Assessment aims to assist faculty in considering what they want students to learn, to determine how well students are learning, and to develop ways to enhance learning. Identifying assessment needs and clarifying the purposes of student assessments is the first task of assessment design.

A variety of tools are used for assessment including tests, rubrics, interviews, focus groups, survey, observation, and e-portfolio. There is no one-size-fits-all approach in assessment. A good assessment typically employs multiple tools and approaches tailored for different purposes. Whether you are setting out to compare two different teaching methods, to determine the effectiveness of programs, or to find out the helpfulness of teaching assistants in a class, the assessment should always center around the expected learning outcomes, also known as learning objectives. Learning objectives explicitly state the expectations of what students should know and be able to do after completing a course or program. They not only set up the assessment criteria, but also serve as the foundation for all subsequent assessment activities.

Choosing Assessment Methods:


Tests, regardless of their mode of delivery, are widely used because of their apparent advantages: wide sampling of content, scoring efficiency and accuracy, and capability of testing a large number of students, just to name a few. 

When To Use Tests

To assess knowledge and thinking over a range of content or to assess dispositions and interests. 


Surveys are the most commonly used assessment method. Surveys are useful tools for collecting information regarding attitudes, beliefs, experiences, values, needs, demographic information, perceptions, etc.

When To Use Surveys

As an assessment tool, surveys should be employed when the goal is to draw relatively quick conclusions regarding the perceptions of a target population. Surveys can reach a large number of people in a short amount of time and typically produce data that is easy to analyze.

Focus Groups 

Focus groups are an assessment method in which a small group of individuals is assembled together to gain feedback and insight into a particular product, program, service, concept, etc. In a focus group, questions are asked in an interactive setting in which participants are free to talk with other group members.

When To Use Focus Groups

Focus groups are best used when group discussion or interaction among people would bring out insights that would not be ascertained through individual interviews or survey items. Additionally, focus groups are useful when rich data is needed and there aren’t sufficient resources available to conduct individual interviews.


Interviews are one-on-one data collection events that allow for direct questioning of research subjects. There are three maintypes of interviews – each resulting in very different quantitative (numeric) and/or qualitative (non-numeric) data outcomes. Interviews can be conducted either in person or via the telephone.

When To Use Interviews

In respect to assessment, interviews are best used when the purpose is to gain in-depth insight into individuals’ perceptions, establish personal contact with participants, and/or follow-up on prior survey findings.


A rubric is a type of scoring guide that assesses and articulates specific components and expectations for an assignment. 

When To Use Rubrics

Rubrics are used to help grade a variety of assignments: research papers, group projects, portfolios, presentations, etc.  Rubrics should be used to help align evaluation criteria to standards, curriculum, instruction, and assessment tasks.  

Services and Confidentiality

The Faculty Center provides a series of workshops to cover various tools used in academic assessment. Scheduling a one-on-one consultation is a good way for faculty to select and design appropriate tools for their assessments. To make assessment results useful, the Faculty Center provides individual consultations on course design, course delivery, and teaching strategies to help faculty make changes to reflect their assessment results in class. All Faculty Center consultations are handled confidentially. No one but the faculty member has the right to view and use the assessment results.


Cornell University, Center for Teaching Excellence. (2013, June 20). Using Rubrics. Retrieved from the Center for Teaching Excellence website:

Vanderbilt University Assessment Website. (2010). Choosing Assessment Methods. Retrieved from the Vanderbilt Institutional Research Office Assessment website: