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Assessing student writing, what does it mean to assess writing.
- Suggestions for Assessing Writing
Means of Responding
Rubrics: tools for response and assessment, constructing a rubric.
Assessment is the gathering of information about student learning. It can be used for formative purposes−−to adjust instruction−−or summative purposes: to render a judgment about the quality of student work. It is a key instructional activity, and teachers engage in it every day in a variety of informal and formal ways.
Assessment of student writing is a process. Assessment of student writing and performance in the class should occur at many different stages throughout the course and could come in many different forms. At various points in the assessment process, teachers usually take on different roles such as motivator, collaborator, critic, evaluator, etc., (see Brooke Horvath for more on these roles) and give different types of response.
One of the major purposes of writing assessment is to provide feedback to students. We know that feedback is crucial to writing development. The 2004 Harvard Study of Writing concluded, "Feedback emerged as the hero and the anti-hero of our study−powerful enough to convince students that they could or couldn't do the work in a given field, to push them toward or away from selecting their majors, and contributed, more than any other single factor, to students' sense of academic belonging or alienation" (http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~expos/index.cgi?section=study).
Source: Horvath, Brooke K. "The Components of Written Response: A Practical Synthesis of Current Views." Rhetoric Review 2 (January 1985): 136−56. Rpt. in C Corbett, Edward P. J., Nancy Myers, and Gary Tate. The Writing Teacher's Sourcebook . 4th ed. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 2000.
Suggestions for Assessing Student Writing
Be sure to know what you want students to be able to do and why. Good assessment practices start with a pedagogically sound assignment description and learning goals for the writing task at hand. The type of feedback given on any task should depend on the learning goals you have for students and the purpose of the assignment. Think early on about why you want students to complete a given writing project (see guide to writing strong assignments page). What do you want them to know? What do you want students to be able to do? Why? How will you know when they have reached these goals? What methods of assessment will allow you to see that students have accomplished these goals (portfolio assessment assigning multiple drafts, rubric, etc)? What will distinguish the strongest projects from the weakest?
Begin designing writing assignments with your learning goals and methods of assessment in mind.
Plan and implement activities that support students in meeting the learning goals. How will you support students in meeting these goals? What writing activities will you allow time for? How can you help students meet these learning goals?
Begin giving feedback early in the writing process. Give multiple types of feedback early in the writing process. For example, talking with students about ideas, write written responses on drafts, have students respond to their peers' drafts in process, etc. These are all ways for students to receive feedback while they are still in the process of revising.
Structure opportunities for feedback at various points in the writing process. Students should also have opportunities to receive feedback on their writing at various stages in the writing process. This does not mean that teachers need to respond to every draft of a writing project. Structuring time for peer response and group workshops can be a very effective way for students to receive feedback from other writers in the class and for them to begin to learn to revise and edit their own writing.
Be open with students about your expectations and the purposes of the assignments. Students respond better to writing projects when they understand why the project is important and what they can learn through the process of completing it. Be explicit about your goals for them as writers and why those goals are important to their learning. Additionally, talk with students about methods of assessment. Some teachers have students help collaboratively design rubrics for the grading of writing. Whatever methods of assessment you choose, be sure to let students in on how they will be evaluated.
Do not burden students with excessive feedback. Our instinct as teachers, especially when we are really interested in students´ writing is to offer as many comments and suggestions as we can. However, providing too much feedback can leave students feeling daunted and uncertain where to start in terms of revision. Try to choose one or two things to focus on when responding to a draft. Offer students concrete possibilities or strategies for revision.
Allow students to maintain control over their paper. Instead of acting as an editor, suggest options or open-ended alternatives the student can choose for their revision path. Help students learn to assess their own writing and the advice they get about it.
Purposes of Responding We provide different kinds of response at different moments. But we might also fall into a kind of "default" mode, working to get through the papers without making a conscious choice about how and why we want to respond to a given assignment. So it might be helpful to identify the two major kinds of response we provide:
- Formative Response: response that aims primarily to help students develop their writing. Might focus on confidence-building, on engaging the student in a conversation about her ideas or writing choices so as to help student to see herself as a successful and promising writer. Might focus on helping student develop a particular writing project, from one draft to next. Or, might suggest to student some general skills she could focus on developing over the course of a semester.
- Evaluative Response: response that focuses on evaluation of how well a student has done. Might be related to a grade. Might be used primarily on a final product or portfolio. Tends to emphasize whether or not student has met the criteria operative for specific assignment and to explain that judgment.
We respond to many kinds of writing and at different stages in the process, from reading responses, to exercises, to generation or brainstorming, to drafts, to source critiques, to final drafts. It is also helpful to think of the various forms that response can take.
- Conferencing: verbal, interactive response. This might happen in class or during scheduled sessions in offices. Conferencing can be more dynamic: we can ask students questions about their work, modeling a process of reflecting on and revising a piece of writing. Students can also ask us questions and receive immediate feedback. Conference is typically a formative response mechanism, but might also serve usefully to convey evaluative response.
- Written Comments on Drafts
- Local: when we focus on "local" moments in a piece of writing, we are calling attention to specifics in the paper. Perhaps certain patterns of grammar or moments where the essay takes a sudden, unexpected turn. We might also use local comments to emphasize a powerful turn of phrase, or a compelling and well-developed moment in a piece. Local commenting tends to happen in the margins, to call attention to specific moments in the piece by highlighting them and explaining their significance. We tend to use local commenting more often on drafts and when doing formative response.
- Global: when we focus more on the overall piece of writing and less on the specific moments in and of themselves. Global comments tend to come at the end of a piece, in narrative-form response. We might use these to step back and tell the writer what we learned overall, or to comment on a pieces' general organizational structure or focus. We tend to use these for evaluative response and often, deliberately or not, as a means of justifying the grade we assigned.
- Rubrics: charts or grids on which we identify the central requirements or goals of a specific project. Then, we evaluate whether or not, and how effectively, students met those criteria. These can be written with students as a means of helping them see and articulate the goals a given project.
Rubrics are tools teachers and students use to evaluate and classify writing, whether individual pieces or portfolios. They identify and articulate what is being evaluated in the writing, and offer "descriptors" to classify writing into certain categories (1-5, for instance, or A-F). Narrative rubrics and chart rubrics are the two most common forms. Here is an example of each, using the same classification descriptors:
Example: Narrative Rubric for Inquiring into Family & Community History
An "A" project clearly and compellingly demonstrates how the public event influenced the family/community. It shows strong audience awareness, engaging readers throughout. The form and structure are appropriate for the purpose(s) and audience(s) of the piece. The final product is virtually error-free. The piece seamlessly weaves in several other voices, drawn from appropriate archival, secondary, and primary research. Drafts - at least two beyond the initial draft - show extensive, effective revision. Writer's notes and final learning letter demonstrate thoughtful reflection and growing awareness of writer's strengths and challenges.
A "B" project clearly and compellingly demonstrates how the public event influenced the family/community. It shows strong audience awareness, and usually engages readers. The form and structure are appropriate for the audience(s) and purpose(s) of the piece, though the organization may not be tight in a couple places. The final product includes a few errors, but these do no interfere with readers' comprehension. The piece effectively, if not always seamlessly, weaves several other voices, drawn from appropriate archival, secondary, and primary research. One area of research may not be as strong as the other two. Drafts - at least two beyond the initial drafts - show extensive, effective revision. Writer's notes and final learning letter demonstrate thoughtful reflection and growing awareness of writer's strengths and challenges.
A "C" project demonstrates how the public event influenced the family/community. It shows audience awareness, sometimes engaging readers. The form and structure are appropriate for the audience(s) and purpose(s), but the organization breaks down at times. The piece includes several, apparent errors, which at times compromises the clarity of the piece. The piece incorporates other voices, drawn from at least two kinds of research, but in a generally forced or awkward way. There is unevenness in the quality and appropriateness of the research. Drafts - at least one beyond the initial draft - show some evidence of revision. Writer's notes and final learning letter show some reflection and growth in awareness of writer's strengths and challenges.
A "D" project discusses a public event and a family/community, but the connections may not be clear. It shows little audience awareness. The form and structure is poorly chosen or poorly executed. The piece includes many errors, which regularly compromise the comprehensibility of the piece. There is an attempt to incorporate other voices, but this is done awkwardly or is drawn from incomplete or inappropriate research. There is little evidence of revision. Writer's notes and learning letter are missing or show little reflection or growth.
An "F" project is not responsive to the prompt. It shows little or no audience awareness. The purpose is unclear and the form and structure are poorly chosen and poorly executed. The piece includes many errors, compromising the clarity of the piece throughout. There is little or no evidence of research. There is little or no evidence of revision. Writer's notes and learning letter are missing or show no reflection or growth.
Chart Rubric for Community/Family History Inquiry Project
All good rubrics begin (and end) with solid criteria. We always start working on rubrics by generating a list - by ourselves or with students - of what we value for a particular project or portfolio. We generally list far more items than we could use in a single rubric. Then, we narrow this list down to the most important items - between 5 and 7, ideally. We do not usually rank these items in importance, but it is certainly possible to create a hierarchy of criteria on a rubric (usually by listing the most important criteria at the top of the chart or at the beginning of the narrative description).
Once we have our final list of criteria, we begin to imagine how writing would fit into a certain classification category (1-5, A-F, etc.). How would an "A" essay differ from a "B" essay in Organization? How would a "B" story differ from a "C" story in Character Development? The key here is to identify useful descriptors - drawing the line at appropriate places. Sometimes, these gradations will be precise: the difference between handing in 80% and 90% of weekly writing, for instance. Other times, they will be vague: the difference between "effective revisions" and "mostly effective revisions", for instance. While it is important to be as precise as possible, it is also important to remember that rubric writing (especially in writing classrooms) is more art than science, and will never - and nor should it - stand in for algorithms. When we find ourselves getting caught up in minute gradations, we tend to be overlegislating students´- writing and losing sight of the purpose of the exercise: to support students' development as writers. At the moment when rubric-writing thwarts rather than supports students' writing, we should discontinue the practice. Until then, many students will find rubrics helpful -- and sometimes even motivating.
Center for Teaching
Assessing student learning.
Forms and Purposes of Student Assessment
Assessment is more than grading, assessment plans, methods of student assessment, generative and reflective assessment, teaching guides related to student assessment, references and additional resources.
Student assessment is, arguably, the centerpiece of the teaching and learning process and therefore the subject of much discussion in the scholarship of teaching and learning. Without some method of obtaining and analyzing evidence of student learning, we can never know whether our teaching is making a difference. That is, teaching requires some process through which we can come to know whether students are developing the desired knowledge and skills, and therefore whether our instruction is effective. Learning assessment is like a magnifying glass we hold up to students’ learning to discern whether the teaching and learning process is functioning well or is in need of change.
To provide an overview of learning assessment, this teaching guide has several goals, 1) to define student learning assessment and why it is important, 2) to discuss several approaches that may help to guide and refine student assessment, 3) to address various methods of student assessment, including the test and the essay, and 4) to offer several resources for further research. In addition, you may find helfpul this five-part video series on assessment that was part of the Center for Teaching’s Online Course Design Institute.
What is student assessment and why is it Important?
In their handbook for course-based review and assessment, Martha L. A. Stassen et al. define assessment as “the systematic collection and analysis of information to improve student learning” (2001, p. 5). An intentional and thorough assessment of student learning is vital because it provides useful feedback to both instructors and students about the extent to which students are successfully meeting learning objectives. In their book Understanding by Design , Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe offer a framework for classroom instruction — “Backward Design”— that emphasizes the critical role of assessment. For Wiggins and McTighe, assessment enables instructors to determine the metrics of measurement for student understanding of and proficiency in course goals. Assessment provides the evidence needed to document and validate that meaningful learning has occurred (2005, p. 18). Their approach “encourages teachers and curriculum planners to first ‘think like an assessor’ before designing specific units and lessons, and thus to consider up front how they will determine if students have attained the desired understandings” (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005, p. 18). 
Not only does effective assessment provide us with valuable information to support student growth, but it also enables critically reflective teaching. Stephen Brookfield, in Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, argues that critical reflection on one’s teaching is an essential part of developing as an educator and enhancing the learning experience of students (1995). Critical reflection on one’s teaching has a multitude of benefits for instructors, including the intentional and meaningful development of one’s teaching philosophy and practices. According to Brookfield, referencing higher education faculty, “A critically reflective teacher is much better placed to communicate to colleagues and students (as well as to herself) the rationale behind her practice. She works from a position of informed commitment” (Brookfield, 1995, p. 17). One important lens through which we may reflect on our teaching is our student evaluations and student learning assessments. This reflection allows educators to determine where their teaching has been effective in meeting learning goals and where it has not, allowing for improvements. Student assessment, then, both develop the rationale for pedagogical choices, and enables teachers to measure the effectiveness of their teaching.
The scholarship of teaching and learning discusses two general forms of assessment. The first, summative assessment , is one that is implemented at the end of the course of study, for example via comprehensive final exams or papers. Its primary purpose is to produce an evaluation that “sums up” student learning. Summative assessment is comprehensive in nature and is fundamentally concerned with learning outcomes. While summative assessment is often useful for communicating final evaluations of student achievement, it does so without providing opportunities for students to reflect on their progress, alter their learning, and demonstrate growth or improvement; nor does it allow instructors to modify their teaching strategies before student learning in a course has concluded (Maki, 2002).
The second form, formative assessment , involves the evaluation of student learning at intermediate points before any summative form. Its fundamental purpose is to help students during the learning process by enabling them to reflect on their challenges and growth so they may improve. By analyzing students’ performance through formative assessment and sharing the results with them, instructors help students to “understand their strengths and weaknesses and to reflect on how they need to improve over the course of their remaining studies” (Maki, 2002, p. 11). Pat Hutchings refers to as “assessment behind outcomes”: “the promise of assessment—mandated or otherwise—is improved student learning, and improvement requires attention not only to final results but also to how results occur. Assessment behind outcomes means looking more carefully at the process and conditions that lead to the learning we care about…” (Hutchings, 1992, p. 6, original emphasis). Formative assessment includes all manner of coursework with feedback, discussions between instructors and students, and end-of-unit examinations that provide an opportunity for students to identify important areas for necessary growth and development for themselves (Brown and Knight, 1994).
It is important to recognize that both summative and formative assessment indicate the purpose of assessment, not the method . Different methods of assessment (discussed below) can either be summative or formative depending on when and how the instructor implements them. Sally Brown and Peter Knight in Assessing Learners in Higher Education caution against a conflation of the method (e.g., an essay) with the goal (formative or summative): “Often the mistake is made of assuming that it is the method which is summative or formative, and not the purpose. This, we suggest, is a serious mistake because it turns the assessor’s attention away from the crucial issue of feedback” (1994, p. 17). If an instructor believes that a particular method is formative, but he or she does not take the requisite time or effort to provide extensive feedback to students, the assessment effectively functions as a summative assessment despite the instructor’s intentions (Brown and Knight, 1994). Indeed, feedback and discussion are critical factors that distinguish between formative and summative assessment; formative assessment is only as good as the feedback that accompanies it.
It is not uncommon to conflate assessment with grading, but this would be a mistake. Student assessment is more than just grading. Assessment links student performance to specific learning objectives in order to provide useful information to students and instructors about learning and teaching, respectively. Grading, on the other hand, according to Stassen et al. (2001) merely involves affixing a number or letter to an assignment, giving students only the most minimal indication of their performance relative to a set of criteria or to their peers: “Because grades don’t tell you about student performance on individual (or specific) learning goals or outcomes, they provide little information on the overall success of your course in helping students to attain the specific and distinct learning objectives of interest” (Stassen et al., 2001, p. 6). Grades are only the broadest of indicators of achievement or status, and as such do not provide very meaningful information about students’ learning of knowledge or skills, how they have developed, and what may yet improve. Unfortunately, despite the limited information grades provide students about their learning, grades do provide students with significant indicators of their status – their academic rank, their credits towards graduation, their post-graduation opportunities, their eligibility for grants and aid, etc. – which can distract students from the primary goal of assessment: learning. Indeed, shifting the focus of assessment away from grades and towards more meaningful understandings of intellectual growth can encourage students (as well as instructors and institutions) to attend to the primary goal of education.
Barbara Walvoord (2010) argues that assessment is more likely to be successful if there is a clear plan, whether one is assessing learning in a course or in an entire curriculum (see also Gelmon, Holland, and Spring, 2018). Without some intentional and careful plan, assessment can fall prey to unclear goals, vague criteria, limited communication of criteria or feedback, invalid or unreliable assessments, unfairness in student evaluations, or insufficient or even unmeasured learning. There are several steps in this planning process.
- Defining learning goals. An assessment plan usually begins with a clearly articulated set of learning goals.
- Defining assessment methods. Once goals are clear, an instructor must decide on what evidence – assignment(s) – will best reveal whether students are meeting the goals. We discuss several common methods below, but these need not be limited by anything but the learning goals and the teaching context.
- Developing the assessment. The next step would be to formulate clear formats, prompts, and performance criteria that ensure students can prepare effectively and provide valid, reliable evidence of their learning.
- Integrating assessment with other course elements. Then the remainder of the course design process can be completed. In both integrated (Fink 2013) and backward course design models (Wiggins & McTighe 2005), the primary assessment methods, once chosen, become the basis for other smaller reading and skill-building assignments as well as daily learning experiences such as lectures, discussions, and other activities that will prepare students for their best effort in the assessments.
- Communicate about the assessment. Once the course has begun, it is possible and necessary to communicate the assignment and its performance criteria to students. This communication may take many and preferably multiple forms to ensure student clarity and preparation, including assignment overviews in the syllabus, handouts with prompts and assessment criteria, rubrics with learning goals, model assignments (e.g., papers), in-class discussions, and collaborative decision-making about prompts or criteria, among others.
- Administer the assessment. Instructors then can implement the assessment at the appropriate time, collecting evidence of student learning – e.g., receiving papers or administering tests.
- Analyze the results. Analysis of the results can take various forms – from reading essays to computer-assisted test scoring – but always involves comparing student work to the performance criteria and the relevant scholarly research from the field(s).
- Communicate the results. Instructors then compose an assessment complete with areas of strength and improvement, and communicate it to students along with grades (if the assignment is graded), hopefully within a reasonable time frame. This also is the time to determine whether the assessment was valid and reliable, and if not, how to communicate this to students and adjust feedback and grades fairly. For instance, were the test or essay questions confusing, yielding invalid and unreliable assessments of student knowledge.
- Reflect and revise. Once the assessment is complete, instructors and students can develop learning plans for the remainder of the course so as to ensure improvements, and the assignment may be changed for future courses, as necessary.
Let’s see how this might work in practice through an example. An instructor in a Political Science course on American Environmental Policy may have a learning goal (among others) of students understanding the historical precursors of various environmental policies and how these both enabled and constrained the resulting legislation and its impacts on environmental conservation and health. The instructor therefore decides that the course will be organized around a series of short papers that will combine to make a thorough policy report, one that will also be the subject of student presentations and discussions in the last third of the course. Each student will write about an American environmental policy of their choice, with a first paper addressing its historical precursors, a second focused on the process of policy formation, and a third analyzing the extent of its impacts on environmental conservation or health. This will help students to meet the content knowledge goals of the course, in addition to its goals of improving students’ research, writing, and oral presentation skills. The instructor then develops the prompts, guidelines, and performance criteria that will be used to assess student skills, in addition to other course elements to best prepare them for this work – e.g., scaffolded units with quizzes, readings, lectures, debates, and other activities. Once the course has begun, the instructor communicates with the students about the learning goals, the assignments, and the criteria used to assess them, giving them the necessary context (goals, assessment plan) in the syllabus, handouts on the policy papers, rubrics with assessment criteria, model papers (if possible), and discussions with them as they need to prepare. The instructor then collects the papers at the appropriate due dates, assesses their conceptual and writing quality against the criteria and field’s scholarship, and then provides written feedback and grades in a manner that is reasonably prompt and sufficiently thorough for students to make improvements. Then the instructor can make determinations about whether the assessment method was effective and what changes might be necessary.
Assessment can vary widely from informal checks on understanding, to quizzes, to blogs, to essays, and to elaborate performance tasks such as written or audiovisual projects (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). Below are a few common methods of assessment identified by Brown and Knight (1994) that are important to consider.
According to Euan S. Henderson, essays make two important contributions to learning and assessment: the development of skills and the cultivation of a learning style (1980). The American Association of Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) also has found that intensive writing is a “high impact” teaching practice likely to help students in their engagement, learning, and academic attainment (Kuh 2008).
Things to Keep in Mind about Essays
- Essays are a common form of writing assignment in courses and can be either a summative or formative form of assessment depending on how the instructor utilizes them.
- Essays encompass a wide array of narrative forms and lengths, from short descriptive essays to long analytical or creative ones. Shorter essays are often best suited to assess student’s understanding of threshold concepts and discrete analytical or writing skills, while longer essays afford assessments of higher order concepts and more complex learning goals, such as rigorous analysis, synthetic writing, problem solving, or creative tasks.
- A common challenge of the essay is that students can use them simply to regurgitate rather than analyze and synthesize information to make arguments. Students need performance criteria and prompts that urge them to go beyond mere memorization and comprehension, but encourage the highest levels of learning on Bloom’s Taxonomy . This may open the possibility for essay assignments that go beyond the common summary or descriptive essay on a given topic, but demand, for example, narrative or persuasive essays or more creative projects.
- Instructors commonly assume that students know how to write essays and can encounter disappointment or frustration when they discover that this is sometimes not the case. For this reason, it is important for instructors to make their expectations clear and be prepared to assist, or provide students to resources that will enhance their writing skills. Faculty may also encourage students to attend writing workshops at university writing centers, such as Vanderbilt University’s Writing Studio .
Exams and time-constrained, individual assessment
Examinations have traditionally been a gold standard of assessment, particularly in post-secondary education. Many educators prefer them because they can be highly effective, they can be standardized, they are easily integrated into disciplines with certification standards, and they are efficient to implement since they can allow for less labor-intensive feedback and grading. They can involve multiple forms of questions, be of varying lengths, and can be used to assess multiple levels of student learning. Like essays they can be summative or formative forms of assessment.
Things to Keep in Mind about Exams
- Exams typically focus on the assessment of students’ knowledge of facts, figures, and other discrete information crucial to a course. While they can involve questioning that demands students to engage in higher order demonstrations of comprehension, problem solving, analysis, synthesis, critique, and even creativity, such exams often require more time to prepare and validate.
- Exam questions can be multiple choice, true/false, or other discrete answer formats, or they can be essay or problem-solving. For more on how to write good multiple choice questions, see this guide .
- Exams can make significant demands on students’ factual knowledge and therefore can have the side-effect of encouraging cramming and surface learning. Further, when exams are offered infrequently, or when they have high stakes by virtue of their heavy weighting in course grade schemes or in student goals, they may accompany violations of academic integrity.
- In the process of designing an exam, instructors should consider the following questions. What are the learning objectives that the exam seeks to evaluate? Have students been adequately prepared to meet exam expectations? What are the skills and abilities that students need to do well on the exam? How will this exam be utilized to enhance the student learning process?
The goal of implementing self-assessment in a course is to enable students to develop their own judgment and the capacities for critical meta-cognition – to learn how to learn. In self-assessment students are expected to assess both the processes and products of their learning. While the assessment of the product is often the task of the instructor, implementing student self-assessment in the classroom ensures students evaluate their performance and the process of learning that led to it. Self-assessment thus provides a sense of student ownership of their learning and can lead to greater investment and engagement. It also enables students to develop transferable skills in other areas of learning that involve group projects and teamwork, critical thinking and problem-solving, as well as leadership roles in the teaching and learning process with their peers.
Things to Keep in Mind about Self-Assessment
- Self-assessment is not self-grading. According to Brown and Knight, “Self-assessment involves the use of evaluative processes in which judgement is involved, where self-grading is the marking of one’s own work against a set of criteria and potential outcomes provided by a third person, usually the [instructor]” (1994, p. 52). Self-assessment can involve self-grading, but instructors of record retain the final authority to determine and assign grades.
- To accurately and thoroughly self-assess, students require clear learning goals for the assignment in question, as well as rubrics that clarify different performance criteria and levels of achievement for each. These rubrics may be instructor-designed, or they may be fashioned through a collaborative dialogue with students. Rubrics need not include any grade assignation, but merely descriptive academic standards for different criteria.
- Students may not have the expertise to assess themselves thoroughly, so it is helpful to build students’ capacities for self-evaluation, and it is important that they always be supplemented with faculty assessments.
- Students may initially resist instructor attempts to involve themselves in the assessment process. This is usually due to insecurities or lack of confidence in their ability to objectively evaluate their own work, or possibly because of habituation to more passive roles in the learning process. Brown and Knight note, however, that when students are asked to evaluate their work, frequently student-determined outcomes are very similar to those of instructors, particularly when the criteria and expectations have been made explicit in advance (1994).
- Methods of self-assessment vary widely and can be as unique as the instructor or the course. Common forms of self-assessment involve written or oral reflection on a student’s own work, including portfolio, logs, instructor-student interviews, learner diaries and dialog journals, post-test reflections, and the like.
Peer assessment is a type of collaborative learning technique where students evaluate the work of their peers and, in return, have their own work evaluated as well. This dimension of assessment is significantly grounded in theoretical approaches to active learning and adult learning . Like self-assessment, peer assessment gives learners ownership of learning and focuses on the process of learning as students are able to “share with one another the experiences that they have undertaken” (Brown and Knight, 1994, p. 52). However, it also provides students with other models of performance (e.g., different styles or narrative forms of writing), as well as the opportunity to teach, which can enable greater preparation, reflection, and meta-cognitive organization.
Things to Keep in Mind about Peer Assessment
- Similar to self-assessment, students benefit from clear and specific learning goals and rubrics. Again, these may be instructor-defined or determined through collaborative dialogue.
- Also similar to self-assessment, it is important to not conflate peer assessment and peer grading, since grading authority is retained by the instructor of record.
- While student peer assessments are most often fair and accurate, they sometimes can be subject to bias. In competitive educational contexts, for example when students are graded normatively (“on a curve”), students can be biased or potentially game their peer assessments, giving their fellow students unmerited low evaluations. Conversely, in more cooperative teaching environments or in cases when they are friends with their peers, students may provide overly favorable evaluations. Also, other biases associated with identity (e.g., race, gender, or class) and personality differences can shape student assessments in unfair ways. Therefore, it is important for instructors to encourage fairness, to establish processes based on clear evidence and identifiable criteria, and to provide instructor assessments as accompaniments or correctives to peer evaluations.
- Students may not have the disciplinary expertise or assessment experience of the instructor, and therefore can issue unsophisticated judgments of their peers. Therefore, to avoid unfairness, inaccuracy, and limited comments, formative peer assessments may need to be supplemented with instructor feedback.
As Brown and Knight assert, utilizing multiple methods of assessment, including more than one assessor when possible, improves the reliability of the assessment data. It also ensures that students with diverse aptitudes and abilities can be assessed accurately and have equal opportunities to excel. However, a primary challenge to the multiple methods approach is how to weigh the scores produced by multiple methods of assessment. When particular methods produce higher range of marks than others, instructors can potentially misinterpret and mis-evaluate student learning. Ultimately, they caution that, when multiple methods produce different messages about the same student, instructors should be mindful that the methods are likely assessing different forms of achievement (Brown and Knight, 1994).
These are only a few of the many forms of assessment that one might use to evaluate and enhance student learning (see also ideas present in Brown and Knight, 1994). To this list of assessment forms and methods we may add many more that encourage students to produce anything from research papers to films, theatrical productions to travel logs, op-eds to photo essays, manifestos to short stories. The limits of what may be assigned as a form of assessment is as varied as the subjects and skills we seek to empower in our students. Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching has an ever-expanding array of guides on creative models of assessment that are present below, so please visit them to learn more about other assessment innovations and subjects.
Whatever plan and method you use, assessment often begins with an intentional clarification of the values that drive it. While many in higher education may argue that values do not have a role in assessment, we contend that values (for example, rigor) always motivate and shape even the most objective of learning assessments. Therefore, as in other aspects of assessment planning, it is helpful to be intentional and critically reflective about what values animate your teaching and the learning assessments it requires. There are many values that may direct learning assessment, but common ones include rigor, generativity, practicability, co-creativity, and full participation (Bandy et al., 2018). What do these characteristics mean in practice?
Rigor. In the context of learning assessment, rigor means aligning our methods with the goals we have for students, principles of validity and reliability, ethics of fairness and doing no harm, critical examinations of the meaning we make from the results, and good faith efforts to improve teaching and learning. In short, rigor suggests understanding learning assessment as we would any other form of intentional, thoroughgoing, critical, and ethical inquiry.
Generativity. Learning assessments may be most effective when they create conditions for the emergence of new knowledge and practice, including student learning and skill development, as well as instructor pedagogy and teaching methods. Generativity opens up rather than closes down possibilities for discovery, reflection, growth, and transformation.
Practicability. Practicability recommends that learning assessment be grounded in the realities of the world as it is, fitting within the boundaries of both instructor’s and students’ time and labor. While this may, at times, advise a method of learning assessment that seems to conflict with the other values, we believe that assessment fails to be rigorous, generative, participatory, or co-creative if it is not feasible and manageable for instructors and students.
Full Participation. Assessments should be equally accessible to, and encouraging of, learning for all students, empowering all to thrive regardless of identity or background. This requires multiple and varied methods of assessment that are inclusive of diverse identities – racial, ethnic, national, linguistic, gendered, sexual, class, etcetera – and their varied perspectives, skills, and cultures of learning.
Co-creation. As alluded to above regarding self- and peer-assessment, co-creative approaches empower students to become subjects of, not just objects of, learning assessment. That is, learning assessments may be more effective and generative when assessment is done with, not just for or to, students. This is consistent with feminist, social, and community engagement pedagogies, in which values of co-creation encourage us to critically interrogate and break down hierarchies between knowledge producers (traditionally, instructors) and consumers (traditionally, students) (e.g., Saltmarsh, Hartley, & Clayton, 2009, p. 10; Weimer, 2013). In co-creative approaches, students’ involvement enhances the meaningfulness, engagement, motivation, and meta-cognitive reflection of assessments, yielding greater learning (Bass & Elmendorf, 2019). The principle of students being co-creators of their own education is what motivates the course design and professional development work Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching has organized around the Students as Producers theme.
Below is a list of other CFT teaching guides that supplement this one and may be of assistance as you consider all of the factors that shape your assessment plan.
- Active Learning
- An Introduction to Lecturing
- Beyond the Essay: Making Student Thinking Visible in the Humanities
- Bloom’s Taxonomy
- Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs)
- Classroom Response Systems
- How People Learn
- Service-Learning and Community Engagement
- Syllabus Construction
- Teaching with Blogs
- Test-Enhanced Learning
- Assessing Student Learning (a five-part video series for the CFT’s Online Course Design Institute)
Angelo, Thomas A., and K. Patricia Cross. Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers . 2 nd edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993. Print.
Bandy, Joe, Mary Price, Patti Clayton, Julia Metzker, Georgia Nigro, Sarah Stanlick, Stephani Etheridge Woodson, Anna Bartel, & Sylvia Gale. Democratically engaged assessment: Reimagining the purposes and practices of assessment in community engagement . Davis, CA: Imagining America, 2018. Web.
Bass, Randy and Heidi Elmendorf. 2019. “ Designing for Difficulty: Social Pedagogies as a Framework for Course Design .” Social Pedagogies: Teagle Foundation White Paper. Georgetown University, 2019. Web.
Brookfield, Stephen D. Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher . San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995. Print
Brown, Sally, and Peter Knight. Assessing Learners in Higher Education . 1 edition. London ;Philadelphia: Routledge, 1998. Print.
Cameron, Jeanne et al. “Assessment as Critical Praxis: A Community College Experience.” Teaching Sociology 30.4 (2002): 414–429. JSTOR . Web.
Fink, L. Dee. Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. Second Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2013. Print.
Gibbs, Graham and Claire Simpson. “Conditions under which Assessment Supports Student Learning. Learning and Teaching in Higher Education 1 (2004): 3-31. Print.
Henderson, Euan S. “The Essay in Continuous Assessment.” Studies in Higher Education 5.2 (1980): 197–203. Taylor and Francis+NEJM . Web.
Gelmon, Sherril B., Barbara Holland, and Amy Spring. Assessing Service-Learning and Civic Engagement: Principles and Techniques. Second Edition . Stylus, 2018. Print.
Kuh, George. High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter , American Association of Colleges & Universities, 2008. Web.
Maki, Peggy L. “Developing an Assessment Plan to Learn about Student Learning.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 28.1 (2002): 8–13. ScienceDirect . Web. The Journal of Academic Librarianship. Print.
Sharkey, Stephen, and William S. Johnson. Assessing Undergraduate Learning in Sociology . ASA Teaching Resource Center, 1992. Print.
Walvoord, Barbara. Assessment Clear and Simple: A Practical Guide for Institutions, Departments, and General Education. Second Edition . San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010. Print.
Weimer, Maryellen. Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice. Second Edition . San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2013. Print.
Wiggins, Grant, and Jay McTighe. Understanding By Design . 2nd Expanded edition. Alexandria,
VA: Assn. for Supervision & Curriculum Development, 2005. Print.
 For more on Wiggins and McTighe’s “Backward Design” model, see our teaching guide here .
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Types of Assessment Methods
- What is an Essay?
- Structure of Essay
- Advantages of Essay
- Disadvantages of Essay
- How to design a good Essay Assessment?
- Marking Rubrics
- Web References and Resources
What is an Essay? An Essay is an assessment question that requires an answer in a sentence, paragraph, or short composition. Essay assessments are usually classified as subjective assessments as there are normally a variety of responses.
According to Trigwell, there are 3 standard forms of essays:
- Role Play Essays Students respond to the essay as if he/she is performing a specific role in the essay. For example: Write a letter to the local county council, explaining the environmental issues in the area, and requesting them to produce some measures; giving evidences and social arguments from government reports. This type of essays allows the students to become involved and see the relevance of the task.
- Structured Essays Structured Essays are essays which have specific questions or topics that require answers. For example: In Shakespeare's play ' Hamlet, discuss and compare some of the soliloquies in terms of its style, syntax and imagery. This type of essays is useful if the assessors wish to test specific knowledge and techniques, it is also easier to mark as the assessors know what type of answers to expect.
- Interpretation of Data Evidence Essays Students are asked to write an essay based on data from a report/experiment they produced or from an external source. For example: Using the measurements found in the laboratory, explain and discuss the chemical reactions between the two main elements found. This type of essays is greatly pragmatic, using data the students collected, allowing students to reflect and analyze.
An essay (depending on the types of essays) is usually expected to consist of an
- Major points and ideas explained and summarized
- Results/Related points/Issues/or others depending on the topic
- Conclusion ' future work
- Essays have the ability to assess all levels of learning objectives.
- It encourages original and creative thinking.
- Due to the subjective nature of essay assessments, grading is very unreliable even for the same assessor at different periods.
- Grading may be influenced by other factors such as handwriting and length of response.
- As essays are very time-consuming to answer and to correct, they are not recommended if only low-level of learning outcomes are assessed which can be assessed by multiple choices or short answer questions.
- Although guessing is not possible in essay assessments, but 'bluffing' is.
- It is also not advisable to give the topic of the essay to the students at an early date. This may give rise to superficial learning where students concentrate all their efforts in completing the essay only.
- Let students know the assessment criteria and marking scheme, including grammar, spellings and other issues.
- Try to reduce ambiguity in the essay questions, clearly define the expected response such as compare, evaluate, summarize, critique etc.
- Do not use essays to measure knowledge or understanding that can be assessed using less time consuming assessment methods.
Marking Rubrics There are two general grading approaches ' holistic and analytic grading. Holistic approach is grading the essay as a whole. Analytic approach grades the important components of the essay and assigns marks to each component.
- Using Assessed Presentations, Learning and Teaching Hub, University of Bath https://teachinghub.bath.ac.uk/the-bath-blend/essentials/assessed-presentations/
Tips for Students Presenting
- Presentation for Assessment - A Guide, Learning and Teaching Centre, Macquarie University https://ishare.mq.edu.au/prod/file/e754584d-7fef-4b11-aaec-cca4468e0843/1/A415_019StudentPresentations.pdf
Copy and paste the text below: Chan C.(2008) Assessment: Essay , Assessment Resources@HKU, University of Hong Kong [http://ar.talic.hku.hk]: Available: Accessed: DATE
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Best Practices for Designing and Grading Exams
Adapted from crlt occasional paper #24: m.e. piontek (2008), center for research on learning and teaching.
The most obvious function of assessment methods (such as exams, quizzes, papers, and presentations) is to enable instructors to make judgments about the quality of student learning (i.e., assign grades). However, the method of assessment also can have a direct impact on the quality of student learning. Students assume that the focus of exams and assignments reflects the educational goals most valued by an instructor, and they direct their learning and studying accordingly (McKeachie & Svinicki, 2006). General grading systems can have an impact as well. For example, a strict bell curve (i.e., norm-reference grading) has the potential to dampen motivation and cooperation in a classroom, while a system that strictly rewards proficiency (i.e., criterion-referenced grading ) could be perceived as contributing to grade inflation. Given the importance of assessment for both faculty and student interactions about learning, how can instructors develop exams that provide useful and relevant data about their students' learning and also direct students to spend their time on the important aspects of a course or course unit? How do grading practices further influence this process?
Guidelines for Designing Valid and Reliable Exams
Ideally, effective exams have four characteristics. They are:
- Valid, (providing useful information about the concepts they were designed to test),
- Reliable (allowing consistent measurement and discriminating between different levels of performance),
- Recognizable (instruction has prepared students for the assessment), and
- Realistic (concerning time and effort required to complete the assignment) (Svinicki, 1999).
Most importantly, exams and assignments should f ocus on the most important content and behaviors emphasized during the course (or particular section of the course). What are the primary ideas, issues, and skills you hope students learn during a particular course/unit/module? These are the learning outcomes you wish to measure. For example, if your learning outcome involves memorization, then you should assess for memorization or classification; if you hope students will develop problem-solving capacities, your exams should focus on assessing students’ application and analysis skills. As a general rule, assessments that focus too heavily on details (e.g., isolated facts, figures, etc.) “will probably lead to better student retention of the footnotes at the cost of the main points" (Halpern & Hakel, 2003, p. 40). As noted in Table 1, each type of exam item may be better suited to measuring some learning outcomes than others, and each has its advantages and disadvantages in terms of ease of design, implementation, and scoring.
Table 1: Advantages and Disadvantages of Commonly Used Types of Achievement Test Items
Adapted from Table 10.1 of Worthen, et al., 1993, p. 261.
General Guidelines for Developing Multiple-Choice and Essay Questions
The following sections highlight general guidelines for developing multiple-choice and essay questions, which are often used in college-level assessment because they readily lend themselves to measuring higher order thinking skills (e.g., application, justification, inference, analysis and evaluation). Yet instructors often struggle to create, implement, and score these types of questions (McMillan, 2001; Worthen, et al., 1993).
Multiple-choice questions have a number of advantages. First, they can measure various kinds of knowledge, including students' understanding of terminology, facts, principles, methods, and procedures, as well as their ability to apply, interpret, and justify. When carefully designed, multiple-choice items also can assess higher-order thinking skills.
Multiple-choice questions are less ambiguous than short-answer items, thereby providing a more focused assessment of student knowledge. Multiple-choice items are superior to true-false items in several ways: on true-false items, students can receive credit for knowing that a statement is incorrect, without knowing what is correct. Multiple-choice items offer greater reliability than true-false items as the opportunity for guessing is reduced with the larger number of options. Finally, an instructor can diagnose misunderstanding by analyzing the incorrect options chosen by students.
A disadvantage of multiple-choice items is that they require developing incorrect, yet plausible, options that can be difficult to create. In addition, multiple- choice questions do not allow instructors to measure students’ ability to organize and present ideas. Finally, because it is much easier to create multiple-choice items that test recall and recognition rather than higher order thinking, multiple-choice exams run the risk of not assessing the deep learning that many instructors consider important (Greenland & Linn, 1990; McMillan, 2001).
Guidelines for writing multiple-choice items include advice about stems, correct answers, and distractors (McMillan, 2001, p. 150; Piontek, 2008):
- S tems pose the problem or question.
- Is the stem stated as clearly, directly, and simply as possible?
- Is the problem described fully in the stem?
- Is the stem stated positively, to avoid the possibility that students will overlook terms like “no,” “not,” or “least”?
- Does the stem provide only information relevant to the problem?
Possible responses include the correct answer and distractors , or the incorrect choices. Multiple-choice questions usually have at least three distractors.
- Are the distractors plausible to students who do not know the correct answer?
- Is there only one correct answer?
- Are all the possible answers parallel with respect to grammatical structure, length, and complexity?
- Are the options short?
- Are complex options avoided? Are options placed in logical order?
- Are correct answers spread equally among all the choices? (For example, is answer “A” correct about the same number of times as options “B” or “C” or “D”)?
An example of good multiple-choice questions that assess higher-order thinking skills is the following test question from pharmacy (Park, 2008):
Patient WC was admitted for third-degree burns over 75% of his body. The attending physician asks you to start this patient on antibiotic therapy. Which one of the following is the best reason why WC would need antibiotic prophylaxis? a. His burn injuries have broken down the innate immunity that prevents microbial invasion. b. His injuries have inhibited his cellular immunity. c. His injuries have impaired antibody production. d. His injuries have induced the bone marrow, thus activated immune system
A second question builds on the first by describing the patient’s labs two days later, asking the students to develop an explanation for the subsequent lab results. (See Piontek, 2008 for the full question.)
Essay questions can tap complex thinking by requiring students to organize and integrate information, interpret information, construct arguments, give explanations, evaluate the merit of ideas, and carry out other types of reasoning (Cashin, 1987; Gronlund & Linn, 1990; McMillan, 2001; Thorndike, 1997; Worthen, et al., 1993). Restricted response essay questions are good for assessing basic knowledge and understanding and generally require a brief written response (e.g., “State two hypotheses about why birds migrate. Summarize the evidence supporting each hypothesis” [Worthen, et al., 1993, p. 277].) Extended response essay items allow students to construct a variety of strategies, processes, interpretations and explanations for a question, such as the following:
The framers of the Constitution strove to create an effective national government that balanced the tension between majority rule and the rights of minorities. What aspects of American politics favor majority rule? What aspects protect the rights of those not in the majority? Drawing upon material from your readings and the lectures, did the framers successfully balance this tension? Why or why not? (Shipan, 2008).
In addition to measuring complex thinking and reasoning, advantages of essays include the potential for motivating better study habits and providing the students flexibility in their responses. Instructors can evaluate how well students are able to communicate their reasoning with essay items, and they are usually less time consuming to construct than multiple-choice items that measure reasoning.
The major disadvantages of essays include the amount of time instructors must devote to reading and scoring student responses, and the importance of developing and using carefully constructed criteria/rubrics to insure reliability of scoring. Essays can assess only a limited amount of content in one testing period/exam due to the length of time required for students to respond to each essay item. As a result, essays do not provide a good sampling of content knowledge across a curriculum (Gronlund & Linn, 1990; McMillan, 2001).
Guidelines for writing essay questions include the following (Gronlund & Linn, 1990; McMillan, 2001; Worthen, et al., 1993):
- Restrict the use of essay questions to educational outcomes that are difficult to measure using other formats. For example, to test recall knowledge, true-false, fill-in-the-blank, or multiple-choice questions are better measures.
- Generalizations : State a set of principles that can explain the following events.
- Synthesis : Write a well-organized report that shows…
- Evaluation : Describe the strengths and weaknesses of…
- Write the question clearly so that students do not feel that they are guessing at “what the instructor wants me to do.”
- Indicate the amount of time and effort students should spend on each essay item.
- Avoid giving students options for which essay questions they should answer. This choice decreases the validity and reliability of the test because each student is essentially taking a different exam.
- Consider using several narrowly focused questions (rather than one broad question) that elicit different aspects of students’ skills and knowledge.
- Make sure there is enough time to answer the questions.
Guidelines for scoring essay questions include the following (Gronlund & Linn, 1990; McMillan, 2001; Wiggins, 1998; Worthen, et al., 1993; Writing and grading essay questions , 1990):
- Outline what constitutes an expected answer.
- Select an appropriate scoring method based on the criteria. A rubric is a scoring key that indicates the criteria for scoring and the amount of points to be assigned for each criterion. A sample rubric for a take-home history exam question might look like the following:
For other examples of rubrics, see CRLT Occasional Paper #24 (Piontek, 2008).
- Clarify the role of writing mechanics and other factors independent of the educational outcomes being measured. For example, how does grammar or use of scientific notation figure into your scoring criteria?
- Create anonymity for students’ responses while scoring and create a random order in which tests are graded (e.g., shuffle the pile) to increase accuracy of the scoring.
- Use a systematic process for scoring each essay item. Assessment guidelines suggest scoring all answers for an individual essay question in one continuous process, rather than scoring all answers to all questions for an individual student. This system makes it easier to remember the criteria for scoring each answer.
You can also use these guidelines for scoring essay items to create grading processes and rubrics for students’ papers, oral presentations, course projects, and websites. For other grading strategies, see Responding to Student Writing – Principles & Practices and Commenting Effectively on Student Writing .
Cashin, W. E. (1987). Improving essay tests . Idea Paper, No. 17. Manhattan, KS: Center for Faculty Evaluation and Development, Kansas State University.
Gronlund, N. E., & Linn, R. L. (1990). Measurement and evaluation in teaching (6th ed.). New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.
Halpern, D. H., & Hakel, M. D. (2003). Applying the science of learning to the university and beyond. Change, 35 (4), 37-41.
McKeachie, W. J., & Svinicki, M. D. (2006). Assessing, testing, and evaluating: Grading is not the most important function. In McKeachie's Teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers (12th ed., pp. 74-86). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
McMillan, J. H. (2001). Classroom assessment: Principles and practice for effective instruction. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Park, J. (2008, February 4). Personal communication. University of Michigan College of Pharmacy.
Piontek, M. (2008). Best practices for designing and grading exams. CRLT Occasional Paper No. 24 . Ann Arbor, MI. Center for Research on Learning and Teaching.>
Shipan, C. (2008, February 4). Personal communication. University of Michigan Department of Political Science.
Svinicki, M. D. (1999a). Evaluating and grading students. In Teachers and students: A sourcebook for UT- Austin faculty (pp. 1-14). Austin, TX: Center for Teaching Effectiveness, University of Texas at Austin.
Thorndike, R. M. (1997). Measurement and evaluation in psychology and education. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
Wiggins, G. P. (1998). Educative assessment: Designing assessments to inform and improve student performance . San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Worthen, B. R., Borg, W. R., & White, K. R. (1993). Measurement and evaluation in the schools . New York: Longman.
Writing and grading essay questions. (1990, September). For Your Consideration , No. 7. Chapel Hill, NC: Center for Teaching and Learning, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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To effectively evaluate whether your students meet a subject's learning outcomes, you need to choose an appropriate assessment method.
Different assessment methods allow you to assess different skills. For example, while one method may ask students to demonstrate analytical skills, another may focus on collaboration. The method of assessment chosen will then inform the selection of an appropriate task.
To choose an appropriate assessment method, you must understand:
- the subject's learning outcomes
- the skills and knowledge associated with those learning outcomes
- which assessment methods will allow your students to demonstrate the skills and knowledge.
Considering these three aspects puts the student and their learning at the centre of learning design.
Definitions and examples
You can also download a PDF table of the definitions and examples .
Please note that these are examples and not an exhaustive and complete list.
Source: Teaching @UNSW | Assessment Toolkit Aligning Assessment with Outcomes Document Version Date 07/08/2015 teaching.unsw.edu.au/aligning-assessment-learning-outcomes (Dunn, 2010, adapted from Nightingale et al., 1996). University of New South Wales
Methods of assessment and assessment types
Methods of assessment can also be aligned with types of assessment, allowing for types of assessment to be altered at the offering level (ie. in subject outlines) without changing the assessment method.
If your criteria and standards focus on the skills and knowledge to be assessed, you can change elements such as:
- detail of task
- form of task.
Other elements should remain the same. These include:
- number of assessment tasks
See the full list of assessment types
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- Knowledge Base
The Beginner's Guide to Writing an Essay | Steps & Examples
An academic essay is a focused piece of writing that develops an idea or argument using evidence, analysis, and interpretation.
There are many types of essays you might write as a student. The content and length of an essay depends on your level, subject of study, and course requirements. However, most essays at university level are argumentative — they aim to persuade the reader of a particular position or perspective on a topic.
The essay writing process consists of three main stages:
- Preparation: Decide on your topic, do your research, and create an essay outline.
- Writing : Set out your argument in the introduction, develop it with evidence in the main body, and wrap it up with a conclusion.
- Revision: Check the content, organization, grammar, spelling, and formatting of your essay.
Table of contents
Essay writing process, preparation for writing an essay, writing the introduction, writing the main body, writing the conclusion, essay checklist, lecture slides, frequently asked questions about writing an essay.
The writing process of preparation, writing, and revisions applies to every essay or paper, but the time and effort spent on each stage depends on the type of essay .
For example, if you’ve been assigned a five-paragraph expository essay for a high school class, you’ll probably spend the most time on the writing stage; for a college-level argumentative essay , on the other hand, you’ll need to spend more time researching your topic and developing an original argument before you start writing.
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See an example
Before you start writing, you should make sure you have a clear idea of what you want to say and how you’re going to say it. There are a few key steps you can follow to make sure you’re prepared:
- Understand your assignment: What is the goal of this essay? What is the length and deadline of the assignment? Is there anything you need to clarify with your teacher or professor?
- Define a topic: If you’re allowed to choose your own topic , try to pick something that you already know a bit about and that will hold your interest.
- Do your research: Read primary and secondary sources and take notes to help you work out your position and angle on the topic. You’ll use these as evidence for your points.
- Come up with a thesis: The thesis is the central point or argument that you want to make. A clear thesis is essential for a focused essay—you should keep referring back to it as you write.
- Create an outline: Map out the rough structure of your essay in an outline . This makes it easier to start writing and keeps you on track as you go.
Once you’ve got a clear idea of what you want to discuss, in what order, and what evidence you’ll use, you’re ready to start writing.
The introduction sets the tone for your essay. It should grab the reader’s interest and inform them of what to expect. The introduction generally comprises 10–20% of the text.
1. Hook your reader
The first sentence of the introduction should pique your reader’s interest and curiosity. This sentence is sometimes called the hook. It might be an intriguing question, a surprising fact, or a bold statement emphasizing the relevance of the topic.
Let’s say we’re writing an essay about the development of Braille (the raised-dot reading and writing system used by visually impaired people). Our hook can make a strong statement about the topic:
The invention of Braille was a major turning point in the history of disability.
2. Provide background on your topic
Next, it’s important to give context that will help your reader understand your argument. This might involve providing background information, giving an overview of important academic work or debates on the topic, and explaining difficult terms. Don’t provide too much detail in the introduction—you can elaborate in the body of your essay.
3. Present the thesis statement
Next, you should formulate your thesis statement— the central argument you’re going to make. The thesis statement provides focus and signals your position on the topic. It is usually one or two sentences long. The thesis statement for our essay on Braille could look like this:
As the first writing system designed for blind people’s needs, Braille was a groundbreaking new accessibility tool. It not only provided practical benefits, but also helped change the cultural status of blindness.
4. Map the structure
In longer essays, you can end the introduction by briefly describing what will be covered in each part of the essay. This guides the reader through your structure and gives a preview of how your argument will develop.
The invention of Braille marked a major turning point in the history of disability. The writing system of raised dots used by blind and visually impaired people was developed by Louis Braille in nineteenth-century France. In a society that did not value disabled people in general, blindness was particularly stigmatized, and lack of access to reading and writing was a significant barrier to social participation. The idea of tactile reading was not entirely new, but existing methods based on sighted systems were difficult to learn and use. As the first writing system designed for blind people’s needs, Braille was a groundbreaking new accessibility tool. It not only provided practical benefits, but also helped change the cultural status of blindness. This essay begins by discussing the situation of blind people in nineteenth-century Europe. It then describes the invention of Braille and the gradual process of its acceptance within blind education. Subsequently, it explores the wide-ranging effects of this invention on blind people’s social and cultural lives.
Write your essay introduction
The body of your essay is where you make arguments supporting your thesis, provide evidence, and develop your ideas. Its purpose is to present, interpret, and analyze the information and sources you have gathered to support your argument.
Length of the body text
The length of the body depends on the type of essay. On average, the body comprises 60–80% of your essay. For a high school essay, this could be just three paragraphs, but for a graduate school essay of 6,000 words, the body could take up 8–10 pages.
To give your essay a clear structure , it is important to organize it into paragraphs . Each paragraph should be centered around one main point or idea.
That idea is introduced in a topic sentence . The topic sentence should generally lead on from the previous paragraph and introduce the point to be made in this paragraph. Transition words can be used to create clear connections between sentences.
After the topic sentence, present evidence such as data, examples, or quotes from relevant sources. Be sure to interpret and explain the evidence, and show how it helps develop your overall argument.
Lack of access to reading and writing put blind people at a serious disadvantage in nineteenth-century society. Text was one of the primary methods through which people engaged with culture, communicated with others, and accessed information; without a well-developed reading system that did not rely on sight, blind people were excluded from social participation (Weygand, 2009). While disabled people in general suffered from discrimination, blindness was widely viewed as the worst disability, and it was commonly believed that blind people were incapable of pursuing a profession or improving themselves through culture (Weygand, 2009). This demonstrates the importance of reading and writing to social status at the time: without access to text, it was considered impossible to fully participate in society. Blind people were excluded from the sighted world, but also entirely dependent on sighted people for information and education.
See the full essay example
The conclusion is the final paragraph of an essay. It should generally take up no more than 10–15% of the text . A strong essay conclusion :
- Returns to your thesis
- Ties together your main points
- Shows why your argument matters
A great conclusion should finish with a memorable or impactful sentence that leaves the reader with a strong final impression.
What not to include in a conclusion
To make your essay’s conclusion as strong as possible, there are a few things you should avoid. The most common mistakes are:
- Including new arguments or evidence
- Undermining your arguments (e.g. “This is just one approach of many”)
- Using concluding phrases like “To sum up…” or “In conclusion…”
Braille paved the way for dramatic cultural changes in the way blind people were treated and the opportunities available to them. Louis Braille’s innovation was to reimagine existing reading systems from a blind perspective, and the success of this invention required sighted teachers to adapt to their students’ reality instead of the other way around. In this sense, Braille helped drive broader social changes in the status of blindness. New accessibility tools provide practical advantages to those who need them, but they can also change the perspectives and attitudes of those who do not.
Write your essay conclusion
My essay follows the requirements of the assignment (topic and length ).
My introduction sparks the reader’s interest and provides any necessary background information on the topic.
My introduction contains a thesis statement that states the focus and position of the essay.
I use paragraphs to structure the essay.
I use topic sentences to introduce each paragraph.
Each paragraph has a single focus and a clear connection to the thesis statement.
I make clear transitions between paragraphs and ideas.
My conclusion doesn’t just repeat my points, but draws connections between arguments.
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Essay: Assessment tools and methods
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Assessment is a tool used in the classroom every day. It is used to measure a student’s mastery of a skill or knowledge of a given subject. It is also what demonstrates to the teacher what the students have learned. Educators use that information to determine if they need to re-teach to a specific student, group, or the entire class. They can also use that information to determine the rate of their teaching. Assessments are important because, as teachers, we need to know what difficulties our students have and what needs to be refined for them. While I do believe in assessment and feel that it is one of the key components of teaching, I am more concerned with a child’s process of learning rather than the overall product that comes from it. This is where grades come in for me. Grades determine the students’ level of mastery on a subject, nothing more. Grades should not be the exclusive indicators that a student has learned the information that is presented to them. It is the things a student learns along the way that truly matter and sometimes cannot be measured. Prior to teaching a unit, I believe it is useful to incorporate surveys and diagnostic assessments to determine what your students understand before instruction. Observation, combined with anecdotal records, is essential, especially in the early grades. By observing and keeping track of these observations, teachers are able to tell a lot about their students. For example, they can see how they interact socially with other peers as well as how well they carry out a given task. I am inclined to be an early elementary teacher, in grades K-3. The first years of school are my ideal age group. The early childhood stage is a time when children develop the most. They are developing physically, cognitively, and psychologically. Due to this, I feel it would be more beneficial to assign performance tasks rather than tests. By having students carry out performance tasks, students can demonstrate they have learned what has been taught and also show they are learning real life skills that will help them throughout their daily lives. To achieve this, I plan to develop and conduct both formative and summative assessments on a regular basis. Formative assessments are ongoing assessments such as records of students’ performance, observations, checklists, and rating scales. These are ongoing records that are used by teachers to improve instructional strategies in the classroom and direct instruction. According to our textbook, these assessments monitor students’ progress during instruction and learning activities that include feedback and opportunities to improve. Some informal assessments may be in the form of regular classroom activities such as class work, journals, essays, play-based assessment or student participation. I plan to utilize them to determine where students are at the time of learning. The results will indicate the pace of my instruction and I can modify the way I present the information. Informal assessments include a teacher’s. Summative assessments are used to evaluate the effectiveness of the academic programs taught. They can be used to determine whether or not students have mastered specific skills or grasped certain concepts. During this semester I learned that summative assessments are administered at the end of teaching a lesson or a unit as an indicator of what the students know and are able to do after the instruction is completed. These assessments will vary in form such as quizzes, tests, presentations, essays, and growth portfolios. I like to incorporate a variety of assessments in my instruction because it gives students an opportunity to demonstrate what they know as a result of the lesson, not based on the type of assessment. While one child may not be good at tests they might be good at presentations and vice versa. This diverse outlook on assessment is what enables my students to be the successful learners. As a teacher, I have some control over the types of assessments, formative and summative, that I administer to my students. However, there are other types of formal assessments that are data driven and based on statistics. These assessments include norm-referenced tests and criterion referenced tests used by the District, State, and/or Nationwide. Formal assessments can be given to students to test their performance against other children in their age group and grade level. They may also be given to identify a student’s strengths and weaknesses in comparison to peers. These large scales tests may have some benefits, but in my perfect world, they would not exist. These tests are presented in one way and does not allow for students to demonstrate their mastery or understanding but only their ability to ‘fit a mold’. During the teachers’ panel, both guest speakers admitted that, at present, the classroom revolves around assessments. Everything students do in the classroom today ultimately leads to progressive assessments and final evaluative assessments. It saddens me that school has become this assessment ‘bubble’. I believe that we are surrounded by assessment and since it is a crucial part of our education system, we need assessment in the classroom but do it in a way that is strictly meant to monitor student’s progress and whether we are effectively teaching or not. The panel also talked briefly about grading. Often, teachers have a hard time agreeing on what practices are ethical when it comes to determining a grade. It is a general consensus that grades are a powerful symbol and have the capacity to impact students in a positive or negative way since they can represent different things for different people. The use of rubrics and checklists are important to me. These checklists and rubrics should be shared with the students constantly and discussed at length so that students are aware of what they will be graded on and what each aspect of their grade is based upon. Grades, as I stated earlier, should be limited to the level of knowledge within the subject that has already been taught, not about the students ability to read the instructions. I also believe there should be different grades for different things, for example, in a grade for a language arts performance, I should not include points for non-related items. On a college course syllabus we have a section that includes all of the elements needed for a final grade with a total worth for each section. Each of these elements has a rubric of its own that composes the overall final grade for that assignment. This method of grading is what I would like to incorporate for my students, making the necessary modifications based on their age group, grade level, school policy, and district policy. I believe that academic skills are a separate grade from social, emotional, and community skills. If students know what to expect, a grade will not come as a surprise to them. Students will be able to know what is required of them to get a passing score or a mastery score. I also believe in giving students an opportunity to redo an assignment if they believe they can do better. With the redo, however, they will also include an explanation as to why they believed they could do better the second time around. I will not take points away with a redo because the goal is not to penalize students for making an effort to succeed but rather to help them see where they could improve and noticing said improvement. If I assess what I teach, my grade results should be valid. If my results are reliable, and they indicate that the class did poorly on one exam, the assessment indicates that there is something that my students didn’t understand and, therefore, something I didn’t effectively teach. In this instance, I should re-examine my grading policy and adjust it to reflect what the students were able to do, not what I was not able to teach. My philosophy is not only that assessment is vital for the classroom, but using the results appropriately is crucial to the continuing of effective teaching. It is my goal to make assessment and grading a positive element to my classroom for both my students and me. I want to give many opportunities for my students to do well and achieve mastery as well as become the best student they can be. Students should not just be measured by the end result. Learning is a process and I believe that it is in this process that true learning occurs. Aside from being graded on the basic facts, students need to be measured on how well they apply their knowledge. Assessment will be a huge part of my classroom; however, I will hold more importance for a student’s performance and progress rather than a factual test. Down the road, these students will need the skills learned during their early years. A multiple choice question isn’t what is going to help them in the long run. However, the process they used to learn and decide upon the answer will.
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Essays on Assessment Methods
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The INTASC Standards provides a framework for teaching that entails eight principles for the professional educator. The focus of this paper centers on Principle Six: “The educator understands and uses formal and informal strategies to evaluate and ensure the continuous intellectual, social, and physical development of the learner.” This paper asserts that this is the most important principle for the professional educator to demonstrate proficiency. This paper also discusses the importance and benefits of student evaluation in the improvement of academic programs.
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Students in School: Importance of Assessment Essay
Are tests important for students? Why? How should learning be assessed? Essays like the one on this page aim to answer these questions.
Assessment of students is a vital exercise aimed at evaluating their knowledge, talents, thoughts, or beliefs (Harlen, 2007). It involves testing a part of the content taught in class to ascertain the students’ learning progress. Assessment should put into consideration students’ class work and outside class work. For younger kids, the teacher should focus on language development.
This will enhance the kids’ confidence when expressing their ideas whenever asked. As in organizations, checks on the performance of students’ progress should be undertaken regularly. Notably, organizations have a high probability of investing in futility because they lack opportunity for correction.
However, in schools there are more chances of correcting mistakes. Similarly, teachers and parents should have a basis of nurturing and correcting the students. This is only possible through assessment of students at certain intervals during their learning progress. Equally, parents or teachers can use tests as they teach as a means of offering quick solutions to challenges experienced by students while learning.
All trainers should work together with their students with the aim of achieving some goals. To evaluate if the goals are met, trainers use various assessment methods depending on the profession. This is exactly true when it comes to assessment in schools. Assessment should focus on the student learning progress.
It should be employed from the kindergarten to the highest levels of learning institutions such as the university. The most essential fact about assessment is that it has to be specific. This implies that each test should try to evaluate if a student is able to demonstrate the understanding of certain concepts taught in class. Contrary to what most examiners believe, assessment should never be used as a means of ranking students.
I this case the key aims of assessment will be lost. Ranking is not bad, but to some extent it might create a negative impression and demoralize the students who are not ranked at top in class. They feel that they are foolish, which is not the case. In general, assessment should be used for evaluation of results and thus creating and formulation of strategies for improving the students’ learning and performance.
Importance of assessment in school
Assessment forms an important part of learning that determines whether the objectives of education have been attained or not (Salvia, 2001). For important decision making concerning the student’s performance, assessment is inevitable. It is very crucial since it determines what course or career can the student partake depending on class performance.
This is not possible without an exam assessment. It engages instructors with a number of questions, which include whether they are teaching the students what they are supposed to be taught or not, and whether their teaching approach is suitable for students.
Students should be subjected to assessment beyond class work, because the world is changing and they are supposed to adapt to dynamics they encounter in their everyday lives. Assessment is important for parents, students, and teachers.
Teachers should be able to identify the students’ level of knowledge and their special needs. They should be able to identify skills, design lesson plans, and come up with the goals of learning. Similarly, instructors should be able to create new learning arrangements and select appropriate learning materials to meet individual student’s needs.
Teachers have to inform parents about the student’s progress in class. This is only possible with the assessment of the students through either exam or group assessment. The assessment will make teachers improve learning mechanisms to meet the needs and abilities of all students. It provides teachers with a way of informing the public about the student’s progress in school.
Whenever parents are informed about the results of their children, they have to contribute to decision making concerning the student’s education needs (Harlen, 2007). Parents are able to select and pay for the relevant curriculum for their students. They can hire personal tutors or pay tuition to promote the learning of the student.
Students should be able to evaluate their performance and learning in school with the use of assessment results. It forms the basis of self-motivation as through it students are able to put extra efforts in order improve their exam performance. Without results, a student might be tempted to assume that he or she has mastered everything taught in class.
Methods of assessment
Various mechanisms can be used to assess the students in school. These include both group assessment and various examinations issued during the learning session. The exam could be done on a weekly, monthly, or terminal basis. Through this, a student is required to submit a written paper or oral presentation. Assignments are normally given with a fixed date of submission.
The teacher determines the amount of time required depending on the complexity of the assignment. It can take a day, a week, or even a month and this ensures that the student does not only rely on class work. It promotes research work and instills the self-driven virtue to the student. In addition, short time exam gives a quick feedback to the teacher about the student performance.
Exam methods of assessment
Before looking at the various methods of exam assessment, it is important to understand the major role that the assessment plays in the learning of the student. Carrying out an assessment at regular intervals allows the teachers to know how their students are progressing over time with respect to their previous assessments (Harlen, 2007).
Actually, testing of students helps in their learning and creates motivation to learn more and improve their performance in the future examination. It also guides the teacher on ways of passing on the knowledge to the students. There are three purposes of assessment and these include assessment for learning, assessment to learning, and assessment of learning.
All these help the teacher in planning of his lessons and means of getting feedback from students. Moreover, these three factors of learning join the efforts of parents, student, and teachers in the process of learning. There are several repercussions realized when parents do not monitor closely the performance of their kids.
Education experts assert that parents who fail to monitor their children’s learning progress are like farmers who sow seeds during planting season and wait to reap during the harvesting season yet they did nothing about it. The success of the student is easily achieved when there is harmony among the parents, teachers, and the students.
Methods of assessment can be categorized into three steps: baseline, formative and summative (Stefanakis, 2010). The baseline is considered as the basic and marks the beginning of learning. The summative one carries the bigger weight than the formative in the overall performance of the student. It carries more marks and it is usually done at the end of the teaching period in the term paper.
The aim is to check for the overall understanding of the unit or topic by the student. As the formative assessment is a continuous process during the learning session in the classroom, the instructor should use the general feedback and observations while teaching. It can provide an immediate solution to the teacher because the area that troubles the student is easily identified and the teacher takes appropriate action.
Teachers should never ignore the formative or wait for the summative at the end of the learning term. Even if the teacher discovers weakness of the student, it might be less useful since there will be no room for improvement. Actually, it is more of a reactive measure rather than proactive summative assessment. Various mechanisms can be used to realize the formative assessment.
These include surveys, which involve collecting of students’ opinions, attitudes, and behaviors during class (Nitko, 2001). They help the instructor to interact with the student more closely, creating a supportive learning environment for the student. The teacher is able to clear any existing misconception from the students due to prior knowledge. It can also involve reflections of the student.
Here, the student is required to take some time and reflect on what was taught. It necessitates the student to ask several questions regarding what was taught, for instance, questions about the hottest topic, new concepts, or questions left unanswered. It also involves the teacher asking questions during a teaching session. This makes the teacher to point out the areas the students have not understood.
By doing so, the teacher is able to focus and put more effort on some topics as compared to others. The teacher can also decide to issue homework or assignments to students. This gives students an opportunity to build confidence on the knowledge acquired during class work (Stefanakis, 2010).
Most importantly, the teacher could include the objectives and expectations of each lesson and this can be in form of questions. These questions create awareness and curiosity of students about the topic.
For the above methods of assessment, various formats have been adopted. First is the baseline assessment, which aims at examining individual’s experience as well as the prior knowledge. There are pencil and paper easement method, which is a written test. It can be a short essay or multiple choice questions. It checks for the student’s understanding of certain concepts.
The third is the embedded assessment. It deals with testing the students in contextual learning and it is done in the formative stage. The fourth involves oral reports that aim at capturing the student’s communication and scientific skills. They are carried out in the formative stage. Interviews evaluate the group and individual performance during the formative stage.
There is also a performance task, which requires the student to work on an action related to the problem while explaining a scientific idea. Usually, it is assessed both in the summative and formative stages. All these formats ensure the objective of the assessment is achieved (Harlen, 2007). The above exam method promotes learning and acquiring of knowledge among the students.
Group methods of assessment
Assessment is a flexible activity as what is done to an individual during assessment can also be done in a group and still achieve the objectives of the assessment. Group work aims to ensure that students work together. The method is not as smooth as that of an individual’s assessment since awarding of grades is a bit tricky and not straightforward.
The instructors will not know which student has contributed a lot in the group work, unless the same grade is given to group members to create fairness in the process of assessment (Paquette, 2010). It is advisable to consider both the process and finished product when assessing group work.
By just looking at the final work of the group, no one can tell who did what and did not. Individual contributions are implicit in the final project. The teacher should employ some other measures to be able to distribute grades fairly.
The solutions of assessing group include consideration of the process and the final work. The instructor should assess the process involved in the development of the final work. The aspect of the project includes punctuality, cooperation and contribution of the individual student to the group work (Stefanakis, 2010). The participation of each student and teamwork should be assessed.
Fair grading requires looking at the achievement of the objectives of the project. In addition, the instructors can let the students assess and evaluate themselves through group participation. This enhances group teamwork and yields a fair distribution of grades. This is realized because the members of the group know how to research and present written analysis of their work.
Self-assessment aims at realizing respect, promptness, and listening to minority views within the group. Another effective way of ensuring that group work becomes successful is by holding group members accountable. This actually curbs the issue of joy riding among the group members. Individuals are allocated with a certain portion of the entire job.
