Palgrave Teaching and Learning

by Sally Brown (Series Editor)

Using Curriculum Mapping to create an effective assessment strategy at a qualification or programme level

Jessica Evans, The Open University


‘Curriculum mapping’ is one method for auditing existing curriculum and then creating a coherent assessment strategy to deliver programme outcomes.

There are many curriculum mapping methods but there are commonly understood fundamental steps, which are best achieved via a series of highly structured workshops undertaken with colleagues, such as those that follow:
  • Workshop 1. Create a ‘levels framework’ for a programme of study (or cluster of qualifications in a disciplinary area) – this should identify the programme skills (subject knowledge, cognitive, key, professional and practical skills) that you want to introduce, further develop and combine/master at each study level/stage. Using existing programme outcomes and University-designated or national graduate attributes and employability specifications, you can work backwards from ‘exit’ level (Level 6 for degrees in the UK), starting by asking ‘what do I want students to be able to do upon graduation?’, to create a set of outcomes specific to your subject or programme.
  • Workshop 2. Undertake a ‘gap analysis’ by reviewing all the assessment activities of the compulsory and core modules of the programme. Do this by using a simple mapping spreadsheet with each programme learning outcome in columns and each module in rows. Use a mapping code such as ‘Introduced’ (I), ‘Developed’ (D), or Achieved/Comprehensively Assessed (A) (which shows that students have had sufficient practice and achieved mastery) and score each module. Ensuing discussion should focus on which programme outcomes are insufficiently taught or assessed; if some outcomes are more summatively assessed than others; which modules might be weighted to carry specific programme outcomes more than others; where skills need to be taught in steps; and, critically, how best to assess each outcome. It may be useful or necessary to draw on the views of External Examiners, employers or professional bodies as well as, in the UK, Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) subject benchmarks.
  • Workshop 3. This is an assessment re-design, using the Levels Framework. It may also be useful at this stage to incorporate an Assessment Policy into the levels framework. This specifies, for each level, the assessment diet students can expect, such as how much formative/summative/high stakes assessment at modules for each level, where students can expect to be required to do examinations or projects, the type of collaborative/peer work, and so on. The outcome of the workshop should be an amended, agreed curriculum map that now describes a coherent and progressive use of assessment, along with an agreed Action Plan to facilitate the changes modules need to make to their assessment practices based on the new map and Assessment Policy.
  • Be prepared for several iterations of the Levels Framework and Assessment Policy once the mapping process has been done, as the mapping may reveal areas where the learning outcomes are too ambitious or not ambitious enough.
  • It is good practice to share a suitable version of these documents with prospective or current students for comment and further enhancement.


As part of your curriculum mapping::
  • Ensure that across the whole qualification you use an ‘assessment for learning’ approach by giving students ample opportunities to practice – and get feedback on – new skills and slowly learned literacies you wish to introduce and develop over the study levels. For example, if teaching competencies in teamwork, start early by getting students to work in a limited way in pairs commenting on/revising each other’s work, then moving onto large scale collaborative work at higher levels. Or start with assignments that focus on précis or close reading rather than full essays at early levels.
  • Devise an extended piece of work for the end of the course (project or dissertation, placement or case-based assessment, field experience, portfolio) that gives the student an opportunity to demonstrate synthesis of skills and graduate attributes (such as independent learning skills or advanced collaborative work) across various components of the course. It is unlikely that unseen time-constrained examinations will be the best assessment method here since they tend to be linked to the knowledge taught within individual modules taken and test a too narrow range of skills.
  • Students won’t see the coherence of the programme if staff don’t use methods of working that create cohesion across the different units of study. So consider creating a programme team to coordinate assessment activities at programme level, either for a single programme or cluster where modules are shared; module leads take responsibility for designing draft assessments and criteria for their unit but the whole team conducts critical discussion of these to create shared knowledge and understanding.

Useful reading

G.O’Neill (2009)‘A Programme wide approach to assessment; a reflection on some curriculum mapping tools’, University College Dublin, accessed at:

Jessop, T. (2010) ‘10 steps to auditing a programme’s assessment: the TESTA Model’, accessed at the TESTA website:

Noonan, E. and O’Neill, G. (2013) ‘Programme Design: Programme Outcomes Mapping Matrix: User Guide’, University College Dublin – also accessed at their Teaching and Learning Website which contains many similar resources:

Knight, P.T. (2000) ‘The value of a programme-wide approach to Assessment’, Assessment & Evaluation, 25 (3), 237-251