Colour-Coded Assessment

Understanding Assessment Objectives, as every teacher knows, is a crucial component of exam success.

And a great deal of time and effort is expended inside and outside classrooms up and down the land learning and applying various mnemonics designed to help students structure their answers in ways that cover the required exam AO’s.


While a popular mnemonic like PEEL (Point, Example, Explanation, Link) encourage students to structure extended answers in a way that at least covers the Assessment Objectives, it’s use generally assumes students always understand how and why they’re using it.

And if they’re not clear about what common Assessment Objectives like Knowledge, Understanding, Application, Analysis and Evaluation actually mean in practice, this creates problems. If you’re asking students to apply ideas they don’t necessarily fully understand, all the scaffolding in the world’s not going to make much difference.

This is where a simple colour-coding technique comes into play: to complement your favourite teaching mnemonic in a way that allows you to quickly and efficiently identify whether your students understand what each Assessment Objective actually means when using it in exam-type answers.

As an added bonus this technique also enables you to immediately see which Objectives are being over-and-under used by individual students in their answers – an important, if often  overlooked, consideration in understanding how exam answers are marked.


Start the process by giving your students an exam question that involves some sort of extended writing. This will vary depending on the exam board you use and how you want to build your students up to answering the highest mark questions.

While you could start with a single-paragraph answer, the colour-coding technique works best as a diagnostic tool when you ask your students to write an answer that’s a few paragraphs long. Again, what constitutes “a few” is for you to decide but it shouldn’t be too difficult to assess the level at which your students are currently working and adjust things accordingly.

For the sake of illustration, therefore, let’s assume your students have to write a 4 or 5 paragraph answer that assesses them in terms of three common exam Objectives:

  • Knowledge and Understanding
  • Application
  • Analysis and Evaluation.

Once they’ve answered the question – and before submitting it for marking – get them to highlight every instance of:

  • Knowledge and Understanding in blue.
  • Application in green.
  • Analysis and Evaluation in yellow.

As you mark each student’s work you’ll have an immediate visual representation of what each understands by these terms – and whether or not their understanding is correct.

Colour-coding can, in this respect, be a useful diagnostic tool because it will clearly identify things like students misunderstanding the Assessment Objectives or focusing too much on one Objective to the exclusion of others.

By way of variation you can break-down the AO’s even further (such as Analysis in red and Evaluation in yellow) if you think that will help.

In addition you can get your students to do the colour-coding after you’ve marked and returned their work as a separate exercise.

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