This involves asking members to demonstrate what they have learned and how they have contributed into the group. In addition, the products and processes are assessed. Another interesting scenario is realized when the instructor gives students the opportunity to evaluate the work of other team members. The gauging of individuals involves the investigating of various aspects of the projects.
These include communication skills, efforts, cooperation, and participation of individual members. It is facilitated by the use of forms, which are completed by the students.
Group work aims at improving both accountability of individuals and vital information due to dynamics experienced in the group. To some extent, an instructor can involve the external feedbacks. These feedbacks are finally incorporated into the final score of the student’s group grade.
There are various mechanisms for assessing and grading the group. First, there is shared grading. Through this, the submitted work of the group is assessed and same grade to all members is awarded without considering the individual’s contribution. Secondly, there is averaging of the group grade. Through this, each member is required to submit the portion allocated.
After assessing the individual’s work, an average of all the members is evaluated and this grade is awarded to group members. This average group grade promotes members to focus on group and individual work. There is also individual grading, where the student’s allocated work is assessed and grades given to individuals.
This enhances efforts during working with all the members. In fact, this method is the fairest way of grading group work. There is also an individual report grading in which each member is required to write individual report. After submitting, assessment is done and a grade is given to the student.
Finally, there is an individual examination grading where questions are examined based on the project. This encourages students to participate fully during the project. It is hard to answer the questions if you have not participated in the group work.
How assessment prepares students for higher education/ workforce/ student character
It is a fact that in any institution exam is an inevitable criterion of assessing students. Whichever the system adopted by the governments of various countries worldwide, exam is an important event as teachers are able to allow those students who perform well to progress in their learning (Stefanakis, 2010). Those who have not met the minimum grading will require extra tuition before they are promoted.
This will involve the initiatives of parents to hire tutors for the student. Exam assessment prepares the student for higher levels of learning, because the higher institutions of learning have exam assessment too. Therefore, it is important for the students to get used to exam as well as research, which will boost the student understanding during lectures in the university or in college.
Similarly, at the end of a university degree course the students are required to carry out a project either as individual or group work. The knowledge and experience of teamwork gained during the lower study levels will play a great role in successful completion of tasks in the university.
Another important factor of assessment is that it helps a student to develop his or her character from childhood to adulthood. For the first time a student joins the school the test should be initiated.
From small things the student is asked by the teacher or by other colleagues, he or she learns how to associate with other students especially during the group work tasks. The student learns and embraces teamwork, cooperation, and accountability. These virtues are a foundation for character. In addition, the student acquires communication skills especially during the presentation of project work or during class sessions.
These small facts about life accumulate and contribute to life outside the school. The student is able to work in any environment. The exam credentials are vital requirements in the job market. All firms base their employment qualification on exams. More often, employers choose best workers based on their exam papers.
This approach has been vital since employers might not have time to assess ability to demonstrate their skills (Stefanakis, 2010). Therefore, the underlying basis is both exam and group assessment. Group assessment helps to build teamwork, which is a vital virtue in the workplace. Most projects in an organization are done in groups. Hence, teamwork aspects are very crucial during implementation.
The student utilizes the knowledge and experience of group work during school. The working environment is not so much different from socialization in school. In any organization, the success of a company is determined by the teamwork and unity of the workers. These vital virtues are learnt and developed in school and are enhanced by assessment.
Harlen, W. (2007). Assessment of learning . Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications.
Nitko, A. J. (2001). Educational assessment of students (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Merrill.
Paquette, K. R. (2010). Striving for the perfect classroom instructional and assessment strategies to meet the needs of today’s diverse learners . New York: Nova Science Publishers.
Salvia, J. (2001). Assessment (8th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Stefanakis, E. H. (2010). Differentiated assessment how to assess the learning potential of every student . San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
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- Emma L. Feeney 1 , 2 , 3
BMC Nutrition volume 9 , Article number: 116 ( 2023 ) Cite this article
Research on dairy consumption in China is lacking, however, some evidence has demonstrated significant changes in recent years, with a reported increase in the overall consumption of dairy products. To fully understand these changes, a systematic review was conducted to examine reported dairy intakes and differences between dairy consumption in different population groups in China. Methods: Web of Science, Embase, and PubMed databases were searched for studies published from January 2000 to September 2022. The China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI) was used to retrieve papers available in Chinese. Papers reporting dietary intakes of dairy consumption across age, sex, and geographical location sub-groups were considered for inclusion in this review. In addition, this review includes the consumption of different types of dairy foods and changes in dairy intake over time. Results: Forty-seven papers were included in the present study. Twelve papers examined dairy consumption across age groups, showing that middle-aged adults tend to consume less dairy than other age groups. Studies comparing across location-specific cohorts reported dairy intakes among urban populations were higher than rural, as well as being higher than the national average. Coastal, Northern and Eastern residents consumed more dairy products than those living in other regions of China, and people in larger cities had higher reported intakes than smaller cities. Milk was the primary dairy product reportedly consumed by Chinese population, followed by yogurt. Concerning sex, evidence showed that females generally reported a greater daily dairy intake than males. Conclusions: This review shows that, in China, several different population groups displayed significant differences in the amount and type of dairy consumed. When considering the incorporation of dairy products into healthy eating guidelines or positioning specific dairy products on the market, it is important to consider the differences and variations in consumption patterns within population groups.
Peer Review reports
Dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yogurt are recognized as important sources of beneficial nutrients, including vitamins D, B5 [ 1 ] and B12 [ 1 , 2 ], and minerals such as calcium [ 3 ], phosphorus, and potassium [ 1 ]. Many health benefits of dairy products are acknowledged [ 4 ], such as an impact on anthropometric measurements (i.e. weight, and waist circumference) [ 5 , 6 ]. Reduced risk of hypertension (HTN) linked to dairy consumption has also been reported, whereby peptides contained within milk have been shown to reduce blood pressure through inhibition of the angiotensin pathway [ 7 ]. One study, conducted in the USA, found that each additional serving of yogurt (227 g) was associated with a 6% reduced risk of incident HTN [ 8 ]. Similarly, in a large epidemiological study of Chinese adults, a significant association between a higher frequency of dairy consumption and reduced HTN was noted [ 9 ]. Higher intake of dairy was also reported to be associated with lower blood pressure levels in a sample of Chinese young women [ 10 ]. In addition, a study in China found that regular dairy consumption (≥ 4 days/week) was associated with a lower risk of ischemic heart disease (IHD) in males [ 11 ]. Evidence has also shown that consumption of dairy may offer protection against risk of other diseases such as metabolic syndrome [ 12 , 13 ], cardiovascular disease (CVD) [ 14 , 15 , 16 ], stroke [ 17 ], obesity [ 13 , 18 , 19 ], type 2 diabetes [ 20 ] and colorectal cancer [ 21 ]. However, although dairy products contain numerous beneficial nutrients, and their consumption may have a positive impact on health, there are still some concerns regarding the consumption of some dairy foods. Much of this concern is related to the saturated fatty acid (SFA) content, present in dairy products [ 22 ], known to be related to the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) [ 23 ].
Recommendations concerning dairy consumption are given in many national nutrition and healthy eating guidelines [ 24 , 25 , 26 , 27 ]. In Ireland, as an example, the recommendation is 3 servings each day from the food group “milk, yoghurt and cheese” [ 24 ]. In the US, 3 daily servings of dairy products are recommended for US adults [ 25 ]. However, in Asian countries, recommendations for the consumption of dairy are lower than in western countries [ 28 , 29 , 30 ]. In China, a variety of dairy products, equivalent to 300ml of liquid milk per day, are recommended in the 2022 Chinese Dietary Guidelines CDGs [ 30 ].
Dietary patterns in China are known to differ quite significantly from those reported in other global regions including Europe and the US [ 31 , 32 , 33 , 34 , 35 ]. Traditional Chinese dietary patterns are represented by ‘Rice, vegetables, and meat’, while the ‘modern’ Chinese dietary pattern is represented by ‘fast food, milk and deep-fried food’ [ 34 ]. Similar differences are seen within the US, where two major dietary patterns has been identified from national surveys, one was ‘nonwhole grain, white potatoes, cheese, meat, discretionary oil and fat, and added sugar’, and another one was ‘whole grains, vegetable, fruits, fish, nuts and seeds’ [ 35 ]. Researchers in the US also compared Chinese dietary intakes to American diets, reporting that the Chinese diet had a lower daily intake of fiber, vitamins and some micronutrients than the American diet [ 33 ]. In China, whilst dairy products have been available and intakes of dairy have been rising in the past decades dairy consumption remains low compared to the recommended dietary guidelines for Chinese [ 36 , 37 ]. This low consumption is attributed to several factors, such as lack of refrigeration, limited supply and high prices and a traditional plant-based diet [ 38 , 39 ]. As a result of low intakes, in one study, dairy foods were found to contribute only 4.3% of calcium intake, with “vegetable, bean and bean products” as the main source of calcium [ 40 ]. This was relatively low compared to other countries. For instance, in Ireland, dairy contribute 38.8% of calcium to the total diet [ 41 ]. And in Poland, the contribution from dairy to total calcium intake was 54.7% in the average Polish diet [ 42 ]. However, another survey, conducted among an elderly cohort in Beijing, found that dairy products were the main contributor to calcium, contributing 34.5% among older adults aged 60 years and over [ 43 ], indicating that whilst overall consumption is low, considerable variance exists within the population.
In recent decades, the dairy industry in China has grown steadily, prompted by economic factors including the growth in household income, consumer preferences and the provision of financial support from the government [ 44 ]. However, due to existing eating habits, consumer preferences, and other historical factors such as traditional agricultural practices and dietary practices in different regions in China, variations in the consumption of dairy products exist in different sub-groups e.g. gender, location groups, which has been reported in several studies to date [ 45 , 46 , 47 , 48 ]. Understanding the variations in consumption may help to elucidate factors influencing intake, and support the development of strategies to increase consumption among specific population groups, in accordance with dietary recommendations [ 49 , 50 ]. For instance, in the US, food based recommendations have been developed for various age and gender groups providing food choices that will help the population group to meet nutritional recommendations [ 50 ].
The purpose of this paper was to systematically review existing literature reporting dairy consumption among the Chinese population, living in mainland China. The objectives of the study were to summarise the available literature providing information on dairy intakes in the Chinese population, to examine the differences in the consumption of dairy across different population sub-groups and to further identify the factors which contribute to the differences in consumption.
The present systematic review was carried out following the updated Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Review and Meta-analysis (PRISMA 2020) guidelines [ 51 ]. The protocol of this review was previously registered on PROSPERO (International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews) (registration number: CRD42021285208).
Within this review, the term ‘dairy product’ is defined as milk, yogurt, milk powder, cheese, butter, cream or ice cream. The search strategy of this review followed the PICO framework, focusing on the differences in dairy consumption among different ages, geographic location sub-groups, sex groups among Chinese adults in mainland China, as well as the difference in consumption of the different types of dairy products and the overall changes in dairy consumption over time. The following search terms were used: Dairy OR Milk OR Cheese OR Yogurt OR Yoghurt OR Yoghourt OR Butter OR Cream OR Milk powder OR Food AND Intake OR Consumption OR Market OR Diet OR Dietary AND China OR Chinese OR Asian. The search was limited to studies carried out in human adults (≥ 18 years), written in English or Chinese languages. A manual search of references from included studies was also conducted. We used Google Scholar to retrieve papers where applicable. The China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI) was also used to retrieve papers when the full-text papers were only available in Chinese. Two authors (S.Y. and N.B.) independently performed the literature search in Web of Science, Embase, and PubMed databases for papers published between January, 2000 and October, 2021. To ensure a focus on the most recent research regarding dairy consumption status, papers published before the year 2000 were not searched. An updated search of all the datasets was completed by one researcher (S.Y.) on 06 September 2022.
Study screening and eligibility criteria
Published papers examining dairy intake by considering mean intake, median intake, frequency of consumption, and/or percentage of Chinese adult consumers living in mainland China were included. Study designs that were considered in this review included but not limited to dietary intake assessment study, intervention study but reporting dairy intake of control group at baseline, and consumer behaviour papers that reported findings of dairy intakes. Papers reporting the findings related to comparison of dairy consumption across age, sex, and geographical location sub-groups, different types of dairy products, and different years were included in the analysis in the present review. Papers were excluded if the original study was conducted in Chinese group living in other countries except for China. Papers were excluded if there were only children and/or teenagers involved in the study. Papers that assessed intake of human milk only were excluded. Papers reporting intakes of dairy food groups but including irrelevant food such as egg were excluded. Papers, involving intervention studies but did not report dairy intake data of participants in general good health in control group at the baseline, were excluded. For papers that reported data for those aged < 18 and ≥ 18 years, only data from those over 18 years were considered in the analysis of this review where applicable. Two authors (S.Y. and N.B.) independently screened papers for eligibility firstly based on titles, then abstracts and finally full texts based on the predefined inclusion and exclusion criteria. In the case of disagreement, a third researcher (E.R.G.) was involved, and consensus on inclusion or exclusion was reached after discussion.
Data extraction and quality assessment
Papers included in the present review reported dairy consumption in varies ways. The following information were extracted by one author (S.Y.) firstly from the all the papers reporting dairy intakes: study characteristics (first author, publication year, sample size, study location, year of data collection, dietary assessment method); population demographic characteristics (age, sex); type of reported dairy food (total and / or individual food products if reported). For the studies using data from national survey (i.e. China Health and Nutrition Survey) without specifying study location, the survey location information was searched and taken from the survey website [ 52 ] or presented as national according to the dataset used in papers. Dietary assessment method for those papers missing relative information were taken from survey website [ 11 ] or other papers which used same survey dataset and provided more detailed information. Following, studies where they reported findings of intake differences between age groups were summarized together. Age groups in each study included in the present review were further specified and presented for the comparison within and between studies. Population size, and age details of total population and groups were displayed where applicable. Similarly, information of geographical location sub-groups, sex groups and consumption of different types of dairy products were extracted and summarized for comparison, and the changes of dairy consumption over time were also compared and presented. Basic calculation, such as counting the percentage of consumer based on the number given in papers, was conducted in this review for easier presenting and comparing of findings. Depending on the methods and analysis operated in published papers, the dairy intakes were reported in percentage of consumers, frequency of intake, mean/median intakes (g/d, kg/y, ml/d), range of intakes or descriptive sentences without statistical results in the key findings. The intake presented in this review was absolute amount of intake, not energy-adjusted. If more than one papers used data from the same study or dataset, data from the publication with the greatest detail of information were presented in this review. During the data collection, two authors (E.R.G. and E.L.F.) were involved when a paper needed to be discussed.
