Man In India, 96 (1-2) : 39-47 © Serials Publications
Address for communication: Rohaya Talib, Faculty of Education, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia,
Malaysia, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
ASSESSMENT FOR LEARNING : SUPERVISORY FEEDBACK
PRACTICE IN HIGHER EDUCATION
Rohaya Talib, Hawa Syamsina Md Supie, Mohd Zaki Kamsah,
Hamimah Abu Naim and Sanitah Mohd Yusof
Assessment for learning is a term used to denote a continuous assessment of student’s progress
with accompanying feedback to improve learning. So, this paper aims to investigate the assessment
feedback (AFB) practices among supervisors in one of Higher Education (HE) institutions in
Malaysia on three specific dimensions; Timeliness, Meaningfulness and Specificity. It also
examined the significant mean difference of perceived Supervisory AFB practices in relation to
postgraduate (PG) students’ gender, mode of study (MOS) and field of study (FOS) using cross-
sectional survey design. A total of 306 PG students who were currently pursuing their research
studies have been selected using multistage cluster sampling technique. A self-developed instrument
known as Supervisory Assessment Feedback Questionnaire (reliability index .92) which consisted
of 38 items was used to collect the data. Overall result shown that Supervisory AFB practices
were at the highest level for Meaningfulness (M=4.35, SD = .69), followed by Timeliness (M=4.35,
SD =.69) and finally Specificity (M=3.85, SD= .53). The AFB forms practiced among supervisors
resulted in verbal form (M=2.87, SD= .69) higher compared to written (M=2.77, SD= .71)
meanwhile the PG students’ preferences were in both. Besides, the supervisory AFB practiced
seems to be significantly differed on gender factor. In summary, these results revealed some
insight to be considered in order to establish an effective Supervisory AFB practice in Malaysian
Keywords: Assessment for Learning, Supervisory Assessment Feedback Practice, Higher Education
Assessment for learning (formative assessment) is vital to ensure the quality of
teaching and learning particularly in Higher Education (HE). The continuous/
regular mode of checking student’s progress with accompanying feedback is to
improve the student’s performance. Basically, the aim of feedback is to assist the
gap between the actual level of performance and the anticipated learning objective
to be spanned (Lizzio & Wilson, 2008). Within the socio-constructivist paradigm,
feedback is seen as facilitative which involves establishment of comments and
suggestions to empower students to make their own particular amendments and
through the dialogue which helps students to advance with firsthand comprehension.
According to Berry (2008), when assessment is for learning, it takes a greater
significance to incorporate social communication between the instructor and
students while Brown (2004) stated that assessment for learning is fundamental
when the impacts of feedback practices are based on progressiveness as opposed
to being judgmental.
40 MAN IN INDIA
Much has been discussed about the standard of decent assessment and feedback
practice yet there is no broad agreement with respect to what sort of input is most
useful and why (Nelson and Schunn, 2009). Various writers have debated that
AFB is under-conceptualized in the theoretical literature in HE and that makes it
hard to plan effective feedback practices (Yorke, 2003). Most approaches to
feedback remained persistently focused on simple ‘transmission perspectives’ –
educators transmit feedback messages to students about strengths and weaknesses
in their work assuming that these messages are easily decoded and turned into
action which supported by constricted notions of the commitments of feedback
Along with teaching the students what the lecturers/supervisors desired and
what is emphasized to satisfy the requirements set by the courses, AFB is seen as
a pivotal approach in assisting students’ advancement as independent learners who
are capable to monitor, evaluate and regulate their own learning, permitting them
to feed-up and extend past graduation into professional practice (Ferguson, 2011).
Evans (2013) reviewed AFB as trades produced within assessment design, arising
within and beyond the immediate learning context, being overt or covert (actively
and/or passively sought and/or received), and essentially, drawing from a variety
of sources. While Berry (2008) recommended that the guiding principles for making
effective assessment is to provide precise and constructive feedback to students
learning. Furthermore, AFB is also viewed as a framework for direction which
gave affirmation and the significance of student-supervisor dialogue with accessible
or amicable supervisor in the process. Most university tutors concurred that AFB
is a consistent discussion within a recurring assessment (Beaumont et al., 2011).
Within the context of this study, supervisors should play an important role in
facilitating high-quality feedback to optimize learning. As for that, Brown (2004)
pointed out that AFB given to student needs to be in depth, comprehensive,
significant to the individual, rational, challenging and reassuring, which is a hard
task for hectic academicians. Even though it is time-consuming, it is significant
that effort must be devoted in facilitating students to comprehend not only where
they have made mistakes but also what they need to fix in order to progress.
