Assessment Lifecycle

2. Setting

Assignment Briefs

Details for each assignment task need to be provided to students each time the unit runs (this is often called an 'instance' of the unit). This information should be included in the unit handbook. The Curriculum and Assessment Framework for Taught Programmes states that:

"All assignment briefs should clearly indicate:

  • how marks for individual pieces of work will be apportioned;
  • the assessment criteria;
  • submission date;
  • method of submission;
  • the date and method for the return of grades and feedback to students. "

Programme teams are free to develop their own assignment brief templates and it makes sense to have a standard format so that students can quickly find the information they need.

What Unit leaders need to do
  • Provide deadline information to their Faculty Coursework Receipting Office
  • Produce an assignment brief for each assignment task on the unit (which may be included in a unit handbook).
  • Ensure that the assignment brief is verified by a colleague before it is shared with students
What Programme Leaders need to do
  • Produce and record verification procedures at the beginning of the academic session
  • Collate and review marking and feedback plans to ensure consistency of approach and language

Indicative Assignment Brief

The Curriculum and Assessment Framework for Taught Programmes states that an assignment brief must be provided for each coursework assignment task. This will normally be included in the unit handbook and should include: submission instructions; list of learning outcomes tested in the assignment; task details and any instructions such as about referencing or technical requirements; guidance on size of submission; information about any penalties for overlong submissions; marking criteria or marking scheme; feedback plan; support arrangements. More information about each of these can be found below.
Here is an indicative assignment brief

A short (6 minute) screencast about the indicative brief is available here.

video platform video management video solutionsvideo player


Note: You do not need to follow the exact format in the indicative brief, and can replace logos and change the structure as appropriate for your subject area. However, having a consistent format across a programme will probably help students to find information quickly.

You may also like to consider distributing your assignment brief as a video podcast.

Submission instructions | Learning outcomes | Task details | Size | Penalties for overlong submissions | Marking criteria | Feedback | Support arrangements

a) Submission instructions

How should students get their finished work to you?

Paper submission

Do they need to download and append a cover sheet, and put the assignment in a collection box?

Electronic submission

What kind of file is acceptable? Where should it be uploaded? Will they get an automated receipt? How many parts should it have? What contingency plans do you recommend in case of technical difficulty?

Ephemeral submission

Is it an ephemeral submission such as a presentation, performance, or event, which will take place on a particular date? If so, when will students know the schedule? Do they need to attend other peoples’ sessions? Do they need to provide supporting material such as a bibliography or a plan? When and how would such supporting material be submitted?

In-class tests

Provide information about how the test will be organised: how long in advance should students arrive? How long will it last? Should students bring ID? Will they need to stay for the entire duration? What types of questions can they expect? Are there any previous examples they could look at?

Note that for most units, the submission dates should not be included in the assignment brief, as personalised dates are sent directly to Moodle from the Coursework Receipting System.

b) List of learning outcomes tested in the assignment

The learning outcomes being tested should be copied across from the unit specification.

c) Task details

A brief description of what you are expecting needs to be included here. Some of this can be copied over from the unit specification, but you may need to add here any specific expectations for this particular instance of the assignment. For example, you might need to refer to a particular topical issue, or a case study, or give more detailed guidance about the expected structure , or instructions about referencing or technical requirements. Student and staff feedback in the TRAFFIC project indicated that this section should be as simple as possible. It may seem helpful to produce a lot of detailed guidance, but it can turn out to be confusing, or you may end up with a large number of very similar submissions.

d) Guidance on size of submission

Indicate a range of acceptable sizes, or a fixed size if this is more appropriate, to give students an idea of what you expect. If there is no penalty for overlong submissions, then this is purely for guidance. Further information on size of assessment tasks.

e) Information about any penalties for overlong submissions

If there will be a penalty for submission of an overlong submission, it must be declared here. If it is not included in the assignment brief, then you cannot apply a penalty during marking. Further advice on penalties for exceeding specified assignment length.

f) Marking Criteria

The institutional expectations for marking are set out in the Curriculum and Assessment Framework for Taught Programmes . Marking criteria, or a marking scheme, if appropriate, must be provided for each assignment task.

Marking criteria or marking scheme?

Marking schemes are appropriate for tasks in which students’ marks are determined by adding up the number of correct elements. Examples might include a multiple-choice test, or a practical assessment with a number of separate elements to be completed. Marking schemes should be verified to ensure that students will be able to achieve a full range of marks and that individual elements are evenly weighted. This Good Practice Exchange video demonstrates the use of a marking scheme.

However, most assignments at levels 3-7 will involve giving a grade to a complete piece of work rather than individual parts of it. These types of assignment must use marking criteria based on the University Standards Descriptors. These descriptors provide a reference point for writing criteria and a common language for differentiating levels and performance within each level. The design of the individual assignment task should have ensured that students can achieve the unit learning outcomes in completing the task; marking judgements then differentiate performance in that particular task.

Programme teams may choose to use similar criteria for particular tasks at the same level across the programme (eg essays, presentations, exams, portfolios), or may use different criteria for each task. Writing criteria which are specific to a particular task enables them to be fully contextualised, which can make them clearer to students. You should use step marking if you are using marking criteria.

Guidance on the use of the University Standards Descriptors is provided in this short (five minute) screencast:

g) Feedback Plan

A feedback plan must be provided in the assignment brief for each assignment task. This plan will describe the nature and extent of the feedback which will be provided, and show how feedback is  used during the unit both formatively and summatively to support learning for this task and for future learning. The feedback plan should take into account what the student is likely to be doing as a next step and how the timing, quantity and type of feedback will help to support this.

For example, rapid narrative feedback which focuses on the marking criteria may be considered appropriate for a formative assignment set early in the academic year which is closely linked to a later summative assignment; whereas feedback on a final dissertation may be shorter and focus on generic skills demonstrated which can be transferred to future professional situations.

The type of feedback might also be varied: you may want to use one-to-one meetings for a particular important piece of work at level 4, for instance; or a tick sheet with audio comments for a dissertation where you want to do something personalised but don’t need to go into too much detail, since it is a final piece of work for the award; or automated responses for a computer-marked multiple-choice test. We have information about types of feedback and our guide to assignment tasks also makes suggestions for feedback strategies.

See the Feedback resource for ideas and examples.

h) Support arrangements

Indicate briefly how students can get support with the assignment if they need it – for instance, a Frequently Asked Questions forum in the VLE area for common issues, office hours, optional sessions, access to specialist resources, or whatever is appropriate for the task. See the Supporting Assessment section for information about institutional arrangements.

Verification of assignment briefs

Assignment briefs should be verified by the programme team and/or the external examiner for the programme according to the University’s procedures for Verification, Marking and Moderation of Assessments before being given to students.


As part of the University’s JISC-supported TRAFFIC project, Iqra Ali analysed the MMU Internal Student Survey and found that that students consider that the information provided to them about assignment specifications is variable in quality and in detail. This view was reinforced by Faculty Student Support Officers (FSSOs), who often provide additional support to students in interpretation of assignment briefs. Some FSSOs commented that at times assignment briefs were TOO detailed and prescriptive, leading to anxiety about how to fit in everything that was listed and leaving little opportunity for creative thinking.
Interviews with academic staff which were also carried out as part of the TRAFFIC project indicated that there is not always a consistent approach to the provision of assignment briefs and that students often come to tutorial staff to ask questions about something which the tutor considers to have been covered already in the brief.

These findings led to the development of new institutional procedures for the communication of assessment arrangements, now detailed in the Curriculum and Assessment Framework for Taught Programmes . An indicative assignment brief is included in these procedures.