To assess risk of bias, the quality of the studies included in this review was examined. S.Y. performed the quality assessment. Given the various of study methods in those studies, the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP) checklist for Cohort Studies [ 53 ] was applied. The CASP checklist for Cohort Studies consists of several domains that evaluate key aspects of cohort study design, including the clarity of the research question, cohort selection, measurement of variables, consideration of confounding factors, follow-up periods, statistical analysis, and quality of results. 12 questions in the cohort study checklist was used. Two of the questions was scored up to 2 points. Total of 14 points was given if a study met all the criteria.
Literature search results and study characteristics
A total of 10,685 papers were searched from three databases after removing duplicates. Studies identified were screened based on titles and abstracts, and finally full texts of 375 papers including the 54 papers which were identified from the reference lists were assessed according to the inclusion and exclusion criteria. Ultimately, 47 papers were included in the present study. Full details of the search are outlined in Fig. 1 .
PRISMA flow diagram
Full characteristics of the papers and CASP scores from quality assessment are shown in Table 1 . Within the included papers, 24 papers reported findings on total dairy consumption. 16 papers investigated milk only. The remaining 7 papers investigated sub-groups of dairy products. Dairy intake data from 21 papers were draw from several national surveys conducted in China [ 46 , 47 , 54 , 55 , 56 , 57 , 58 , 59 , 60 , 61 , 62 , 63 , 64 , 65 , 66 , 67 , 68 , 69 , 70 , 71 , 72 ]. Within papers that reported the number of participants, sample sizes ranged from 117 to over 90,000. With respect to reported dietary intake assessment methodology, 24-hour dietary recalls [ 46 , 47 , 54 , 55 , 56 , 57 , 58 , 59 , 60 , 61 , 62 , 63 , 64 , 65 , 67 , 68 , 69 , 70 , 73 , 74 , 75 , 76 ], Food Frequency Questionnaires [ 71 , 72 , 77 , 78 , 79 , 80 , 81 , 82 , 83 , 84 , 85 , 86 , 87 , 88 ], Questionnaires or in-person interview [ 38 , 45 , 72 , 89 , 90 , 91 , 92 ], and Internet-based dietary questionnaire for Chinese (IDQC) [ 93 , 94 , 95 ] were used in the data collection in reported studies to assess overall diet.
Dairy consumption in different age groups
Of the 47 studies included in the final review, 12 reported dairy consumption across different age groups [ 45 , 46 , 47 , 55 , 62 , 63 , 64 , 65 , 69 , 73 , 79 , 89 ] (Table 2 ). In three studies, dairy consumption in those aged or average age over 60 were compared with other age cohorts [ 45 , 46 , 73 ]. Four studies focused on older cohorts aged over 50, with one reporting the differences in dairy intakes in those aged 50–70 [ 79 ], one that compared individuals aged 60–79 and 80 over [ 62 ], and three that compared ages 60–69 and 70 over [ 55 , 65 , 69 ]. One didn’t compare intakes between age groups but reported and compare the median age at low, high and non-consumer groups [ 64 ]. The other remaining studies included dairy consumption of working-age adults (20–59 years) [ 47 ], (18–59 years) [ 63 ], while one study used just 3 age groups to cover all ages (< 30, 30–50 and > 50) [ 89 ].
Of the three studies that compared dairy consumption in population groups aged under and over 60 years, two of these studies showed that people aged over 60 years reported consuming higher amounts [ 45 ], while had lower frequency of milk intake [ 46 ], compared to other age groups. Ba et al. [ 73 ] found that older adults had higher intakes of milk than younger adults with daily intakes reported in older adults (≥ 60 years) of 163.4 g/d, which was significantly greater than intakes reported in those aged 18–44 years and 45–59 years, with reported milk intakes of 75.8 and 96.6 g/d, respectively.
Focusing on people aged over 50 years, dairy consumption was reported in four studies. Xu et al. [ 55 ] reported that the median dairy intakes in males aged 60–69 years who consumed dairy in 2009 was 200 g/d, while the number in males aged 70 years and over was only 162 g/d. Likewise, Zong et al. [ 79 ] found that, within the age group 50–70 years, participants with higher intakes of dairy products were more likely to be of a younger age. In addition, Liu et al. [ 69 ] and Wang et al. [ 65 ] both found that people aged 70 years and over had significantly higher dairy intakes than those aged 60–69 years ( P < 0.001 and P < 0.05 separately), with average intakes in these two age groups of 39.57 and 28.49 g/d, respectively. Similarly, Huang et al. [ 62 ] compared differences in dairy consumption between the age groups 60–79 years and 80 years and over, reporting that people aged over 80 years consumed significantly more dairy. One of the largest studies, Tian et al. [ 47 ] assessed dietary intake in residents from 12 cities and provinces in 2004, 2006, 2009 and 2011, and analysed intakes across two age groups (20–39 years, 40–59 years). Within this study, those aged 40–59 years reported higher mean daily dairy intakes than those aged 20–39 years, with intakes of 14.2 ± 55.8 g/d and 13.0 ± 47.1 g/d in each age group, respectively. However, this difference was not significant ( P > 0.05). Similarly, results from the survey of Bai et al. [ 89 ], conducted in Qingdao city in 2005, showed that the people aged over 50 years consumed more milk than other age groups. However, these differences were not statistically tested, and only reported descriptively. Additionally, Wang et al. [ 63 ] analysed the national dairy consumption data from 1989 to 2011, finding that dairy consumers aged 40–59 years had higher average dairy intakes than adults aged 18–39 years in most of the years except in 1989, 1997 and 2011. Although, this difference was not significant ( P > 0.05).
Dairy consumption in different geographical location groups
Of the 13 studies reporting on dairy consumption across location-specific cohorts comparing people living in different cities or provinces, two papers focused on dairy consumption in individual cities [ 38 , 45 ], and eleven papers reported on dairy consumption in different regions of China classified by urban, rural; North, South, costal, inland; East, West, central; the size of city or economic status of rural area [ 46 , 47 , 56 , 63 , 64 , 65 , 67 , 68 , 71 , 72 , 79 ]. Table 3 summarises the characteristics and key findings of these papers.
Nine of the 11 papers examined dairy consumption between urban and rural areas, and reported higher intakes of dairy products in urban populations compared to those living in rural areas [ 47 , 56 , 63 , 64 , 65 , 67 , 68 , 72 , 79 ]. For example, Tian et al. [ 47 ] examined milk intakes from 12 cities or provinces in 2004, 2006, 2009, 2011 in China, and reported a greater mean intake of 30.9 g/d in urban populations, compared to only 5.1 g/d in rural residents. Zhang et al. [ 68 ] reported lower mean daily dairy intakes in a rural area in 2002 of 11.4 g/d, compared to 65.8 g/d in urban residents in the same study.
Wang et al. examined differences in reported dairy intakes from urban and rural areas from 1989 to 2011 using data from CHNS. The authors reported that urban residents had a significantly higher consumption than people living in rural areas across these years ( P < 0.0001) [ 63 ]. Most recently, He et al. reported a significant difference in high milk consumption in urban and rural areas among 31 provinces in China, with a high percentage of consumers (74.17%) are living in urban areas. The high milk consumption in this study was classified as ≥ 200 ml/day and ≥ 5 day/week [ 72 ]. In addition, one paper analyzed dietary intake data from national survey CHNS in 1991, 2000 and 2015, reporting a significant difference of mean daily intake between urban and rural residents with 40.4 g in urban areas and 10.6 g in rural areas ( P < 0.05) [ 65 ].
Of the papers that examining dairy consumption in other geographical location groups, Li et al. [ 67 ] compared milk intakes between coastal and inland areas, reporting that people living in coastal areas had higher milk intakes than those living in inland, reporting mean intakes of 32.65 and 25.62 g/d, respectively. Research also found that those living in Northern China reported higher milk intakes than those living in Southern China in three separate studies [ 38 , 67 , 79 ]. For example, Li et al. [ 67 ] found that, at a national level in 2002, those in northern regions consumed more milk than people living in southern regions, with reported intakes of 33.38 g/d and 22.24 g/d, respectively. A difference in dairy consumption was also found among people living in Eastern, Central and Western areas, where it was reported that people living in Eastern cities had significant higher intakes than people living in the other two areas [ 64 , 71 ]. Furthermore, only one study compared milk consumption according to the size of the city and type of rural area, demonstrating that people living in big cities consumed much more milk than those living in smaller sized cities and normal rural areas, with 64.3 g/d in big cities, 24.2 and 9.1 g/d in other areas respectively [ 46 ].
Dairy consumption in different sex groups
Table 4 summarises the results from 16 papers that considered differences in dairy consumption across reported sex groups (male and female). All but four of these papers reported higher dairy consumption in females than males [ 47 , 54 , 55 , 60 , 61 , 63 , 64 , 65 , 69 , 72 , 78 , 79 , 84 , 86 , 92 , 95 ]. Within those papers, eleven studies analysed data at the national level. Specifically, 8 papers analysed data from the national survey CHNS, while focusing on the different age groups and/or different collection years [ 47 , 54 , 55 , 60 , 61 , 63 , 64 , 65 ]. One used data from the CNHS study in 2010–2012 [ 69 ]. One study analyzed the data from CNSSPP [ 72 ]. In addition, one study conducted across different regions in China [ 92 ]. The other five studies were conducted in individual cities (Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou) [ 78 , 79 , 86 ], Tibet [ 84 ] or regional locations (northern China) [ 95 ].
At the national level, papers that studied the survey data in different years from 1989 to 2011 reported higher dairy intakes among females, with significant differences found by Wang et al. [ 63 ] and Tian et al. [ 47 ], whilst the difference between sexes was either not significant or not statistically tested in other papers [ 54 , 60 , 61 , 64 ].
Mirroring the findings from these national studies, Zong et al. [ 79 ] examined dairy consumption in males and females aged 50–70 years in Beijing and Shanghai in 2005, and found that females in this age group consumed higher amounts of dairy than males, with only 25.8% of those who consumed more than one serving of dairy foods per day being male. Sun et al. [ 78 ] collected information on milk consumption in older Chinese (aged over 50 years) in Guangzhou across two time periods ((Phase 1 (2003–2004) and Phase 2 (2005–2006)), and reported a slight difference between males and females, with 27% females and 25% males consuming over 250 ml whole cow’s milk per week, however, the results were not statistically analysed, and thus are observational. Guo et al. [ 95 ] examined the proportion of sexes across quartiles of reported dairy consumption in people living in northern China, finding that females had higher dairy intakes than males, with 47.23% males in Q1 (mean intake 6.42 ml/d), compared to 35.02% males in Q4 (mean intake 227.89 ml/d).
Four of the 16 papers examining differences in reported dairy intake across sex groups found that, for those who consumed dairy products, males had higher dairy intake compared to females with only one study reported significant difference [ 55 , 65 , 84 , 92 ]. Xu et al., who examined reported intakes using data from CHNS 2009 [ 55 ] reported that more males met the recommended intakes for dairy than females in older adults, with median intakes in males and females aged 60–69 years 200 g/d and 167 g/d respectively. However, the differences were not statistically tested, and only provided as descriptive figures. Another study, which collected data during the COVID-19 lockdown period from March to April 2020, which examined dietary behavior across China showed that males consumed milk more frequently ( P < 0.001) and more dairy in general compared to females [ 92 ]. Finally, another study examining intakes in the Tibetan plateau, showed greater consumption of dairy foods in males compared to females, however the amount of intake was not reported and statistically tested [ 84 ].
Consumption of different types of dairy products
Differences in the consumption of the different types of dairy products were reported in six papers [ 38 , 62 , 90 , 91 , 95 , 96 ] (Table 5 ). Two of the six studies reported the mean amount consumed or the range on intakes for milk, yogurt, milk powder and ice cream [ 38 , 90 ]. One reported the percentage of consumers of each product among people aged 60 years and over with a focus on milk, yogurt, milk powder and other dairy products [ 62 ]. The other three focused on specific products, namely; milk, yogurt and milk powder [ 95 ], milk and yogurt [ 91 ] and only milk and butter [ 96 ].
All six papers showed that participants had highest intake of milk among these types of dairy products in China. Fuller et al. [ 38 ], examining intakes in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou in 2001, reported that of the annual dairy products consumed, milk consumption was highest in these three cities, with yogurt consumption ranked second, followed by ice cream and milk powder. They also reported that younger, more educated participants consumed more yogurt, whilst elderly participants tended to consume more milk powder. Similarly, the other three studies also reported much higher milk consumption than other types of dairy products (yogurt, milk powder, butter) [ 91 , 95 , 96 ]. Silanikove et al. [ 96 ] reported remarkably lower annual intakes of butter than milk in 2011 with 0.1 kg/y of butter and 9.1 L/y of milk. More recently, Huang et al. [ 62 ] investigated the dairy consumption in 4921 participants aged 60 years and over, and reported the percentage of consumers of each type of dairy product, finding that milk and yogurt were the main dairy products consumed in this group. Yang et al. [ 91 ] who examined the dairy consumption among adults in China during the COVID-19 lockdown, reported that the median intakes of milk and yogurt were 71.5 ml/d and 17.8 ml/d separately.