Higgins et al. (2002) mentioned the challenges of AFB in today’s HE. For
example, students with workload may not have ample time to reflect on the feedback.
Then, if the feedback is subject-specific, it might be hard for the students to develop
further skills for their future learning. Furthermore, if the feedback is not timely,
then it may be distanced from the given assignments. Some empirical evidence
stated that students perceive AFB negatively if it is rendered in the form of personal
critique, not specific and vague to any of formative uses (Higgins et al., 2002). As
noted by Blair and McGinty (2010), students faced problems to understand feedback
while the lecturers are having problems to provide good feedback to assist their
students. On the supervisors’ perspective, Beaumont et al. (2011) found that most
ASSESSMENT FOR LEARNING: SUPERVISORY FEEDBACK... 41
of the university lecturers agreed that AFB need to be specific and detailed.
Supported by the study of Berry (2008), comprehensive and timely AFB is important
for students to achieve their learning outcome. Timely AFB refers to the comments
which should be returned to students as soon as possible after the task is submitted
(Higgins et al., 2002). In most cases, the incomprehensible/ignored feedback is
caused by overdue AFB. Another scenario, study done by Tamby Subahan and
Lilia (2011) indicated that lecturers at the university are often too occupied to
provide AFB, total size of class and the assorted nature of their work have forbid
them to write the AFB and return it punctually. So, they elicited the use of peer to
strategize AFB in learning and what kind of changes they would prefer. A similar
report to this was a reflection done by Hattie (2009) where he realized that lecturers
typically did not provide AFB to the students although they claimed they did all
the time. Also, Carless et al. (2011) argued that AFB is clearly a critical issue
which need further investigation although the student evaluations of AFB reflect
wider concerns on lecturers-student relationships rather that the nature of promoting
learning in HE.
After a systematic reviewing, there is a dire need to revisit the AFB practice
particularly among supervisors in HE since AFB is an inevitable part of assessment
for learning. In the context of this study, the term AFB conceptually refers to the
information or the comments received by PG students from their supervisors from
three dimensions; Meaningfulness, Timeliness, and Specificity to further improve
their research work also for the purpose of research completion. Therefore, the
aims of the study are; (i) to examine the perceptions of PG students towards
Supervisory AFB practice from three dimensions (Meaningfulness, Timeliness
and Specificity), (ii) to investigate the form of AFB practiced by PG students’
supervisors (verbal, written, or both form), (iii) to investigate the preference of
AFB forms among PG students, and iv) to investigate the mean difference among
PG students in relation to (i) gender, (ii) Mode of Study and (iii) Field of Study.
This study utilized cross-sectional survey design. The target population is 9760
PG students on the enrollment list. The researchers employed multi-stage cluster
sampling method with 5.0% margin of error. A total of 306 students were selected
based on three category fields of study; i) Social Science, ii) Engineering, and iii)
Science and Technology. A set of self-developed Supervisory Assessment Feedback
Questionnaire (SAFBQ) is used with 38 items consists of five sections; 1) Section
A: Perception on Supervisory AFB practice (6 point Likert-type Agreement Scale:
Strongly Disagree – Strongly Agree), 2) Section B: Forms of AFB Practiced by
Supervisors (5 point Likert-type Frequency Scale : Never - Always), 3) Section C:
Preferences on AFB (3 Closed-ended Question : Written, Verbal, Both), and 4)
Section D: Demographic : Gender, MOS and FOS. SAFBQ which was ensured its
42 MAN IN INDIA
content validity by panel experts were then distributed to 37 respondents for pilot
study. The data were analyzed for dimensionality based on Rasch Analysis which
resulted reliability index at .92. Four items were determined to be inappropriate,
thus, they were deleted and SAFBQ was improved for actual study. The SAFBQ
were then both distributed manually and administered online upon request. The
raw data obtained were processed and analyzed through SPSS software for
descriptive and inferential statistics.
Perceptions on Supervisory Assessment Feedback Practice
SAFBQ was analyzed based on 306 PG students from three different fields of
study with a 100% response rate. Table 1 illustrates the PG students’ agreement on
the AFB given by their supervisors were at the highest level for Meaningfulness
(M=4.78, SD= .71), followed by Timeliness (M=4.35, SD= 69) and finally by
Specificity (M=3.85, SD= .53). Although Meaningfulness dimension has the highest
mean but it has the largest dispersion of agreement. In contrast, Specificity has the
lowest mean of all three dimensions yet it has the smallest dispersion of scores.
