Integrative Assessment

Lancaster University has established a series of principles for the design of assessment and feedback. In particular, these emphasise the need to give greater attention to the design of holistic, programme-focused assessment strategies to tackle perennial issues arising from modularised curriculum and assessment.

What is integrative assessment?

‘Integrative assessment’ is assessment design that seeks to combine students’ learning from multiple modules and/or levels into a single assessment.

Such assessments are synoptic, meaning that students are required to make connections between knowledge and learning that span multiple modules and topics. Integrative assessment strategies can thus enable students to demonstrate desirable higher order learning behaviours such as the application of knowledge and skills through analysis, synthesis and critical enquiry.

Importantly, integrative assessments enable students to demonstrate learning against programme level outcomes more readily than through atomised modular assessment regimes, enabling the evidencing of knowledge and understanding with breadth and depth of the subject.

The Programme Assessment Strategies (PASS) (Hartley and Whitfield, 2012) project examined instances of integrative assessment and helpfully categorised approaches by the extent to which they addressed programme level outcomes.

  • Integrative semester/term assessment:where students complete assessments that demonstrate how they satisfy programme learning outcomes specified for the term.
  • Integrative level/year assessment:where students complete assessments that demonstrate learning against learning outcomes specified for the level/year of the programme (horizontal progression), or more than one level/year of the programme (vertical progression).
  • Final, heavily weighted integrative assessment:where students complete a major part (not necessarily all) of the overall programme assessment strategy, evidencing programme learning outcomes and requiring the authentic application of knowledge and skills developed across the programme of study.
  • Assessment by submission of personal evidence against programme learning outcomes: In order to complete the programme, students must submit some form of capstone assessment (e.g. portfolio) which selectively draws on their learning from across the entire programme in order to evidence against programme level outcomes.

The value of an integrative approach

Conventional assessment regimes have been characterised by typically high summative / low formative assessment diets.

For staff this has resulted in overload of marking and resource-intensive quality assurance processes. For students, the effect is that modular assignments and exam preparation is prioritised over broader integrative study, limiting the scope for students to make connections between modules and understand the coherency of the programme as a whole. (Jessop and Tomas, 2017)

Research into assessment in Higher Education has identified the value of programmatic assessment in supporting student learning. For instance:

  • Integrative assessment patterns have the scope to reduce the number of summative assessments, alleviating undesirable pressures on staff and students. Simultaneously, freeing up resources for formative feedback dialogue with students and sequencing of assessments that span modules. (Transforming the Experience of Students through Assessment project)
  • Congruence between programme- and module-level learning outcomes and assessment design is improved; supporting students to better understand how they are progressing, and better equipping them with skills of self-regulation for professional learning beyond the programme. (Boud and Soler, 2016)
  • Knight and Yorke (2003) observed that ‘complex learning is invariably slow learning, taking longer to grow than most modules last’. A potential outcome of integrative assessment is that it reduces both the volume and stakes for summative assessment earlier on in the learning journey. This creates opportunities for students to learn from mistakes, to develop skills and understanding over time, and to generate dialogue between students and tutors about learning progress.
  • In examining the connections in curriculum, the evidence suggests that integrated assessment approaches are likely to improve the overall student experience by presenting curriculum as an integrated, holistic opportunity for students to engage with the overarching aims and intention of the programme. (Fung, 2017)

Further, the revised Quality Code for Higher Education and associated guidance published by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) in 2018 advocates holistic assessment design, emphasising the overarching educational intention of the programme:

“Assessment is designed ‘top down’ - beginning with the award, then going down into module level (where appropriate). Assessment design considers all modes of course delivery and environment, including where employers may be involved in assessment for work-based learning programmes... Assessment design needs to develop across stages as the student develops, as well as levels of study, as part of the overarching award design process and on an ongoing basis.” (QAA Quality Code for Higher Education: Assessment Advice and Guidance, p.5, November 2018)

Examples of integrative assessment

Integrative assessment methods may include: Major projects; Patchwork assignments; Capstone portfolios; Employer-led design projects; Synoptic exams.

There are several examples of integrative programme-level initiatives at Lancaster, with case studies available from the ‘What Works? Assessment and Feedback Practice’ site. These include:

  • An example that demonstrates effective sequencing and assessment literacy development. (MA in Human Resources and Consulting)
  • A module to support students to self-assess and track their discipline skills development (Chemistry), spanning two years and assessed by online portfolio.
  • Achieving Department-wide engagement to review and refresh assessment approaches across cognate programmes. (Mathematics and Statistics)

Considerations for adopting integrative approaches

The development of new programmes, or reviewing and making major revisions to existing provision, present an ideal opportunity to consider how programme-level and more integrative assessment strategies could be designed into the curriculum.

It is worth exploring the potential for integrative assessment when engaging in the Annual Programme Review (APR) or periodic course re-approval process. In doing so, the following considerations are offered to support your thinking:

  • Introducing programme assessment strategies is not an individual endeavour and requires the engagement of the whole programme team. This is crucial in order that module convenors can understand and influence the relationships between individual modules and the whole programme. It is therefore important that where possible departments support the principle that whole teams are invested in supporting programme level assessment design.
  • Investing effort in programme level curriculum and assessment design may yield workload benefits for teams – for instance, a direct efficiency if the overall number of modules and/or summative assessments reduces. Even where assessment-related workloads remain similar, the outcome may be that such work is rebalanced towards more productive feedback dialogue with students, or that assessment workloads are distributed differently. Assessment mapping is a helpful starting point for establishing whether there is inefficiency in the overall programme assessment strategy.
  • Consider the introduction of ‘assessment modules’ at various levels of study. These may have utility in supporting integrative approaches across multiple modules and/or topics. Similar to existing major projects or dissertation modules (which typically occur at the end of study), such approaches have the potential to better support the student learning journey across parts of, or the whole programme (e.g. for Joint honours programmes). Other benefits would offer greater opportunity to observe progress in relation to Lancaster’s graduate attributes, and provide better information to staff and students about their progress to inform feedback in-between levels.
  • Student engagement is paramount. Perennial issues with assessment and feedback reflected in the National Student Survey (NSS) results reveal that students’ experiences of assessment and feedback are not satisfactory. However, research into students’ interpretations of the NSS questions themselves reveal that multiple concerns are conflated within the results (Bennett and Kane, 2014). In order to inform effective change, it is essential to engage students to gain clear insight into how assessment regimes (especially across a whole programme) are actually perceived and experienced.
  • Do not be put off by the university regulations. There has been a considerable amount of work invested in assessment regulations to ensure that, whilst they remain robust, they are also permissive of innovative and flexible programme focused assessment patterns.


Bennett, R. and Kane, S. (2014) Students’ interpretations of the meanings of questionnaire items in the National Student Survey. Quality in Higher Education. Vol. 20, No. 2. pp. 129-164

Boud, D. & Soler, R. (2016) Sustainable assessment revisited. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, Vol. 41, No. 3, pp. 400-413

Fung, D. (2017) A Connected Curriculum for Higher Education, London, UCL Press

Hartley, P. and Whitfield, R. (2012) Programme Assessment Strategies (PASS) final report, Higher Education Academy. Available from:

Jessop, T. and Tomas, C. (2017) The implications of programme assessment patterns for student learning. Assessment and evaluation in Higher Education, Vol. 42, No. 6, pp. 990-999

Knight, P. T. and Yorke, M. (2003) Assessment, Learning and Employability, Maidenhead, OU Press