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A page within CATL Teaching Improvement Guide

Brief Description

Self-assessment, like peer evaluation, self-reflection and metacognition, encourages students to critically examine their own performance or development. This activity can serve multiple purposes, to include:

  • self-improvement (through self-monitoring and critical evaluation of one's progress and growth)
  • identification of gaps in understanding and performance (i.e. comparison between current performance and learning outcomes)
  • insights into how to improve skill and performance (i.e. metacognition)
  • development of critical thinking skills

Self-assessment also encourages students to assume responsibility for their own learning, which can increase motivation and self-direction. Motivation can be further enhanced by encouraging students to connect course and lesson learning outcomes to their own experience, career or personal goals.

Self-assessment is a formative process involving three distinct steps:

  1. Reflection on the quality of one's work or performance
  2. Judgment regarding the degree to which that work or performance meets expected outcomes (e.g. as stated in a rubric or checklist)
  3. Revisions and improvements based on the self-assessment (preferably in conjunction with instructor or peer feedback)

In preparing to implement self-assessment, it is vitally important to realize that students generally are not trained or naturally inclined to engage in self-monitoring, self-reflection or self-assessment. Consequently, instructors should prepare to coach and guide students to engage in these activities. The first step in guiding students to self-assess themselves is developing a detailed rubric or checklist. Next, instructors can offer students guided practice, with feedback, for assessing their work. After practice, students then self-assess a group or individual project, case study, simulation, portfolio, exam or any creative task. They can either follow their own criteria or a corresponding rubric. Finally, students can develop a plan to improve results, ideally in a formal reflection.

Instructors can also model in class the use of a rubric or checklist by assessing sample works that simulate projects or tasks that students will perform themselves. Later, students can discuss (either in class or online) their self-assessment experiences. In particular, they can share insights and feelings regarding how well their self-assessment helped them to understand or learn new material, improve skills, internalize learning outcomes, or develop strategies for applying course concepts to the real world or a future career.

All of these activities help students better understand and monitor their own learning, thereby strengthening metacognitive skills. When verbalized, such insights on student learning offers instructors valuable feedback (formative evaluation) about course design, and more importantly, whether students are learning and achieving course outcomes.


There is no one way to implement self-assessments. While some instructors require students to maintain a portfolio (or a less formal learning log, reflective journal, Blog, or diary), others may prefer students to share a plain text reflection after major assignments. Alternatively, you could ask students to textually or verbally mark up a rubric for specific assignments or categories (e.g. discussions, class participation, group work, etc.). As yet another strategy, you could ask students to complete a questionnaire, either as a private document, one-minute paper or shared with the entire class in a face-to-face or online discussion.

Tips to Implement Effectively

  • As with peer evaluation, students must fully understand expectations in advance. For that reason, a detailed rubric or checklist is critical to ensure SMART goals are met (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely).

  • To encourage self-direction, allow students to develop their own rubrics or checklists.

  • Allow students to practice self-assessments for low-stakes activities like discussions, class participation, or exams. Initially, you may wish to prompt students with set questions, such as "how did you prepare for this activity" and "what would you do differently to improve results on this assignment?"

  • Provide necessary guidance and feedback to ensure self-assessment results in positive learning gains.

  • Encourage or require students to maintain a portfolio or learning journal throughout the term (and ask them to periodically share their reflections with you or their peers).

  • Though self-assessment can be used for grading, it's most useful purpose is to inform students of ways to improve their understanding and/or performance (i.e. formative assessment to improve learning).


  • Andrade, H., & Valtcheva, A. (2009). Promoting learning and achievement through self-assessment. Theory Into Practice, 48(1), 12-19. [available through EBSCOhost]
  • Chick, N. (n.d.). Metacognition. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved from
  • Nicol, D. J., & Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 199-218. [available through EBSCOhost]
  • Teaching @UNSW (n.d.). Student self-assessment. Retrieved from the University of New South Wales,

Schankman, L. (2015). Self-assessment. In Teaching Improvement Guide. University of Wisconsin at La Crosse Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from