Two-stage assignments

What is it?

This is an assignment, written or otherwise, which has both a formative and summative aspect. Usually work leading up to the summative assessment is given formative feedback. Depending on the nature of the assignment, this can include essay drafts, outlines or research proposals, set tasks to be collected into a holistic portfolio, individual work which contributes to a group assignment or vice versa. Students can then use the formative feedback to improve the quality of their summative assignment (Gibbs and Simpson, 2004).


Why would I use it?

  • The most obvious benefit is that students are given feedback as part of a continuous process on an assignment which will form a large part of a summative module assessment (Carless, 2006).
  • It can allow students space to make mistakes, even go off track, including making mistakes with plagiarism, without being penalised. It can therefore be used in more creative assessments where students might be less familiar with the task in order to facilitate creativity and autonomy.
  • Student effort is distributed across the module rather than cramming for an essay or exam in the final few weeks or mid-term (Gibbs and Dunbar-Goddet, 2007). 
  • You can assess a broader range of Learning Outcomes by increasing the amount and mode of formative assessment. For example, a module which is assessed by a summative written essay can also facilitate oral presentation skills building by having students report their proposals of plans in a short presentation before submitting their essay.

Known issues:

  • Ensure that there is a clear link between the stages of the assessment. Students are likely to disengage with the formative stage if they cannot see how it will help them complete the final summative. For example, having students complete a formative critical review and then assessing the module through an exam will send messages to student about where to direct effort.
  • There is the potential for teacher workload to increase throughout the module. The payoff at the end of the module where less feedback is required might be worth it, although not for all staff who are busy at certain key times of the academic year.
  • Some teachers may be worried about ‘spoon-feeding’ students if too much practice is given. However, staging assignments also helps students to be more challenged throughout the module as their effort is distributed more throughout rather than only at the end. There is more motivation to attend classes if assignments are regular.


How has it been used?

An alternative two-stage assignment is to have both parts summative but the first weighted lower.

A third potential use is to have students do three or four shorter assignments for formative feedback throughout the module and choose the best two to submit for summative assessment at the end of the module.

Two examples of how the two-stage assignment has been employed are provided from Leeds Metropolitan University. 

  1. Providing opportunities for low-stakes practice and increased feedback

2. Ensuring distribution of effort and making sure students were on track


How can I use two-stage assignments?