First-year and diverse students

Assessment is a central element in the overall quality of teaching and learning in higher education. This has a significant impact on student learning of knowledge and skills, and their application.

Importance of a well-designed assessment

A well-designed assessment sets clear expectations, establishes a reasonable workload for students and provides opportunities to:

  • self-monitor
  • rehearse
  • practice
  • receive feedback
  • foster lifelong learning.

This helps students to gain deep understanding of their subject and developing their capacities to make judgements about their own and others' work.


Inclusiveness for students does not imply simplifying the context within which they learn. Rather, it is about creating opportunities for all students to demonstrate their competence through effective and accessible assessment practices.

With opportunities and challenges equally associated with teaching diverse learners, well-designed assessment as a part of day-to-day learning and teaching activities provides opportunities for steady progress. Students develop skills in analysis and synthesis of new information, enabling them to be empowered to control their own learning, be active learners and push the boundaries of their knowledge.

Characteristics of first-year learners

When designing assessments for first year learners in our subjects, we can also be mindful of the unique experiences of the first year in an Australian — and regional — university.

First year students are a diverse group of people: age, cultural background, and educational background. Yet many share a common need to decipher or decode the complex mysteries of the university and of being a student. We can assist them to achieve this by designing assessments which are readily understood by them and yet also challenge them to do the hard labour required to learn and to demonstrate that learning. We can also design assessment exercises to encourage them to aspire to succeed at the assessments.

Characteristics of diverse learners

Diverse learners can be defined as learners who are from a variety of backgrounds. Examples of background categories that describe diverse learners are:

  • disability, demographics, degree, dialect, difference
  • intelligence, income, individual, inclusion
  • vision, vegetarian, values, variety, veterans, vegan
  • ethnicity, economic status, equal, ethics, education, experience
  • race, religion, region, respect
  • size, sex, self-esteem, sexuality, stereotype, social stratification
  • intensity, introvert, International, Immigrant,
  • team work, tolerant, talents, training, travel
  • youth, years
  • gender, geography, grades, generation, goal
  • ability, acculturation, age
  • multicultural, marital status, mind-set, motivation, morals
  • Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, first in family to attend university, non-English speaking background.

Sourced from CIRTL MOOC. (2016, May 5). Introduction to Diversity [Video file].

Assessment challenges

Some of the assessment challenges for students unfamiliar with assessment practices can be:

  • lack of local cultural knowledge
  • unintentional cheating
  • tutorial participation
  • group work
  • English language skills
  • oral presentations.

View further details of these individual challenges, or you may like to watch the Assessment for Diverse Learners Part 1 video 6.28 minute.

Good teaching for diverse learners

  • Focus on students as learners,
  • Respect and adjust for diversity,
  • Provide context-specific information and support,
  • Facilitate meaningful intercultural dialogue and engagement,
  • Be adaptable, flexible and responsive to evidence,
  • Prepare students for life in a globalised world,

View further details of these individual teaching practices or you may view a complete 7.50 minute video.

Effective teaching and support of students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds: Practical advice for teaching staff  is also an effective guide with practical advice about the teaching characteristics and strategies that contribute to the success of students from low socioeconomic status (LSES):  Practical advice for teaching staff PDF


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Cole, J. S., Bergin, D. A., & Whittaker, T. A, 2008, Predicting student achievement for low stakes tests with effort and task value, Contemporary Educational Psychology, vol. 33, pp. 609-624.

Fetherston, Tony, 2007, Becoming an Effective Teacher. Cengage Learning Australia, South Melbourne.

Fetherston Tony, date unknown, "A practical guide to creating authentic assessment tasks", downloaded April 28th 2014, <>.

Goldingay, S, Hitch, D, Ryan, J, Farrugia, D, Hosken, N, Lamaro G, Nihill, C & Macfarlane S, 2014, ""The university didn't actually tell us this is what you have to do': Social inclusion through embedding of academic skills in first year professional courses. International Journal of the First year in Higher Education, vol. 5. no. 1, pp. 43-53.

Hughes, C, 2009, Assessment as text production: drawing on systemic functional linguistics to frame the design and analysis of assessment tasks, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, vol. 34, no.5, pp. 553-563.

Kift, SM and Moody, KE, 2009, Harnessing assessment and feedback in the first year to support learning success, engagement and retention. In: ATN Assessment Conference 2009 Proceedings, 19 – 20 November, 2009, RMIT University, Melbourne.

Murdoch, D, Baines, W, Attree, K, Small, F, Hodges, J, Hood, J, McIntyre E, 2013, Final report on the Star Program for the Faculty of Business 2011-2013. Courses Unit of the Faculty of Business, Albury.