How can I use exemplars?

How does it align with the module Learning Outcomes? Does it assess or practice skills and knowledge that are key to the discipline?

It helps students understand and achieve the Learning Outcomes that are being assessed. Therefore, it can be used on any module and in all disciplines. It is not a method of assessment in itself.

When will it occur in the term/module?

You can set up this activity at any point during the module but perhaps the optimal time would be in a seminar a few weeks prior to the assignment deadline. Leaving it too late will cause stress and if too early, students might not engage.

How will I set it up?

A suggested procedure is: 

  1. Find some examples of past work. Ideally you should provide students with a range of grades and examples of strong and weak elements. If you are unable to do this for practical or ethical reasons, you could write a sample assignment yourself!
  2. You can photocopy written exemplars for small classes or upload to KEATS for larger ones
  3. Try to upload to KEATS in enough time if the exemplars are longer assignments. It is better to give only a small number of exemplars. Ensure any seminar leaders/GTAs are also given the exemplars.
  4. You might want to ask students to comment on a discussion forum beforehand to save class time.
  5. In class, have students analyse the exemplars (individually first if you have not given them time beforehand) in a group.
  6. Discuss in a plenary and clarify reasons for the grades and applied criteria.


You could elicit students’ own ideas of standards. This can either form negotiated criteria for an assignment (involving students as co-creators of assessment practices) or show how their ideas match to official criteria.


How will I address potential challenges?

Do I need to make any modifications for accessibility/inclusivity? Can I build these into the design?

Ensure students are given enough time to read written assignments or watch videos.

If you have reticent students, you could try using a live discussion forum on KEATS where students post their comments about the essays.

Exemplars and criteria are often written in a language that students find alienating or confusing. Using exemplars can engage students further if combined with an activity on rewriting rubrics in a more familiar discourse.


How can I ensure students don’t plagiarise the exemplars?

This is a common worry that is not usually a problem. Students know that you have seen and read these examples and may have been put through Turnitin; therefore they are unlikely to risk plagiarising.

However, it is advisable to put measures in place such as taking back the exemplars the end of the class or removing them from KEATS after the session.


Do I need to make any modifications for large cohort sizes? Will it be time-consuming to set up? Is there anything I can do to modify it to address this?

Research has shown (Handley and Williams, 2011) that merely putting exemplars on a VLE for students to read in their own time does not have the desired effect. Therefore class time is necessary. Ensure enough time is given in order for the activity to involve discussion and debate. If they are done in class several times first, student will feel more confident attempting exemplar analysis on KEATS and using a discussion forum to comment.

Depending on the purpose of your activity, you might consider only giving shorter extracts of longer pieces of work.

It is best to avoid this in large lecture theatres as group discussion and plenary are unlikely so seminars are the optimal forum. But if GTAs are running seminars, ensure they also have access to the exemplars and have had time to read them beforehand.


How will I introduce it to the students?

Usually, students appreciate the chance to see exemplars. You should explain the purpose of the activity and the benefits, especially if you are asking them to read 2 or 3 longer assignments.