Below are some types of assessments that are commonly used to gauge learning at the end of a unit or course. While the focus here is primarily on the use of these assessments for summative purposes, these can also be utilized as formative assessments, to track student learning during a course. For each, we make suggestions for ways to design these assessments to be equity-minded and recommend further readings and resources. 


Exams typically consist of a set of questions that are aimed at eliciting a specific response. They can include a range of question formats, such as multiple choice questions, fill-in-the-blank questions, labeling diagrams, or providing short answer questions. When designing exam questions, it is important to consider the principles of equity-minded assessment. This involves making exam questions that are:

  • Relevant: Test concepts are aligned with the course learning objectives. Additionally, questions involve applying course concepts to problems and situations that are relevant to students’ interests and skills. 
  • Authentic: Require students to apply skills that may be utilized in their professional and personal lives (e.g., critical thinking and collaboration). Questions also test a range of learning outcomes from those requiring lower-order cognitive skills such as recollection or understanding to those requiring higher-order cognitive skills such as evaluation and application of concepts (e.g., case studies that allow application of concepts to real-world problems).
  • Rigorous: Focus on application of skills or creation of new knowledge to novel or complex situations, rather than recollection of facts. Can involve multi-step problem solving or require students to justify a given answer through reasoning. 
  • Transparent: Explicit about the knowledge and skills being tested in the exam. The scoring system for each question is known to students while taking the exam (e.g., each question specifies if answers are marked for both accuracy and process or if there is negative marking for writing the wrong answer). Providing students with practice questions that illustrate the types of questions they may encounter on the exam can especially help international and first-generation students who may be unfamiliar with predominant assessment strategies.  
  • Inclusive: Describe scenarios, names, or contexts that reflect the lived experiences of diverse students, without assuming specific cultural knowledge. Questions do not rely on knowledge of concepts that are not already taught in the course. Characterized by use of clear, concise, and unambiguous language (e.g., avoid double negative statements, jargon, complex words). This is particularly important when instructors are unavailable to clarify what the particular question is testing, for example in online exams and in large classes. 

Open-book or group-based exams that require critical thinking, collaboration, and analytical skills to arrive at an answer may be one way to implement exams that follow the above principles (Johanns et al., 2016; Martin et al., 2014). Incorporating exam wrappers as a follow-up is known to promote good learning strategies by helping students self-assess and engage in metacognition (Lovett, 2013). Explore some additional resources on writing good multiple choice exam questions (Brame 2013), incorporating group-exams (Chen 2018) or exam wrappers (Carnegie Mellon University). Also consider our guidelines on best practices for designing summative assessments and effective online exam design and administration.


Brame, C. (2013) Writing good multiple choice test questions. Vanderbilt University. 

Chen, Y. (2018). Collaborative learning through group testing. Center for Teaching and Learning, Kent State University.

Division of Learning and Teaching. (2022, March 30). Exams. Charles Sturt University.

Lovett, M. C. (2013). Make exams worth more than the grade: Using exam wrappers to promote metacognition. In Kaplan, M., Silver, N, Lavaque-Manty, D., & Meizlish, D. Using reflection and metacognition to improve student learning. Stylus Publishing: Sterling, VA., pp. 18-52.

Johanns, A., Dinkens, J., & Moore, J. (2017). A systematic review comparing open-book and closed-book examinations: Evaluating effects on development of critical thinking skills. Nursing Education in Practice, 27, 89-94.

Martin, D., Friesen, E., & De Pau, A. (2014). Three heads are better than one: A mixed methods study examining collaborative versus traditional test-taking with nursing students. Nurse Education Today, 34(6), 971–977.


Projects are a powerful way to assess student learning in a relevant, authentic, rigorous, transparent, and inclusive manner. Projects typically involve a sequence of steps that must be completed within a defined timeline to create a novel product. Examples of common products include: 

1. Presentations: 

These usually involve a slide deck (e.g., PowerPoint) or poster designed to support an oral exposition describing the motivation and outcome of a project. Compared to written papers or portfolios, presentations can be efficient forms of assessment to test higher-order thinking, application, and communication skills since grading can take place in real-time. However, presentations can be time consuming to execute, particularly in classes with high student enrollment ( > 150 students). Presentations conducted in small groups and, when possible, during lab or recitation sections may be one of the ways to incorporate presentations in large classes. Group presentations are also good avenues to promote peer-based learning along with skills in collaboration, communication, and time management. Learn more about designing oral presentations (McCaroll, 2016), best practices to design group projects (Carnegie Mellon University) and evaluate group projects (Cornell University) 

2. Research Papers: 

Typically assigned in upper-level classes, research papers tend to involve a structured written report describing the motivation, methods, results, and conclusions of a project (research-based or literature syntheses) following the IMRaD format with a reference list. These assessments help students demonstrate their organizational, critical thinking, and writing skills in a manner relevant and authentic to research-based disciplines in which such papers are the dominant mode of communication.