TABLE 1: LEVEL OF PERCEPTION TOWARDS AFB ON THREE
Dimensions M SD
Meaningfulness 4.78 .71
Timeliness 4.35 .69
Specificity 3.85 .53
*Based on a 6-point Likert-type scale
Assessment Feedback Forms Practiced by Supervisors
Overall mean score showed that AFB practiced by the supervisors are at the level
of ‘sometimes’ (M=2.82; SD= .64). In terms of forms of AFB, the verbal form
(M=2.87; SD= .69) practiced is slightly higher than the written form (M=2.77;
SD= .71) as the result shown in Table 2.
TABLE 2: FORM OF AFB PRACTICED BY THE SUPERVISORS (N=306)
Form M SD
AFB Practice 2.82 .64
Verbal 2.87 .69
Written 2.77 .71
*Based on a 5-point frequency scale
Preferences on Assessment Feedback
Analysis on Table 3 showed that a total of 88.9% (272/306) of the PG students
prefer to have both verbal and written form of AFB from their supervisors. Only
ASSESSMENT FOR LEARNING: SUPERVISORY FEEDBACK... 43
8.5% (26/306) and 2.6% (8/306) would like to have AFB by their supervisors in
the form of only written and only verbal respectively.
TABLE 3: AFB FORM PREFERENCE (N=306)
AFB Form f Percentage
Verbal 8 2.6%
Written 26 8.5%
Verbal and Written 272 88.9%
Perceptions Towards AFB Based on Demographic Factors
A statistical test was conducted to determine any significant mean differe nces
on three demographic factors - independent t-test for gender, ANOVA one-way
for mode of study (MOS) and field of study (FOS). It was found that only gender
factor resulted in a significant mean difference of Supervisory AFB practice.
The results were generated after a few tests on normality and homogeneity
assumptions were met. Firstly, the data was tested for normality. The original
mean for male (4.21) had minimal difference with the new 5% trimmed mean
(4.23). The result shown for the mean of female, the original mean (4.38) had
ve r y mi nimal di f ference with the new tr i m med mean (4. 3 9 ). He nce ,
the assumption for normality is not violate d. The study further conducted
Leven e’s Test for Equality of Variances. The t-test resulted as F=2.635,
p > 0.05, which suggest equal variances assumed and assumption for homogeneity
TABLE 4 : INDEPENDENT T-TEST OF PERCEPTION TOWARDS AFB BASED
Levene’s Test T-test for Equality of Means
for Equality of
F Sig. t df Sig. Mean Std. Error
(2-tailed) Difference Difference
AFB Equal variances 2.635 .106 -2.868 304 .004* -.17989 .06271
Equal variances -2.763 202.001 .006* -.17989 .06510
The result in Table 4 clearly shown that there was a significant mean difference
in perception towards Supervisory AFB practice due to gender factor - Male
(M=4.21, SD= .57); Female, (M=4.38, SD= .49); t (304) = -2.86, p = .004(two-
tailed). In conclusion, gender influences the perceptions of Supervisory AFB
practice in PG students’ current research work.
44 MAN IN INDIA
As to address the objectives of the study, Supervisory AFB was looked from three
dimensions; Meaningfulness, Timeliness and Specificity. These three dimensions
were highlighted by several researches to be investigated since students have
perceived it as unclear, lack of guidance, hardly understandable, not timely, and
not specific enough to make improvement (Higgins, Hartley & Skelton 2001;
Spiller, 2009; Duncan, 2007; Hounsell, 2007). However, the findings in this study
shown an agreement on Supervisory AFB highly on meaningfulness and timeliness.
Meanwhile, Specificity seems to be the lowest agreement in AFB given by the
supervisors. Meaningfulness achieved the highest perceived AFB could be related
to the practices of the AFB itself. This is agreed by Rust et al. (2005) who stated
that a social constructivist approach to attain significant comprehension of
assessment obliges a dynamic engagement with the criteria by both lecturers and
students. Timeliness was perceived the second next due to the understanding that
timely AFB helps them to make improvements (Higgins et al., 2002). However, if
the feedback is not timely, then it may be distanced from the given assignments.
On the other hand, Specificity is the least agreed AFB could be caused by supervisors
who are too focused on judging the grades and marks-focused feedback. In this
context, the PG students might understand why they have to improve on yet not so
much on what/where to progress. This will hinder the PG students from making
further improvements. This is in agreement with what Glover & Brown (2006)
mentioned that most feedback only shows what are the expected answers but lacking
to explain why. This is also agreed by Higgins et al. (2001) that some feedback
given were just lack of specific advice on how to improve. The lack of specificity
in providing AFB could cause the students to misunderstood the AFB. Hence,
supervisors should take the initiative to give specific comments to improve AFB
provided to the students as this motivates them to make further improvements. In
fact, supervisors must comprehend how the students perceive feedback and how
they actually construct the AFB. This is due to the potential impact of feedback on
future practice and development of students’ identity as learners as highlighted by
When the students enter HE, the type of feedback they receive intentionally / unintentionally
will play an important part in shaping their learning futures. Hence, we need to know much
more about how their learning, indeed their very sense of professional identity is shaped by
the nature of the feedback they receive. We need more feedback on feedback.
