Knowing what you know and don’t know focuses learning. Students need appropriate feedback on performance to benefit from courses. When getting started, students need help in assessing existing knowledge and competence. In classes, students need frequent opportunities to perform and receive suggestions for improvement. At various points during college, and at the end, students need chances to reflect on what they have learned, what they still need to know, and how to assess themselves.
Some examples: No feedback can occur without assessment. But assessment without timely feedback contributes little to learning. Colleges assess entering students as they enter to guide them in planning their studies. In addition to the feedback they receive from course instructors, students in many colleges and universities receive counseling periodically on their progress and future plans. At Bronx Community College, students with poor academic preparation have been carefully tested and given special tutorials to prepare them to take introductory courses. They are then advised about the introductory courses to take, given the level of their academic skills.
Adults can receive assessment of their work and other life experiences at many colleges and universities through portfolios of their work or through standardized tests; these provide the basis for sessions with advisors. Alverno College requires that students develop high levels of performance in eight general abilities such as analytic and communication skills. Performance is assessed and then discussed with students at each level for each ability in a variety of ways and by a variety of assessors. In writing courses across the country, students are learning, through detailed feedback from instructors and fellow students, to revise and rewrite drafts. They learn, in the process, that feedback is central to learning and improving performance.