Focusing Assessment on Process and Product

To ensure that assessments align with learning outcomes, it can be helpful to focus on both the assessment and the evaluation of the process the learner goes through to complete the task, as well as the product of the task. Process refers to how a learner went about completing a task or achieving an outcome while the product is end result of a process. The concept of process versus product fits into the larger picture of two curriculum models:

  • The product model is focused on the result of a task rather than the process through which the student achieved that result.
  • The process model focuses on how the learner achieves their goals over time and gives space for feedback to inform the learning process.

It is easy to see how curriculum and, more pertinently, assessments with a heavier focus on process may support academic integrity.  For instance, if a student in a programming class is asked to write a program to solve a word problem and the emphasis of the evaluation is on the end result, i.e. whether or not the program works, (an example of a summative assessment) the assessment is susceptible to plagiarism. On the other hand, if the student is asked to build the same program but the emphasis for the evaluation is on the student’s explanation of how they broke down the problem and how they coded the solution, the focus is placed on whether the student acquired the knowledge and skills necessary to create the program. If the student is given feedback and re-evaluated, this becomes a formative assessment. Emphasizing process over product may require reframing what type of skills or knowledge we assess.  Furthermore, when evaluating process-oriented assessments, robust rubrics should be designed to explicitly communicate the evaluation criteria to the student. By including credit for effort rather than the product alone, we lower the risk for contravention of academic integrity standards while at the same time increase the incentive for using reflection as a learning tool.

The table below describes suggestions of how to reframe an assessment to focus on process and how these types of assessments can encourage academic integrity.

Assessment Process-oriented Assessment Advantage in promoting academic integrity
Essays, experimental design, programming, research papers, review articles, reports, creative projects including visual art, and creative writing Require an explanation or a justification of how something was designed/developed/written/argued. Focusses on the learning process and deeper learning while testing the students’ understanding of their own work.
Essays, research papers, review articles, reports Ask students to provide a plan and/or preliminary information on the construction of the assessment. Or, ask students to provide partially completed work or working drafts. Prevents students from copying, and ensures students are working through the steps required to complete the product. Gives opportunity to monitor progress and give feedback.
Word problems in math, physics, engineering, computer science Give the student the correct or incorrect solution, and ask for an explanation of the process to get to the answer and why it is correct or incorrect. Asks the student to demonstrate that they know how to get to the answer.
Below are some examples of questions that may be used to evaluate process and product in STEM disciplines. (Examples reprinted with permission from Assessment Practices in Undergraduate Math © Mathematical Association of America, 1999. All rights reserved.):
Explain, describe, compare, contrast, or define concepts 

Helps students learn how to use language precisely.


  • Define “function.” Give an example of a relationship that is a function and one that is not and explain the difference. From the following list, characterize the relationships as functions or non-functions.
  • Explain, without using interval notation, what (–¥, 7] means. What is the smallest number in the interval? The largest?
  • If x = 2 is a vertical asymptote of the graph of the function y = f(x), describe what happens to the x- and y-coordinates of a point moving along the graph, as x approaches
  • Compare/contrast the difference between a vertical asymptote and a horizontal asymptote.
  • Describe a simple situation where the Banzhaf power index would be appropriate. Give the Banzhaf index for each player in this situation.

True False and explain 

Helps students build understanding.


Determine if each of the following questions is true or false and give an explanation/rationale/argument for your response. You may even ask students to give counterexamples in cases where you tell them a statement is true or false.

  • If (c , f(c)) is an inflection point, then f(c) is not a local maximum of f.
  • the square root of a2 = a for all real a

Problem Solving  


Helps students reflect on effective and efficient ways to solve problems.


Our company produces closed rectangular boxes and wishes to minimize the cost of material used. This week we are producing boxes that have square bottoms and that must have a volume of 300 cubic inches. The material for the top costs $0.34 per square inch, for the sides $0.22 per square inch, and for the bottom $0.52 per square inch.

  1. Write a function that you could use to determine the minimum cost per box.
  2. Describe the method you would use to approximate this cost.

Creation items

Helps students build a deeper understanding and engage with content in a more meaningful way.


  • Have the students design a word problem and its solution for each of the major concepts. The instructor collects the problems, organizes them, and checks for accuracy, gives formative feedback to the student, asks for resubmission and the corrected problems are used.
  • Create a polynomial of fifth degree, with coefficients 3, –5, 17, 6, that uses three variables.

Reverse Questions


Helps students think through and analyze the whole task.


  • Identify what is incorrect in the solution to a given problem and correct this answer.
  • Give a function whose graph could be the one given.
  • Why can the graph given not be the graph of a fourth degree polynomial function?

Transition between Representations 

Helps students build a more robust conceptual understanding as well as problem solving skills.


  • What happens to an ellipse when its foci are “pushed” together and the fixed distance is held constant? Confirm this using a symbolic representation of the ellipse.
  • The columns of the following table represent values for f, f ́, and f ́ ́ at regularly spaced values of x. Each line of the table gives function values for the same value of x. Identify which column gives the values for f, for f ́, and for f ́ ́. (Table omitted here.)

Understanding in the presence of technology 

Helps students hone intuitive understanding and prevents reliance on technology.


Ask questions in a form that the available technology cannot handle. Another is to set a task where technology can be used to confirm, but not replace intuition.

  • Which function has the larger average rate of change on the interval 0, a/b. Support your conclusion mathematically.
  • Change the given data set slightly so that the mean is larger than the median.
    • weight(g) 2 3 4 5 6
    • frequency 10 9 17 9 10
      What is another result of the change you made?


Helps students build analytical skills


    • A graph was obtained by dropping a ball and recording the height in feet at time measured in seconds. Why do the dots appear to be further apart as the ball falls? (The graph is omitted here.)
    • The following work has been handed in on a test. Is the work correct? Explain your reasoning.


Next, we examine three assessment strategies that focus on process as opposed to, or in addition to product: scaffolding, reflection, self-assessment and peer assessment.


Encouraging Academic Integrity Through a Preventative Framework Copyright © by Ragad Anwar, Jessica Kalra, Maggie Ross, Daryl Smith, and Vicki Vogel  . All Rights Reserved.

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