a corkboard with colourful sticky notes

Guiding principles and key concepts

The Policy on Assessment of Student Learning (PASL) will come into effect
in Fall 2024!

Guiding principles of PASL

The guiding principles are the foundation upon which PASL is built. The principles align with McGill’s mission and are consistent with international best practices in assessment. They also guide the creation of Faculty-level guidelines.

Assessments should:

Group of persons icon

Align with healthy teaching and learning environments

Principle 4.1 centres around equitable and inclusive assessments, balancing student workloads and clear communication of assessment criteria. It also recognizes the need for flexibility to make changes and respond to student needs.

Key concepts:

Certificate icon

Promote high academic standards and academic integrity

Principle 4.2 promotes consistency in assessment practices across the University, taking care to ensure high academic standards and academic integrity.

Key concepts:

Book icon

Be pedagogically sound

Principle 4.3 outlines evidence-based assessment practices that support student learning, such as alignment with learning outcomes, variety of tasks, and opportunities for timely and ongoing feedback.

Key concepts:

Assessment icon

Allow for valid and reliable judgment of student learning

Principle 4.4 specifies that a variety of assessment tasks with predetermined criteria be used to chart a student’s progress and achievement.

Key concepts:


Key concepts and terminology behind PASL

Academic integrity

The integrity of academic life and of the degrees the University confers is dependent upon the commitment from students and instructors to demonstrate honest, moral behavior in their academic lives, including in all assessment practices. Read about fostering academic integrity in a course and information for students.


Assessment is the process through which the progress and achievements of a student are measured or determined. Based on established criteria and standards, assessment provides ongoing feedback to the student about the quality and extent of their knowledge, understanding, and performance, and determines assigned grades (PASL 3.1).  

Assessment criteria

Assessment criteria describe the elements of learning being assessed. They are an integral part of well-designed rubrics. Assessment criteria are made up of two components: (1) the criterion and (2) the performance standards. A criterion is a property or characteristic by which the quality of something may be judged, and a standard is a definite level of achievement aspired to or attained (Sadler, 1987).

Developing assessment criteria allows instructors to promote alignment between what students should learn and the chosen assessment tasks. Grading according to established criteria often results in greater consistency and has the potential to streamline the feedback process.

Providing students with the criteria before an assignment is due can decrease student anxiety and promote learning by helping students focus on what they need to do to achieve the learning outcomes. Clarity in assessment criteria can also promote equity and fairness by ensuring all students have a shared understanding of expectations (Wilkemes et al., 2019). 

Assessment for learning

Assessment for learning aims to support learning by providing students with frequent practice opportunities to demonstrate their learning and regular feedback to let students know how their learning is progressing. Learn more about assessment for learning.  

Assessment schemes

The combination of assessment tasks designed to help students fulfill the learning outcomes of a course. Like the means of assessment, the scheme can promote inclusive assessment practices and contribute to healthier learning environments. 

Assessment tasks

Assessment tasks are the elements of a course that a student’s learning will be assessed on, which can include papers, examinations, presentations, reports, homework problems, posters, multi-media designs, performance, participation, etc.  


Consistency in assessment practices helps support effective student learning experiences. An assessment policy with clear guidelines promotes consistency in grading among instructors, teaching assistants, and graders.  

Criterion-referenced assessment

Criterion-referenced assessment assesses “a learner’s progress and achievement against a predetermined set of criteria” (UNESCO, 2013). This is contrasted with norm-referenced assessment which assesses “a learner’s progress and achievement with reference to the levels of achievement of their peer group and/or by reference to norms derived from a sample of a similar population” (UNESCO, 2013). 


In the context of assessment, equity refers to accessible and inclusive teaching practices that support student learning. Equitable assessment practices consider systemic barriers and diversity of learning styles and allow students and instructors to understand student progress on meeting learning outcomes. Such practices include defining clear expectations and criteria, providing a diversity of assessment tasks, providing early and ongoing formative feedback, and accommodating reasonable student needs and concerns.  

Final assessment

Final assessment can be but is not limited to a final examination. Under PASL, other types of assessment tasks can be assigned during the final examination period.  

Formative assessment

Formative assessment happens when students receive feedback on their learning in the form of a grade or comment at a point in the course when they can still use this feedback to attain the course learning outcomes. Given that formative feedback is often low-stakes and offers incremental practice opportunities, it has the potential to motivate students. Formative feedback can also inform actions that improve both teaching and learning. Learn more about formative feedback strategies. See also: summative assessment. 

Healthy learning environment

A healthy learning environment considers the wellness of both students and instructors. Assessment is at the core of effective learning experiences. Well-planned means of assessment that emphasize assessment for learning and are clearly expressed to students can help reduce student stress and anxiety, while allowing instructors to give formative feedback without being overburdened. Find more ideas for supporting student wellness

High academic standards

Assessment practices play a decisive role alongside course content and teaching strategies in ensuring that student learning meets high academic standards.

Learning outcomes

Learning outcomes are what students should know, value and be able to do upon successful completion of a course or program. They should align with the content, teaching strategies and assessment practices of the course. Learn more about designing a course in alignment with learning outcomes.  

Means of assessment

The means of assessment refers to the way(s) student learning will be assessed in a course. Details include mode of delivery, location, due date, assessment criteria, weight, accommodations, and late penalties for each assessment task contributing to the final grade. Means of assessment should be included in the course outline.  

Summative assessment

Summative assessment happens at the end of a unit, course, or program when assessment determines whether a student has achieved the course’s learning outcomes regarding knowledge, understanding, and/or performance. See also: formative assessment


Calculating how assessment strategies impact students’ and instructors’ respective workloads contributes to healthier teaching and learning environments. This workload estimator tool can help calculate students’ workloads when designing your assessment strategies. PASL also ensures that assessment tasks not be due during breaks in the term, such as reading weeks.


megaphone icon

Join us for Assessment for Learning Month!

Take part in a variety of facilitated events and self-access activities designed to support instructors with integrating assessment for learning into their assessment practices - throughout the month of May! Learn more.

megaphone icon

Podcast aims to shift the conversation on assessment and well-being

Get some inspiration on improving well-being with the Teach.Learn Share podcast. Learn more.

megaphone icon

Help to spread the word about PASL!

Find promotional resources including an infographic slide, a poster, and an email signature to share with students and colleagues. Learn more.



Back to top