Guide to Assessment Volume

Assessment within the Southern Cross Model is designed to be manageable both for students and staff, with appropriate volume and workload. A fair and appropriate assessment volume “ensures the learning outcomes for the subject are covered as efficiently as possible” (Dunn et al., 2003, p. 219). Assessments do not need to be unnecessarily long or onerous. This short guide will assist when considering the appropriate assessment volume for your students.

Before you begin

Before continuing, it may be useful to review the principle of Constructive Alignment and how this applies to course and unit design at Southern Cross University. Applying the process of constructive alignment to the interrelated design of unit learning outcomes (ULOs), assessment and curriculum will help ensure that unit volume and workload are optimal and clearly communicated to students. See Constructive alignment in course design.

Connection to policy

Assessment, Teaching and Learning Policy (Section 3, Part A: Assessment Principles)

Assessment Principle 1: Assessment is designed for student learning, engagement and success.

(6) Our assessment:

d. Is appropriate in volume and workload, manageable for both students and staff.

Deciding on an appropriate assessment volume for a unit

Assessment needs to be designed in parallel and integrated with the unit content and, critically, the unit learning outcomes (ULOs). The knowledge and skills required for the assessment are best developed incrementally through the unit’s self-access modules, tutorials and workshops.

Assessment should be clearly connected to the unit’s self-access modules, tutorials and workshops, so students know what is being asked.

Unit Details and the UCMS System

More information about how the details of a unit are developed and documented in the Unit & Course Management System (UCMS) (including Unit Learning Outcomes (ULOs) and Assessment) is available in the following article: UCMS: A guide to completing unit details

The following questions are useful to consider when designing an assessment scheme for a unit.

How much assessment is needed to achieve the ULOs?

To discern how much assessment is needed to achieve the ULOs of a unit, it may be helpful to consider these questions:

  • What is an appropriate type and amount of discipline-specific work students need to produce or perform to demonstrate their mastery of the ULOs?
    • appropriate type of assessment – to what extent does the assessment activity parallel the work of a graduate at that AQF level in the workplace or community?
    • number of assessments – how many different assessment activities are needed for students to demonstrate their mastery and for the marker to be assured of students' mastery of that ULO?
    • length of response – to help your considerations, useful assessment workload calculators are available i.e. Workload Estimator or Course Workload Estimator
    • discipline-specific work – to what extent does the assessment activity rely on novel or idiosyncratic skills beyond the ULOs which students need to master?
  • Are your expectations regarding the students’ cognitive effort and skills required to complete the assessments appropriate to the year level of study for this unit? (Refer to The Australian Qualifications Framework for more details.)

What volume of assessment is needed to meet the ULOs?

To decide what assessment volume is appropriate in order for students to achieve the ULOs, it might be useful to consider these questions and policy references:

  • How can each assessment contribute to the demonstration of student achievement of ULOs, and ULOs alone? Any extraneous skills and knowledge should not be assessed.
  • Are these assessments an effective, efficient and reasonable way:
    • for students to demonstrate their mastery of the ULO?
    • for you to be assured of students' mastery of the ULO?
  • Are these assessments authentic in that they require students to demonstrate their mastery in a manner similar to that expected of them as working professionals? (More information about authentic assessment is available here: Assessing Authentically)
  • Can these assessments build upon each other rather than being discrete items?
    • Scaffolding is highly beneficial as it breaks cognitive tasks down into smaller steps and allows for mastery of various skills before moving on to the next step.
  • Have you factored in the time and effort required for students to complete any non-obligatory, ungraded (often formative) tasks? Practice quizzes are a case in point (i.e. a H5P Quiz or an ungraded Blackboard Test).

Connection to policy

Assessment, Teaching and Learning Procedures (Section 3: Assessment Design and Validation)

Assessment load, weighting and distribution

(18) Assessment is designed with an appropriate workload for staff and students, commensurate with the credit point weighting, length of the Teaching Period, and the Unit’s Level of Study.

(19) Normally, there will be no more than three summative assessment tasks set in a Unit, inclusive of any graded sub-tasks. Approval from the Associate Dean (Education) is required to include more than three summative tasks per unit. 

(20) The maximum weighting of any graded assessment task is 60% of the mark for the Unit.

Curriculum Design and Development Procedures (Section 6 - Design and Development of Units)

Unit Aim, Learning Outcomes and Level of Study

(53) A unit will normally have no more than four Learning Outcomes

Do the assessments integrate with and complement existing unit and course design elements?

To ensure students are not required to study more than the appropriate 20 hours per week per unit, the following is suggested:

  • Provide explicit activities in the course content geared to allow mastery of the assessment genres (e.g. report writing, PechaKucha presentations, APA 7th referencing skills)
  • Offer students time dedicated to practice or upskilling in the use of the tools that are required to present/produce the assessment
  • Explicitly and overtly integrate practice and illustration of the cognitive processing and production of the assessments into workshops/tutorial

Example unit design

Below is an example of how assessments can be designed so that they build upon each other. Note how the ULOs, assessments, and modules are carefully sequenced together. The example is from the AQF7 (Introductory) unit: COMM1004: A Culture of Enquiry.

