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Peer Assessment: What's it all about?
Prof. Ian Hughes BSc, PhD, Leeds

Published on 21st February 2006

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Peer assessment has many characteristics of good assessment. It is accurate, reproducible, efficient, monitors student progress, ALWAYS provides high quality feedback, stimulates learning and develops self-assessment abilities. The process produces better student learning and saves significant staff time. I have successfully used peer assessment to mark student verbal presentations, data interpretation exercises, data retrieval and formatting exercises and student laboratory write-ups. The latter previously took about 2 days each week. Now, using peer assessment, I mark 280+ write-ups in 1 hour.

Students are provided with the traditional practical schedule for the laboratory work which also contains instructions specifying the format of the write-up. There is a deadline by which all write-ups must be handed in. After the deadline students are assembled in a lecture theatre and the write-ups are distributed along with an explicit marking schedule. I go through the schedule explaining each item. Students assign a proportion of the available marks depending on their judgment of how well the necessary points have been covered. Each student signs to accept responsibility for the marking process and the write-ups are collected in, the marks noted, a proportion check-marked by staff and the write-ups are then returned. A dissatisfied student can appeal and have their write-up re-marked by staff: less than 2% do so.

Use of staff and of peer marking of 4 consecutive practical write-ups in two successive cohorts of students shows that those involved in peer marking obtained significantly better marks than those subjected to staff marking and this was confirmed by staff check marking a proportion of the peer marked write-ups.

Peer assessment of student verbal presentations, data interpretation exercises, data retrieval and formatting exercises shows that given an explicit marking schedule peer marking gives reproducible results, excellent feedback and very close correspondence with evaluations done by staff.

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Self- and Peer-Assessment: Guidance on Practice

"The significant increase in students' scores after they had started peer-assessing their lab reports indicates the benefit to students of peer assessment. It is therefore a pity that the peer assessment of long essays was deemed not to have been successful because students did not have the subject knowledge to assess the quality of the content. It might be worth considering a half-way position where the essay mark is in two parts, one determined by students and one by the staff. Students could mark the those aspects which are wholly or mainly independent of the quality of the content, for example appropriate structuring, a critical approach and correct referencing style. Staff would then mark the quality of the content and the thinking behind it. Students should then be able to reap some benefits in their own future essays." (Mirabelle Walker, The Open University, 21st February 2006)


"Ian?s talk highlighted a number of benefits of involving undergraduates in some kinds of peer assessment. From the student?s perspective the initial key motivator is likely to be the considerable improvement in their own scores they can expect to achieve: in ensuing similarly assessed tasks at least. The first reason given to students for involving them in this is however, given as they will need to do this with colleagues from an early point in their careers. This links a learning activity with a student?s future employability. If we are to make this link perhaps we also have a responsibility to give examples of ways in which they can express this experience to a potential employer, and of the limitations of the exercise.

The main limitation is that undergraduates are not in competition with each other in the same way as colleagues in the work place. The consequences of commenting on a colleague?s work are different from those of commenting on a fellow undergraduate?s. Many undergraduates will not realise this unless it is made clear.

By looking at what employers ask for we can help students find ways to make this experience relevant. Amongst the long list of attributes and competencies employers look for in their employees are interpersonal skills, diplomacy, and team-working. The particular peer assessment exercises in place might allow new graduates to relate this experience to one or all of these when applying for posts and in interviews." (Chris Edwards, The Open University, 21st February 2006)


"Peer assessment is very valuable in aiding student learning, in appropriate contexts. In the OU we use it on a residential mathematical modelling course (MSXR209). Students do a small modelling exercise before they come to the residential school, it is peer marked (pairs of students mark a pair of scripts) early in the school, before students embark on a more substantial modelling exercise. The aim is to help students appreciate important aspects of writing for the comprehension of others.

So that students feel fairly treated, they may appeal to the course director. I remarked about 15% of scripts via appeals. I changed very few marks substantially, but I did add lots of feedback, so students could understand how they could improve for the final write-up. Most of those appeal students thanked me personally for the feedback, which I feel was essential for it to be a positive learning experience for them." (Judy Ekins, The Open University, 21 February 2006)