Being a student

Exams and other assessments

All courses are assessed in some way. Assessments enable tutors to give you feedback on your work so you can measure your progress and improve. 

Needless to say, assessments – exams in particular – are often the cause of some anxiety for students. It’s important to realise that assessment is an integral part of your study and, as with any other study skill, the skills you need for assessment can be learnt and developed.

If you are looking for a course and want to compare how various programmes are assessed, a good starting point is to use the Discover Uni site.

Formative continuous assessment

This type of assessment is ‘continuous’ (i.e. on-going) throughout your course. It is called ‘formative’ because it is used to support and progress your learning. Examples include:

  • essays
  • reports
  • presentations to your peers and tutor
  • research on a specific subject

Formative continuous assessments may count as a part of your final course grade, except perhaps in the first year of an Honours Degree. However, assessment arrangements vary from course to course so it’s best to check carefully with any universities or colleges that interest you. 


Exams are a traditional form of summative assessment. They measure your learning at the end of a prescribed period of study, for example at the end of a module or unit, or at the end of an academic year. 

Exams can be stressful, but the key is to make sure you revise thoroughly, practice past papers if possible, and develop a strategy for answering the questions and managing your time in the exam. For advice on how to cope with exams and how to plan your revision have a look at the Lifepilot section on How to revise. 

Work-based assessment

If you are taking an NVQ or a similar competence-based course, the majority of your assessment will be in the workplace. You will have to demonstrate your skills and ability to undertake a range of tasks (i.e. your competence to do the job). 

Other work-related qualifications, such as many Foundation Degrees, combine applying what you have learnt in the classroom to workplace situations and vice versa.

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