Changes in dairy consumption over time
Seven papers report analysis of dairy consumption over time at a national level using data from CHNS [ 47 , 56 , 58 , 63 , 65 ], CNNHS [ 68 ] and NBS [ 66 ]. Of the five papers that analysed data from CHNS, one examined dairy intakes in adults aged 18–45 across 6 survey years (1989, 1991, 1993, 1997, 2000, 2004) [ 56 ], and one studied dairy intakes across four survey years (2004, 2006, 2009, 2011) among people aged 20–59 years [ 47 ]. Batis et al. [ 58 ] reported the percentage of consumers of animal-based milk during survey years 1991–2009. The other reported the dairy consumption data of adults aged 18–59 years, covering all of nine survey years (1989–2011) [ 63 ]. In addition, Wang et al. [ 65 ] examined dietary intake data in 1991, 2000 and 2015 among people aged ≥ 60 years in China. Data from these studies showed an increase in dairy intakes. For example, during the period 1989–2004, consumption of dairy products was reported to increase six-fold from 2 g/d to 12 g/d [ 56 ]. From 2004 to 2009, consumption of milk and its products then appeared to experience a decreasing trend, reaching its lowest consumption in 2009, of 25 g/d. However, from 2009 to 2011, reported intakes increased to 35 g/d, which was higher than that of the previous year [ 47 ]. Additionally, from 1991 to 2015, the average intake of dairy foods among elders had significant increase, with 8.0 g/d in 1991, 14.1 g/d in 2000 and 20.3 g/d in 2015 ( P < 0.001) [ 65 ].Of the other two papers, Fu et al. [ 66 ] reported increasing consumption of dairy products from NBS for both urban and rural areas from 1990 to 2010, with reported dairy intakes from 0.64 kg/y to 3.55 kg/y in rural area, 4.60 kg/y to 18.10 kg/y in urban area, whereas the dairy intakes in urban residents experienced a significant decline from 22.54 to 18.10 kg/y from 2006 to 2010. The remaining paper using the data from CNNHS reported a similar increase in reported intakes of dairy products from 1982, to 1992 and 2002, reporting intakes of 8.1, 14.9, and 26.5 g/d separately [ 68 ]. It also further reported the specific changes in urban and rural areas. Compared to rural areas, urban residents reported a significantly greater increase in dairy consumption during this period, with 9.9 and 65.8 g/d reported in 1992 and 2002 in urban groups, compared to 7.3 and 11.4 g/d in rural groups. When considering differences within individual provinces, one paper reported changes in dietary intakes from 1982 to 2012 in the Hunan province, reporting that dairy intakes experienced a rapid increase from 1982 (5.9 g/d) to 2002 (95.5 g/d), but this then decreased to 16.6 g/d in 2012 [ 75 ].
In addition, researchers examined the changes of eating habits in elderly residents during COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020 in Wuhan city in China, finding that dairy consumption was reduced during this period [ 85 ]. Specifically, a 24.5% reduction was observed among males, and 45.3% among females. Considering age groups, dairy consumption reduced by 38.8% in 60–69 year old, 40.0% in 70–79 year old and 25% in those aged 80 and over.
Based on published literature between 2000 and 2022, which reported the consumption of total or individual dairy foods in China, some consumption patterns of dairy can be observed. Our review found noteworthy differences in dairy consumption across population groups of age, geographic location and sex, as well as differences by type of dairy. Specifically, milk and yogurt were reported to be the main dairy foods consumed in China with milk powder playing an important role in the intake of dairy in older adults. In terms of sex-related differences in dairy consumption, evidence showed that females had higher intakes than males. Clear patterns of dairy emerged across different geographical locations. The intake of dairy products among the urban population was higher than rural areas and also greater than the national average. Furthermore, coastal citizens and those in northern and eastern regions consumed more dairy products than others. Meanwhile, residents in larger cities had higher intakes than smaller cities or rural area. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first systematic review to summarise reported dairy intakes to determine factors that influence the consumption of dairy in different groups in China.
When examining dairy intake in the studies, both total dairy and also the following individual dairy foods were considered: milk, yogurt, ice cream, milk powder, butter. Much of the reporting considered total dairy and did not break down reported intakes into these individual dairy foods. From studies included in this review, milk, yogurt and milk powder were the main dairy foods reported among Chinese adults. In contrast, consumption of butter and cheese were particularly low, albeit data on these dairy products is limited. It is important to note that comparisons of reported intake of total and specific dairy products across studies are often challenging due to the manner in which dairy can be grouped and/or reported in many studies. For example, in a previous study in Poland, the main reported dairy foods were ‘Milk’, ‘Cheese and cottage cheese’, and ‘Yoghurt and milk drinks’ [ 97 ]. Similarly, a study in America grouped milk, cheese and yogurt into ‘total dairy’, excluding other dairy products [ 98 ]. In Korea, one study analysed the national data (from 2007–2009) and defined dairy products as a ‘combination of milk and yogurt’, without cheese being included, due to the extremely low consumption of cheese [ 99 ]. With such differences in the definition of dairy and grouping of dairy foods, caution must be given to comparisons across studies, since the intakes of dairy are dependent on the definition used within each study. To overcome these issues, the present review also reported on individual dairy foods when possible.
In terms of the individual dairy foods consumed, this review showed that milk was the largest contributor to dairy consumption in China, similar to other countries such as Australia [ 100 ] and Spain [ 101 ]. The present review also found that intake of yogurt was the second highest of dairy consumption, with younger and more educated consumers purchasing more yogurt than others [ 38 ]. This is different to intakes reported in other countries, where for example yogurt and fermented milk consumed among people aged 18–64 years in Spain, was less than older adults (64–75 years) [ 102 ]. In addition, data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey 1999–2004 in the US showed that consumption of cheese instead of yogurt ranked second among adults [ 103 ]. In contrast to western countries, we found that the consumption of cheese and butter was exceedingly low and was hardly examined in reported dairy intakes in China. One possible reason is that cheese and butter are relatively new to the market, and mostly imported, which may lead to the higher price than milk and other dairy products [ 44 ]. This may go some way to explain why consumers of these products are mostly limited to the younger and wealthier population [ 44 ]. However, more work is needed to fully understand this finding. Significant differences in the consumption of milk powder were also noticeable in the papers reported in this review. Within three identified studies reporting milk powder consumption in different survey years and locations, and among different age groups, we found that milk powder played a particular role in the diet of the Chinese population. Evidence showed that milk powder was consumed by many older adults. Before the purchase of milk and yogurt became convenient and modern refrigeration availability improved, milk powder was the most practical dairy product for consumption in China [ 38 ].
This review identified 16 papers that reported differences in dairy intakes across sex groups. Most of the available evidence showed the females had higher intakes of dairy foods than males, although not all the studies reported or conducted statistical analysis. The association between gender and dairy consumption was also observed in other recent studies examining dietary intakes in Europe [ 104 , 105 ]. One study evaluated dairy intake pattern in older adults across Europe including 16 European countries, and reported that males had lower intakes of dairy than females [ 104 ]. In addition, Pellay et al. [ 105 ] analysed the socio-demographic characteristics and dietary intake among the elderly in France, finding that women were more likely to have the highest frequency of consumption of dairy foods, including milk and fresh dairy products, which also indicates that sex was a factor associated with dairy consumption. Sex has been noted as a factor which is related to dietary habits. A previous study of dietary status in China found that male participants had significantly higher consumption of vegetables, cereal, meat and legumes than females [ 47 ]. Interestingly, there was one study that reported higher dairy consumption in males than females and found that more males met the recommended intake of dairy, but these differences were not found to be significant. Since this paper didn’t give additional details of the two sex groups, we were not able to identify the reason for this result [ 55 ]. The factors that contributed to the difference of dairy consumption in females and males still need to be further investigated, but it’s clear that sex differences exist in dairy consumption in China. It is also important to note that the results in the included papers were not energy-adjusted. Therefore with the findings showing that females tend to consume higher amount of dairy than males, this need to be taken into consideration.
Associations between different regions and dairy consumption in China are considered in this present review. Based on the available papers’ comparisons across different location sub-groups including urban v rural, north south east and west, costal vs. inland, and size of city were examined. One of the main findings was that people living in urban areas had a significantly higher consumption of dairy than those living in rural areas, and this gap appears to have existed for a long time period. For example, data from a national survey in 2002 reported that the mean dairy intakes among urban residents were 65.8 g/d, whereas the amount in rural was only 11.4 g/d [ 67 ]. More recently, in 2011, the dairy intake in urban population was 52.52 ± 115.47 g/d while it was only 8.53 ± 43.38 g/d in rural area [ 63 ], suggesting no change in either of these areas. Similarly, people living in a large or even a small size city had a much higher consumption of dairy compared to those in rural areas. There are many possible reasons behind these findings such as differences in income, education level and convenience [ 38 ], which need to be explored further. People living in urban areas usually have higher incomes and are more likely to have higher education, which may have contributed to the rapid increase in consumption of dairy [ 44 ]. More supermarkets and therefore, availability of dairy products in urban areas means more choice and availability of high-quality dairy products for these population groups, which may have contributed to this difference [ 106 ]. In addition, lack of knowledge of the importance or impact of dairy products on health (or risk of disease) may also be a contributor to low dairy consumption behavior in people living in rural area [ 107 ]. The evidence also demonstrated that northern and costal populations consumed more dairy than those living in southern areas and inland cities. Compared to eastern and central regions, people living in western cities had lower dairy consumption. These differences might be due to the difference in geographic environment, food resources, social culture, and economic disparities in these regions [ 71 ]. For example, coastal and northern cities were opened to foreigners in the nineteenth century, and evidence has shown that greater exposure to western culture had a positive influence on dairy consumption [ 108 ]. Therefore, the impact of western culture on dietary patterns in those regions could be in part responsible for these differences.
Knowledge of these differences in the amount (and type) of dairy products consumed across regions, sex and age groups are of importance, as it is known that the type, and amount of dairy products consumed, can have different effects on human health [ 109 , 110 ]. Dairy foods vary considerably in their nutrient compositions [ 109 ] and, evidence shows that health effects are substantially modified by the food matrix. For example, one previous study found that, dairy fat consumed in the matrix of cheese resulted in significantly lower low density lipoprotein (LDL) and total cholesterol compared with the same components eaten in the matrix of butter [ 110 ]. Many of the studies identified in the present review only considered the consumption of total dairy. The studies which did examine individual dairy foods reported considerable differences in consumption of these products within China, which merits further investigation [ 38 , 90 , 94 ]. We would therefore recommend that future studies capture and report details of intakes of individual dairy foods. Although dairy intakes in China have increased greatly [ 47 ], much of the data was old and more recent data was not found in published papers. With the constant change in dietary habits and more choices within food products within China, such as non-dairy plant-based milk alternatives, which are being adopted by a growing number of consumers, it is possible that a reduction of some dairy products in the Chinese population may be observed.
Whilst this review comprehensively examined the available literature, due to the complexities in reporting discussed previously, and the limited number of papers for the question being considered, the findings reported here are limited and merit further investigation. This review only presented the findings from existing comparison within the studies, therefore no analysis was conducted to compare across the studies. And there might be some published studies not identified for inclusion in this review due to the search terms used in our search. Furthermore, although limited to papers published since 2000, many of the studies use older datasets, and it is likely that dairy intakes have changed considerably and work on more recently collected data is needed. Therefore, there is a need for a detailed analysis of more recent intake data, to determine if the trends reported here are a true reflection of the current status. In addition, in this present review, we only focused on the influence of key factors - age, gender and regions which were most frequently studied and reported in published studies to investigate the difference in dairy consumption in the population group. Many other factors could be examine in future reviews.
Regardless of these limitations, this review demonstrates clear differences in consumption of different types of dairy products, and in population groups (such as males and females, age groups, urban and rural residents). When considering incorporation of dairy consumption into healthy guidelines, it is important to note these differences, and adapt recommendations and promotions accordingly. Furthermore, more detail on how dairy is specifically consumed within the diet is needed, which would support further development of nutrition recommendations through modelling scenarios for differing population groups.
This review has shown deviations in dairy intake across different population groups in China, including age, sex, and geographic location as well as across the different types of dairy products. The main findings of this review demonstrate that middle-aged adults tend to consume less dairy than other age groups, females in generally had higher intakes of dairy foods than males, and that milk and yogurt and milk powder are the main types of dairy products consumed in China. Whilst this review highlighted some novel and interesting findings, it also highlights a detailed lack of understanding of the use of dairy within the diet, and differences in the dairy consumption among different population groups.
Availability of data and materials
The datasets used and/or analysed during the current study available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.
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This work was supported by Food for Health Ireland and China Scholarship Council. The funding bodies had no role in the decision to publish. S.Y. is funded by Food for Health Ireland which is a research organisation that receives funding from Enterprise Ireland, grant number TC20180025, and from members of the Irish dairy industry, and funded by the China Scholarship Council.
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Shuhua Yang, Nupur Bhargava, Aileen O’Connor, Eileen R. Gibney & Emma L. Feeney
Institute of Food and Health, University College Dublin, Dublin 4, Republic of Ireland
School of Agriculture and Food Science, University College Dublin, Dublin 4, Republic of Ireland
Shuhua Yang, Eileen R. Gibney & Emma L. Feeney
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E.R.G., E.L.F. and S.Y. designed the study. S.Y. and N.B. carried out the literature search and screening, and S.Y., N.B., and E.R.G. reviewed articles for inclusion. S.Y. drafted the paper. E.R.G., E.L.F., N.B. and A.O’C. contributed to writing the paper.
Correspondence to Emma L. Feeney .
Ethics approval and consent to participate.
In this present review, 40 papers reported data from national surveys, with existing ethical approval, or specifically reported ethical approval for the analysis presented. 2 papers reported to be conducted in a sub-sample of Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES), and as such would be covered by ethical approval within the original study, although this was not explicitly reported. 2 studies both appear to have conducted market research surveys, which did not seek ethical approval, but received permission from the retailer to administer questionnaires to customers. Finally, 3 studies did not report any details on ethical approval.
Consent for publication
E.R.G. and E.L.F. and A.O’C. have previously received travel expenses and speaking honoraria from the National Dairy Council, UK. E.R.G. and E.L.F. have received research funding through the Food for Health Ireland project, funded by Enterprise Ireland, grant number TC20180025. The funders had no role in the analyses or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript or in the decision to publish the findings. The other two authors(S.Y. and N.B.) do not have competing interests.
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Yang, S., Bhargava, N., O’Connor, A. et al. Dairy consumption in adults in China: a systematic review. BMC Nutr 9 , 116 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40795-023-00781-2
Received : 20 October 2022
Accepted : 12 October 2023
Published : 21 October 2023
DOI : https://doi.org/10.1186/s40795-023-00781-2
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