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Saturday 18 November 2017
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Teaching and Learning Resources

Grade Descriptors at HKU

The University Assessment Policy (http://www.handbook.hku.hk/ug/full-time-2015-16/important-policies/university-assessment-policy) has specified that assessment is an integral component of a curriculum and it should reflect what and how students have learnt, and should enhance, facilitate, and support their learning experiences.

According to the Policy, HKU adopts standards-based assessment, which means that grade descriptors need to be established to guide the marking process and clarify expectations for students.1 The course grade descriptors should be provided to the students and the assessors, so the assessment is carried out with little ambiguity.2

A grade descriptor is a broad verbal statement about the general standard to be applied with a qualitative description of each grade3. There are

  • Institutional level Grade Descriptors
  • Programme level Grade Descriptors
  • Course Level Grade Descriptors

When developing your course level grade descriptors, the expectations of student achieving particular grades should be described. Each course may develop marking rubrics for assessment items aligned with the course level grade descriptors. The marking rubric for each assessment item need not include all aspects of the grade descriptor. Some assessment items may be more appropriate for the higher level grade descriptor (essay) and some for the lower level grade descriptors (MCQs). The grade descriptors should represent a range of grades. It is recommended that marking rubrics should be provided for each assessment item in the course.4

Examples of Grade Descriptors at HKU

Grade Descriptors used in Common Core Courses

Grade Descriptors used in the Core University English Course

Examples of HKU Grade Descriptors

Some good practices for developing grade descriptors5

  1. Start from the intended learning outcomes stated in the course
    According to the outcomes-based approach to student learning (OBASL), the grade descriptors need to be aligned with the intended learning outcomes of the course
  2. Think about appropriate standards
    Sometimes we tend to set the standards too high. Try to set reasonable standards, not too harsh or loose.
  3. Use the language that students could understand
    Students often report that they have difficulty in understanding jargons and special terminology in the grade descriptors. If possible, it is better to avoid jargons.

Promoting students’ assessment literacy

Promoting students’ assessment literacy is to help them comprehend multiple aspects of assessment, for example, the purpose and role of assessment, the meaning of the assessment criteria and standards, the techniques needed to complete the assessment. This will enable students to recognise and take responsibility for their role in assessment and also improve their performance.6 Some good practices in promoting students’ assessment literacy are:

  1. Engage students in the discussion of assessment, including the criteria and exemplars
  2. Arrange some pre-assessment activities for students to help them get familiar with the grade descriptors and assessment tasks
  3. Provide feedback on earlier drafts of the work submitted by students and help them focus on the right things
  4. Provide feedback on students’ completed work especially suggestions regarding how to perform better in future tasks

More resources on assessment standards and grade descriptors (CETL, HKU)

HKU grade descriptors and assessment standards
http://ar.cetl.hku.hk/assgradstand.htm

Assessment in higher education
http://ar.cetl.hku.hk/assessment.htm

Promoting assessment literacy among students (by Prof. Margaret Price)
http://www.cetl.hku.hk/teaching-learning-cop/?smd_process_download=1&download_id=574

A classic piece of reflection on understanding standards (by Prof. Royce Sadler)
http://www.cetl.hku.hk/teaching-learning-cop/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/wise-assessment-briefing8.pdf

Acknowledgements: The examples of the grade descriptors at HKU were collected by Dr. Cecilia Chan. More information can be found in the Assessment Resource Centre http://ar.cetl.hku.hk/index.php

Copyright @ CETL, HKU


1Hendry, G.D. , Armstrong, S. & Bromberger, N. (2012). Implementing standards-based assessment effectively: incorporating discussion of exemplars into classroom teaching. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 37(2), 149-161.

2Chan, C. (2014). HKU Grade Descriptors. http://ar.cetl.hku.hk/assgradstand.htm

3Prosser, M. (2010). Grade Descriptors and Standards. http://www.cetl.hku.hk/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Grade_Descriptors_and_Standards_Oct_2010.pdf

4See Note 2 – Chan (2014)

5Murray, V. (2009). The use of grade descriptors within assessment. Northumbria University. https://www.northumbria.ac.uk/static/5007/arpdf/academy/redguide47.pdf

6Price, M. (2016). Promoting students’ assessment literacy. Centre for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, The University of Hong Kong http://www.cetl.hku.hk/teaching-learning-cop/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/wise-assessment-briefing7.pdf