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Language of Assessment


Set within the context of the OU's Access Programme, this project extends the notion of inclusivity to exploring the language used within the assessment practices of on the three OU Access modules.

Project Aims

The aim of the project was to gather student and tutor perceptions of the language used to set out assessment tasks, with a view to informing future practice that supports students to succeed.


  • To gather the student and tutor voice in relation to the language used in assessment questions and guidance.
  • To provide recommendations for review of current assessment questions and guidance in light of the above.
  • To share good practice across the institution and the sector more widely.


An online survey was sent to 750 students who were or had recently studied an Access module.  A 23% response rate was received.  Telephone interviews were undertaken with nine tutors across the three modules alongside close textual analysis of assignment questions and related written guidance.


  • Inclusive practice in assessment design is more than just the clarity and inclusiveness of the vocabulary used to communicate written tasks and related guidance.
  • Visual layout and brevity of the written assessment guidance is important.
  • There is a challenge to balance the need to avoid technical shorthand to gradually introduce students to academic discourses alongside a danger of overwhelming students with lengthy guidance, particularly in more discursive subject areas such as social sciences and arts and humanities.
  • Crucially significant is the need for individual contact and personalised engagement with a tutor in the interpretation of written assignments tasks to reassure tentative learners and build their confidence.


Curriculum teams should review their assessment questions and written guidance with a view to simplifying the language and reducing lengthy and text-heavy guidance.