There are a number of factors to consider when planning out a timetable of assessment. Each of the points below can be usefully considered at both the programme and module level.
Progression. It is important to consider what the student is expected to achieve at each level or stage of the learning, and therefore what it is appropriate to ask them to demonstrate at each point. Each assessment opportunity in a programme of study should allow the learner to demonstrate cumulative progression, building on knowledge and skills already acquired, and providing scaffolding and direction for continued development. The constructive alignment process can help you to plan for this.
Usable feedback. There is a tension to consider between assessment of learning, and assessment for learning. Assessment of learning could arguably always be best placed right at the end, to allow the maximum time for development of understanding and skills. This argument needs to be balanced with that of assessment for learning, and the need to provide feedback that is timely, allowing students to learn from their successes and mistakes before the next assessment point (Boud 2014, p20). Some of these issues can be addressed using weighting, so that earlier tasks are lower stakes and have less impact on the final grade. Another option is the use of a cumulative assessment task like a portfolio, or a synthesis task such as patchwork text (Nicol 2009, Scoggins and Winter 1999).
Workload. In addition to this, for both learners and teachers, the assessment calendar should be manageable. This means that individual assessment tasks must be scalable (in terms of the volume to be produced and the resulting marking load). Some approaches to this include restricting word counts to encourage synthesis, using objective testing tools to allow students to check their own progress, and including peer assessment activities to provide additional feedback (examples). Tasks must also be appropriate to the level of study, for example resource might be more focused on providing good formative feedback for first years, and more focused on summative activity later in the programme (Price et al. 2012, 51-2). Finally, tasks must also be carefully scheduled at the programme level to avoid ‘bunching’ or bottlenecks, which can indirectly encourage strategic approaches from students, as well as causing stress for both students and staff.