AFB can be given in the form of verbal or written comment. Referring to the
results, the written form and verbal is practiced almost equally. This could be
caused by the consultation sessions whereby the lecturers provided both forms of
feedback simultaneously and not in isolation. However, when the items were
analyzed separately, it was made apparent that verbal form was practised most by
ASSESSMENT FOR LEARNING: SUPERVISORY FEEDBACK... 45
the supervisors. This is due to discussions via meetings was the nature of AFB
practiced for the current population. Another reason for this result is that various
supervisors practiced different form of AFB which is more practical between them
and their students. Perhaps, the PG students’ perceptions towards AFB practice
should also take into consideration of the supervisors’ point of view. In addition,
supervisors are advisable to utilize various medium such as reaching the students
virtually through social media other than merely practicing the traditional
supervisor-students meetings. This will add on the frequency as well as the impact
of the supervisory AFB on students’ progress.
The AFB form preferred by the respondents is useful to determine whether
what is desired by the PG students is practiced by the supervisors. The PG students
prefer to have both verbal and written form of AFB, but this is not what actually
practiced among supervisors of PG students. Supervisors tend to provide verbal
AFB more compared to written AFB. This further justifies the low specificity mean
of scores on the PG students’ perception towards AFB. Blair and McGinty (2010)
found that in the PG students’ perspective, they are facing a hard time to refer back
to the given oral feedback. Additionally, Hattie and Timperley (2007) found that
AFB is more effective when it is provided in written form. In order to close the gap
between the intended goal of learning and their current state, specificity has to be
addressed in both forms.
The result also showed a significant mean difference of AFB perceptions
based on genders, but not for mode of study (MOS) and field of study (FOS). It
shows that male and female has different view of how they perceived AFB
provided by their supervisors. Female depicted significant mean difference
compared to male as female tends to be more emotional. This is opined by Higgins
et al. (2001) that students make an emotional effort on their work progress so
they expect a “return” on the investment. So, the females tend to have an emotional
state of mind when perceiving AFB. Hence, it is recommended for the supervisors
to employ a balanced practice of the form of AFB to their PG students. It is best
for supervisors to improve their duration on giving assessment feedback to the
supervisee. Supervisors should make time to provide AFB since students have
the tendency to get emotional on the feedback of their research progress. A well-
balanced and well-practiced AFB encourages students to continuously construct
their own learning and to counter the dissatisfaction of students on AFB practice
Finally, it is recommended that the faculty/university to have a dialogue
between the supervisors and the PG students as to what they comprehend on
the purpose of supervisory AFB. This will serves the purpose of nurturing a
mutua l understanding of AFB among them. On top of that, an effective
design of supervisory AFB is recommended to improve the implementation of
AFB in HE.
46 MAN IN INDIA
This study has given an account of PG students’ perceptions towards AFB which
is vital in HE as the students are engaged in the learning process. Therefore, there
is a need to develop a comprehensive mechanism to cater AFB practice since this
part of assessment for learning procedures are recommended to support the
meaningful learning process. AfL proposes that students are expected to be able to
do more challenging tasks other than regurgitate and replicate what was taught.
Therefore, a high quality of students’ research work especially in HE can be
achieved through a comprehensive practice of AFB. The academic and the social
experience incorporated in completing research work assist students’ development
and AFB contributes part of that experience. Intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and
physically fit student can be the product of HE for a better human capital
development in Malaysia. AFB has to be aligned to its theoretical ground with
respect to what is preferred and practiced in the teaching and learning process.
This is to ensure an upright assessment is implemented for an effective learning
progress. In summary, AFB supposed to be meaningful, timely and specific enough
for students to move on to the next stage of the learning process. Consequently, a
good practice of AFB is designate d to provide PG studen ts with the best
opportunities in improving as well as completing their research works successfully
within the time frame.
We wish to thank various parties for their contributions to this study; Ministry of Higher Education
(MOHE- Exploratory Research Grant Scheme Vot No : 4L109), School of Postgraduate Studies,
UTM, UiTM and the PG students for providing the data needed for this study.
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