a series of tasks to complete at intervals during the unit. These tasks are submitted for formative assessment and feedback from the unit team. At the end of the unit, a selection, or all, of the tasks are submitted for summative assessment. The original formative tasks may have been developed by the student for the final assessment, or the originals can be submitted together with a reflective account of how they would have been improved in response to the feedback.

The portfolio is useful for encouraging regular engagement with the course materials and ensuring that students have grasped something before moving on. There is a slower build to the final summative assessment and the planning stages can be built into the usual student activities for the unit; assessment is integrated throughout the unit. It can also develop the skills of revision and improvement in response to feedback.

Recommended levels:


Suitable for groups?


Things to think about

You need to decide whether you want to see all of the work that students have submitted formatively over the term, or a selection of the submissions. If it is a selection, will you choose which items are submitted (say, the lab reports from weeks 3, 7 and 9) or will you leave the choice to students (for instance, submit the four article précis which best demonstrate your progress over the term)? The answer will depend on whether you want to focus mostly on regular performance and acquisition of essential skills, or personal development, and this will be linked to the unit learning outcomes.

Some students may get confused about the formative and summative elements of the assessment. To reduce this, it is better not to give a mark for the formative elements – using a feedback sheet with the wording ‘if this had been for final assessment it would have received a mark in the range of ….’ would help to reduce confusion. Using letter grades in this formative feedback rather than percentages might also help.

There may be an issue about staff workload if the marking of the formative work is not properly factored in to the unit planning. This may be reduced a little by using generic feedback for the formative stages.

Students may choose not to submit formative assignments and there may be some who only submit summatively at the end of the unit. No penalties can be applied to marks for late submission and the process of Exceptional Factors does not apply to formative submission. You can refuse to give feedback on formative submissions which are late. Make the rules clear in advance.

Assignment length

The production and maintenance of a portfolio can be time-consuming, and this would normally be taken into account when considering the length of a summative submission or of a reflective accompaniment to a portfolio, which would probably be in the region of 1000-2000 words. The portfolio itself would be considerably longer; you could set a rule of thumb to guide students such as one piece of evidence per week of the course.

Marking the final summative assessments should take less time than it would if they were all being submitted as fresh work. This could reduce the time needed to turn round assignments at the end of the unit.

Group work

Group portfolios are not unknown; students could peer assess each others’ contributions to the overall task.

Plagiarism issues

The development of a piece of assessment over time reduces opportunities for plagiarism, as does the addition of a reflective piece to explain the selection of material.


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