Charles Sturt University
Charles Sturt University

Early low stakes assessment

Early low-stakes assessment can also help engage students with the subject in the first three weeks of the teaching session when they provide an opportunity for students to complete tasks that help them transition from previous educational experiences into university study (Kift, 2009). They can help identify students who are not engaged in the subject and are thus at risk of failure or withdrawal. Early assessment can assist students to self-assess their entry knowledge, skills and attitudes against discipline expectations.

Tasks may be assessment or non-assessment based and can differ between internal and distance cohorts as not all tasks are universally applicable. Evidence collected by CSU STAR teams indicates that the single most important determinant of success for internal students is class attendance. Don't hesitate to use different identifiers for on-campus and online students.

Communicating the importance of your early low stakes tasks

Student feedback indicates that an early task with low value is often not considered worth doing so communicate the importance of the task whether it is assessment based or not in the 'Learning, teaching and support strategies' section of is important. If the task is assessment based, outline how the task fits into later tasks and its importance in developing basic skills and knowledge that better prepare students for those later tasks.

Multiple methods of identifying unengaged students increase the chances of identifying students at risk.

Example of multiple identifiers

Tasks or activities

  1. Failure to submit the 1st assignment OR poor performance in first assignment


  1. Failure to attend the lectures and tutorials (internal) / Failure to engage with exercises (online)

Assessment related identifiers

  • Students value early summative or formative assessment tasks because such tasks outline subject expectations, get them "on track" with their study, motivate them to achieve and alleviate some of their concerns about transitioning to university study.
  • Try to design an assessment task that links into a subsequent task and helps build skills. This will help identify where students may have difficulties in understanding basic steps for later tasks. In past subjects, the most consistent identifiers came from subjects that had tasks building on one another, developing mastery in skills and knowledge before moving on to the next task.
  • If your subject has assumed knowledge, your early task may verify the level of knowledge the student possesses
  • Early feedback to students that emphasises improvement should result in higher quality subsequent assessment submissions and reduced marking and moderation load later in the session.
  • Regular self-marking review tasks that identify disengaged students early in session, these can also be revisited regularly by students to provide opportunities for revision throughout the session.

Behaviour based identifier

  • Students not accessing their subject outlines or contributing to online subject forums in the first three weeks of session are both behaviours that can indicate a lack of engagement.
  • Class attendance can be one of the strongest identifiers of at risk students.