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People within the educational community—policymakers, schools, administrators, teachers and students—use assessments for different purposes. This issue of CDTL Brief presents some discussions on the issues surrounding Assessment.

March 2003, Vol. 6, No. 3 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Self- and Peer-assessments — Vehicles to Improve Learning
Dr Laina Ho
Centre for English Language Communication

Are feedback exercises becoming the bane of students’ lives? It may seem so considering the multiple assessments required of NUS students and the response of one of my students who remarked that it was ‘feedback fatigue’ and not ‘exam fatigue’ that riled her. Likewise the apathy of my foreign graduate students towards peer-assessment; they would give inaccurate feedback by ticking the same column for all aspects of an oral presentation skills performance. Thus the peer-assessments that I had conducted in the past semesters had failed miserably. Consequently, I was confronted with the question of how to motivate my students to be more discriminating and enhance their learning at the same time.

Using peer- as well as self-assessments to contribute towards a student’s final grade is one of the ways to encourage students to exercise critical thinking and take responsibility for their learning. From the voluminous research done on peer- and self-assessments, the general consensus is that the two assessments are measures of improving students’ grades through students’ motivation to learn, particularly in tertiary institutes (Boud, 1981; Falchikov, 1986; Falchikov, 1988). Self-assessment is defined as where the learner judges his own performance against his own assessment criteria (Falchikov, 1986:147). In addition, it “involves learners in the processes of determining what is good in any given situation. It requires them to consider the characteristics of say, a good essay or practical report, or performance skills in a practical exercise” (Boud, 1995:12). Thus self-assessment could enhance learning if learners take responsibility for their grades. It encourages critical thinking and critical assessment that is more objective as opposed to subjective assessment made by a single assessor.

Bearing in mind the advantages of peer- and self-assessments (Boud, 1981; Falchikov, 1986; Falchikov, 1988), I introduced the two assessments together with tutor assessment for a 100% continual assessment course in oral presentation skills that is compulsory for foreign doctorate graduates to read as part of their English language and communication skills requirements. Implemented on a total of 30 students in semester two (AY 2001/02) and semester one (AY 2002/03), the final grade1 was obtained from average of the three scores from the three assessments. Students were trained to assess themselves using the same criteria in both peer-and tutor assessments through class discussions, lectures, previewing professional public speakers, viewing and learning from professional teaching videotapes, critiquing and assessing the performance of previous students’ oral presentation skills. Each student had to do a five-minute oral presentation that was videotaped for the individual and the group to practise self- and peer-assessments and to calculate their final scores that included the tutor’s ratings. They then individually did a 20-minute videotaped oral presentation where all the three assessments were made.

Observations from the sample group of 30 students in the two semesters showed that self- and peer-assessments contributed significantly towards students’ motivation to improve. There were minimal deviations in the marks given by the tutor, the peers and self. This concurred with studies of Filene (1969) and Falchikov (1986) that the older the students the more accurate the peer marks with the tutors, thus addressing the possible problem of inaccuracies in a single teacher’s rating. Students came to recognise that the three kinds of assessments were more accurate (reliable) as opposed to evaluations done by a single assessor, which could be subjective. The observation verifies that of Magin & Helmsore (2001) who showed that in oral presentation skills, where there is a single teacher’s rating, peer-assessment should be included to act as a benchmark in order to obtain a more accurate overall rating. Instead of being nonchalant, students learned to be more constructive in their peer feedback because they felt that they and their peers needed encouragement to improve. In short, they learned to take responsibility for their learning. In particular, foreign students from a different education system experienced a sense of fulfilment when they attempted to achieve their target marks. In addition, they felt honoured to be given some responsibility for the grading system. In a questionnaire on this exercise, 75% of the foreign graduates agreed that these assessments were fair and accurate. Most importantly, this exercise had shown that self-assessment was a good way of reinforcing assessment procedures and patterns, by “providing an opportunity to renegotiate, in a controlled way, certain aspects of the marking process” (Taras, 2001).

To ensure that all three assessments were accurate and fair, it was necessary to devote time and energy to train the students to do a proper assessment. This may discourage tutors who are constrained by insufficient time for their modules and a large class. However, the time-consuming and labour-intensive training sessions can be modified and various methods can be adopted to prevent feedback fatigue and subjective assessment. For example, I taught and trained another group of foreign graduates to assess themselves and their peers by checking on specific criteria items in the evaluation forms, without being videotaped for their presentations. The result showed accuracy of peer and tutor marks, i.e. minimal deviation of peers’ marks from the tutors’. It also showed that the students were equally motivated to learn and improve on their oral presentation skills.

Self- and peer-assessments of students’ course work (particularly those that involve performance skills in laboratories, clinics, field work, work attachments and any practical projects) are more likely to achieve reliability of marks. Studies have also shown that tertiary students have benefited from self- and peer-assessments because they can foster critical self-assessment—a skill highly valued by both the academic as well as the corporate world. However, changing the mindsets of tutors to make students responsible for their final marks could be more difficult than the preparations required on the part of the tutor.


Boud, D. (Ed.). (1981). Developing Student Autonomy in Learning. London: Kogan Page.

Boud, D. (1995). Enhancing Learning Through Self-Assessment. London: Kogan Page.

Falchikov, N. (1986). ‘Product Comparisons and Process Benefits of Collaborative Peer Group and Self-assessment’. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education. Vol. 11, No. 2, pp. 146–166.

Falchikov, N. (1988). ‘Self and Peer Assessment of a Group Project Designed to Promote the Skills of Capability. Programmed Learning & Educational Technology. Vol. 26, No. 4, pp. 327–339.

Filene, P. G. (1969). ‘Self-grading: An Experiment in Learning’. Journal of Higher Education. Vol. 40, No. 6, pp. 451–458.

Magin, D. & Helmore, P. (2001). ‘Peer and Teacher Assessments of Oral Presentation Skills: How Reliable are They’? Studies in Higher Education. Vol. 26, No. 3, pp. 287–298.

Taras, M. (2001). ‘The Use of Tutor Feedback and Student Self-assessment in Summative Assessment Tasks: Towards Transparency for Students and for Tutors’. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education. Vol. 26, No. 6, pp. 605–614.


1 Confidentiality applies to the university’s grading system but not to the final grade I use.

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Inside this issue
Assessing Education Quality: Measures and Processes
Addressing Students’ Fears about Examinations
Student Assessment in Problem-based Learning: A Challenge Beyond Reliability and Validity
Implementing Effective Peer Assessment
Self-and Peer-assessments — Vehicles to Improve Learning
What is Quality in Assessment Practice?