For students, structuring and organizing thoughts in a research paper tends to be difficult without adequate practice and support. Additionally, for instructors,  research papers can be difficult to grade and provide feedback in a timely manner, given the volume of content produced by each student. Scaffolding student work and incorporating opportunities for peer feedback are some ways in which these problems can be mitigated. Scaffolding may involve providing adequate guidance to students on conducting literature searches and training them on the use of tools such as citation managers or AI search engines. Providing appropriate rubrics in advance for students to evaluate their own work or engage in peer-assessments are other ways in which students can receive timely feedback before submitting their work. Use Ohio State University’s guiding questions to effectively design research or inquiry-based assessments

3. Essays or Commentaries:

Essays are longer written papers that ask students to respond to a prompt by explaining a point of view in response to a prompt along with supporting evidence. Since essays are open-ended, they allow students to demonstrate their understanding and interpretation in a creative and individualistic style. Essays are helpful in assessing student understanding and skill across various dimensions, particularly their literary, creative or critical thinking skills. However, similar to research papers, essays can be difficult for students to write and can be difficult for instructors to grade in a timely manner. Scaffolding, providing a clear rubric, writing samples and incorporating peer feedback are few ways in which essays can be implemented in a rigorous, transparent and inclusive manner, without being burdensome for students and instructors. It is also important to consider and comply with norms set by FERPA, when sharing work of students from past classes. More examples can be found on WAC Clearinghouse’s resource on designing writing assignments (Kiefer, 2018).

With the increased accessibility and ease of AI writing tools, however, instructors must take care to be explicit about the appropriate use of AI in writing given the potential for plagiarism. This may include having a syllabus statement on the use of AI in grading policies and assessments, discussing the ethics of plagiarism, training students on using AI as a writing assistant (e.g., to provide structure, check for grammar or spelling), and being transparent about the benefit for students to fully engage in the writing process (Matthews, 2023). Learn more about teaching & learning in the age of AI on our website.

4. Digital Storyboards: 

With the ease and accessibility of digital media, some final projects can involve more creative depictions of a project from conception to outcome in the form of artwork, films, photographs or audio-based storyboards. Storyboards can be a powerful medium of communication since it helps an audience visualize the main message of a written text in an easy and digestible manner. Storyboards can involve a variety of elements, e,g., original artwork, curation of images, background music, a narrative script or dialogue, all of which are laid out in an intentional order that together tell a story. As such storyboards are rigorous and authentic forms of assessments, since they require students to employ multiple, higher order thinking skills and learn to collaborate with peers to present their point of view. Thus, storyboards can particularly benefit from scaffolding. 

One way to scaffold may be to provide prompts that draw student attention to varied elements of a sample storyboard, in a sequential manner and help students  evaluate how the elements support the narrative. Following this, instructors may have students complete parts of an existing sample storyboard to master each element. Finally, instructors should attempt to provide a clear rubric that is transparent about the skills being evaluated and the level of performance expected of students. In order to be inclusive and just, instructors should also consider student access to material needed to produce a high-quality storyboard since such material tends to be fairly expensive. This may include providing access to a repository of art material, videography equipment etc. through a library or local repository and/or arranging for funds that allow students to procure necessary equipment or software. Explore Macalaster University’s compilation of resources to design digital storyboard projects and evaluate storyboards. More examples can also be found on University of Houston’s repository of digital stories (Dogan, 2021).

Projects are equity-minded assessments if they are:

  • Relevant: Include tasks such as application of knowledge, presentation skills, critical thinking or collaboration skills, each of which should correspond to learning goals of a course.
  • Authentic: Engage students to apply knowledge and skills to address a novel problem. Ideally, the problem addressed is at the intersection of real-world application of knowledge or skills, needs of a discipline, and students' own interests.
  • Rigorous: Require application of higher-order cognitive skills such as critical thinking, synthesis, and application of knowledge to a new context over multiple steps. For example, to produce a research paper, students need to identify a gap in the field, read primary literature, conduct analyses/experiments, verify findings using multiple sources, and write findings in a logical and cohesive manner. However, it is important for these projects to be well-structured and potentially be scaffolded wherein instructors provide more guidance on components of a project early on, and gradually have students independently complete the work as they gain more competency. Scaffolding provides students with adequate support to achieve the high standards set by rigorous assessments. 
  • Transparent: Explicit about the learning objectives and the metrics by which performance will be assessed. Provide students with a detailed rubric listing the criteria for evaluation and standards of performance expected in advance. Providing samples of successful projects completed by students in the past can also help make projects more transparent. 
  • Inclusive: Allows for diverse student interests, voices, and forms of creative expression in how the project is designed and presented.

Explore Champlain University’s guidelines on designing project assignments and Boston University’s suggestions for implementing project-based learning.


Center for Teaching and Learning. (2021, May 06). Project-Based Learning: Teaching Guide. Boston University

Division of Learning and Teaching (2022, March 30). Essay. Charles Sturt University.

Dogan, B. (2021). Example stories. The Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling Website. University of Houston College of Education.

Matthews, D. (2023, March 14). If you’re not using CHATGPT for your writing, you’re probably making a mistake. Vox. 


Portfolios refer to a collection of work curated by students to provide evidence for the quality of work they have done and have the potential to do in the future (Vitale & Romance, 2005). Portfolios can include all or a selection of work done in a course and usually also include a component of reflective writing (Dibrell, n.d.). Although more common in performance-based disciplines such as humanities and art, portfolios can also be used in science and engineering to similarly evaluate demonstrated proficiency and potential (e.g., CV, research statements, ePortfolios/websites). Alternately, portfolios may be composed of research papers, presentations, or concept maps. Portfolios align with equity-minded assessments when they are: 

  • Relevant: Include a wide repertoire of student work that is related to the course content and objectives, as well as student interests and goals. 
  • Authentic: Evaluate learning that simultaneously draws on multiple levels of cognitive demand, including synthesis, application and creation of new knowledge. Further, the work is typically aligned directly with future professional career paths that students will pursue.
  • Rigorous: Consists of a sample of work drawn from a larger body of work that students complete throughout the course. The work typically requires students to employ a range of higher order thinking skills including analytical reasoning, collaboration, problem solving etc.
  • Transparent: Co-creating rubrics with students in the class allows making expectations for the assessment explicit and inclusive of student voice. This is important because students and instructors may differ in their aesthetic sensibilities, making portfolios difficult to evaluate in a consistent manner. Utilizing a checklist or single-point rubric when grading student portfolios is recommended since such rubrics help provide a more uniform application of standards (meets/does not yet meet expectations), while leaving scope for subjective feedback on what students have done well and what they could improve on.
  • Inclusive: Enables diverse student voice and expression since students curate their own collection. In some cases, allow students to include early pieces of work to evaluate the extent to which students have grown and expanded their skillset. Consider securing funds to reimburse students for materials, tools or other resources needed to complete the portfolio, making such assessments inclusive for students from marginalized backgrounds. 

Explore tools such as digication to learn more about systematic ways to evaluate and assign portfolios in a transparent manner. Click on the respective links to view examples of CU undergraduate student portfolios in art, engineering and English. You can also find more examples on ASSETT’s BuffsCreate, a service providing all CU learners access to a subdomain and support to create an ePortfolio.  


Dibrell, D. (n.d.). Designing reflective writing assignments. The University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley.

Vitale, M. R. & Romance, N. R. (2005). Portfolios in science assessment: A knowledge-based model for classroom practice. In J. J. Mintzes, J. H. Wandersee, & J. D. Novak (Eds.), Assessing Science Understanding: A Human Constructivist View, Educational Psychology. Burlington: Academic Press. (pp. 167–196). Burlington, VT: Academic Press.

Further readings and resources:

You can find additional resources and references below to learn more about incorporating different types of summative assessments and feedback in your class. Particularly notable is the NILOA Assignment Library, which provides a detailed description of best practices in incorporating the above assessments in each discipline in an equity-minded manner. Charles Sturt University also has a substantive overview of assessment types and best practices in designing them. For individualized support, you may also schedule a consultation with our team.

Division of Learning and Teaching. (2022, March 30). Assessment types. Charles Sturt University.

Montenegro, E., & Jankowski, N. A. (2020, January). A new decade for assessment: Embedding equity into assessment praxis (Occasional Paper No. 42). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA).

Chan, J. C. K. & Ahn, D. (2023). Unproctored online exams provide meaningful assessment of student learning. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 120(31): e230202012