WeekModuleAssessmentLearning Outcome
1Climate change
Identify how students know what they know, and identify frames, heuristics and biases. (ULO1)
2Race and society: What is influencing your decision-making process?(A1) Quiz: On foundational concepts related to epistemology, frames and types of heuristics and biases (Note: Students need to address these concepts in Assessment 2)Identify how students know what they know; and identify frames, heuristics and biases. (ULO1)
3Immigration: Communication and collaboration
Working in groups. (ULO2)
4Vaccinations: How to use current, relevant, and authoritative sources(A2) Group Assessment: Critical review of media article (600 words)Identify relevant sources for university study and demonstrate an understanding of text ownership and authorship. (ULO3)
5Wealth distribution: How to interpret visually represented data
Interpret visually represented data. (ULO4)
6Arts in society: Copyright or right to copy?(A3) Short written response (1000 words) (Note: This assessment asks students to articulate individual, evidence-based responses to the main messages of the media article reviewed in Assessment 2)Identify relevant sources for university study and demonstrate an understanding of text ownership and authorship. (ULO3)

Assessment volume: Designing individual assessments

The following questions are useful to consider when designing each individual assessment piece within a unit.

Understanding expectations: Have you factored in the time and effort required for students to understand the expectations of the assessment, including rubrics and exemplars?

  • Clear and concise instructions for the assessment and the rubric are influential. Mason (2021) encourages reducing extraneous information “to free up cognitive resources so students can concentrate on the actual material”.
  • Ensure that every criterion in the rubric is relevant to the ULOs. Other criteria should be removed (e.g. remove criteria related to assignment genre rather than ULOs).
  • Offer an opportunity for students to see what standards of quality looks like (e.g. with exemplars that use annotations to connect to the rubric).

Student preparation: How much time and effort will be required to successfully prepare the assessment, both in terms of time spent, cognitive effort and achieving any necessary technical proficiency?

  • Loosely termed “study”, or “preparing for the assessment”, this may include the effort required to select and review relevant unit content; engage in research external to the given unit material; write or practise the assessment; and learn or re-familiarise themselves with any required technologies.

Production: How much time and effort will students need to commit in order to produce or fulfil this assessment?

  • Time and effort are involved in setting up and performing creative works, setting up and conducting interviews, presentations, vivas, and so on.
  • Do students need to learn a new technology to present their work?
  • Group work, for example, involves finding time to meet, allocate and coordinate research, and review drafts (Dunn et al., 2003).

Engaging with feedback: How much time and cognitive effort is needed to adequately process assessment feedback/feedforward in order to apply the knowledge and skills to the next assessment?

  • Students need time to access, understand and consider the academic feedback received to “gauge how they are doing” and act upon this feedback before their future assessments (Dunn et al., 2003, p. 219).
  • Where there are explicit tasks that actively engage students to look at and utilise the feedback, have or will you build time and opportunity to engage with feedback in class?


Assessment volume checklist

Assessment asks more from students than just creating a response. There are multiple factors required for students to successfully complete an assessment, ranging from understanding the assignment instructions to managing the technology required to create and/or submit the assessment item(s).

This checklist may assist you in finding ways of reducing the cognitive and temporal load associated with assessment on your students.

Time/effort required by studentsHigh, medium, low time/effort required by studentsHow can you facilitate this variable to reduce the cognitive and temporal load on students?
To access and understand the instructions (text and/or video)

For questioning to clarify expectations (asynchronous text and synchronous in-class)

To learn or to re-familiarise themselves with the assessment technologies required

To attend group meetings and other processes involved in group assessments (where appropriate)

To familiarise themselves with and understand the marking rubric

To familiarise themselves with exemplars of various levels of achievement

To engage in cognitive work …  the work and effort required to obtain the necessary knowledge before ‘pen is put to paper’, and the student embarks on creating or delivering their response (e.g. searching for and reading literature both within and outside the unit materials; practising skills; gathering data)

To perform or fulfil the assessment task including logistics associated with carrying out the task (e.g. group work or interviewing)

To access, understand and reflect on the academic feedback received


More resources on assessment design:

Need help?

If you require assistance with discerning whether or not your assessment volume is appropriate for your unit and unit learning outcomes, you can get in touch with your Educational Designer, or alternatively contact


Dunn, L., Morgan, C., O'Reilly, M. & Parry, S. (2003). The Student Assessment Handbook: New Directions in Traditional and Online Assessment (1st ed.). RoutledgeFalmer: New York.

Jessop, T, El Hakim, Y & Gibbs, G. (2014) The whole is greater than the sum of its parts: a large-scale study of students’ learning in response to different programme assessment patterns, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 39:1, 73-88, DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2013.792108

Mason, R. (2021). Understanding and designing for cognitive load: How to enhance student success. Talking Teaching webinar, Southern Cross University.

Tomas, C. & Jessop, T. (2018). Struggling and juggling: a comparison of student assessment loads across research and teaching-intensive universities. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 44(1), 1–10.

(Please note - it's better to refer to the Online version rather than export, as it's always up to date)