School of Life Sciences

Doing Well in Assessments and Understanding your Feedback

Please see below a student guide on assessments and feedback.

What is feedback?

Feedback is an observation on your learning, and an essential part of your learning at university: it’s not just the mark you get for your assignment. There are many types of feedback, and is something you should actively engage with in order to get the most benefit.

Feedback may be:

  • Verbal: your Academic Advisor will discuss your overall progress with you, but verbal feedback also means participating in seminars etc. and getting feedback on your ideas. Modules usually include revision and assessment classes, in which feedback is given on assignments and exams: for example, your tutor may tell you about topics students typically find challenging or do well on.
  • Written: your tutor will provide marks and comments on your submitted work, either online or on paper. Written feedback also includes, for example, comments on discussion boards and email queries.
  • Peer feedback: for some modules, you may be asked to give peer feedback as part of group work, but imply discussing ideas and topics with other students is also an important part of learning.

You will receive feedback on both “formative” (non-assessed) and “summative” (assessed) work. Often, formative assessments give you an opportunity to practice and improve for a summative assessment. All types of feedback are useful and an important part of your learning at University.

Why is it important to engage with assessment and feedback?

Assessment provides a means for the University to gauge your current level of attainment, but also measure your learning progress: it’s not all about the final mark you get for your degree. Engaging with assessment and feedback allows you to identify your strengths and weaknesses and gain useful skills for your future life.

The School’s Key Principles of Assessment and Feedback are:

  • Transparency: Clear communication of practices to staff and students
  • Consistency: Practices are applied consistently and fairly across the School
  • Relevance: Students can use assessment and feedback for effective learning

Good assessment and feedback:

  • Allows students to gain a clear understanding of the quality of their work and how it relates to degree classifications
  • Allows students to identify their strengths and areas for future improvement
  • Reduces uncertainty and stress about assessments and exams

You should engage with opportunities for feedback, because this enables you to learn effectively and feel more confident about what is expected of you.

Learn more about making good use of feedback on the Skills Hub here.

Where do I find assessment and feedback information for each module?

Each Canvas module has a page called “Assessments and Feedback”, which you can access from the homepage. This will give you information about how you will be assessed and receive feedback, as well as useful revision resources such as mock exams.

Assessment/marking criteria

The School has an agreed set of marking criteria that apply to all assessments, which your assignment will be graded against. This is to ensure that marking is fair and consistent.

The generic School marking criteria may be found on the website here, but these may be adapted for individual assignments to make them more specific.

Make sure you look up the assessment criteria for each assignment, which should be on the Canvas Assessments and Feedback page: this provides a framework for what you need to do to tackle the assignment effectively, and explains the grade boundaries. You can ask your tutors and module convenors questions about the assessment criteria.


Coursework is an important part of your assessment at all levels. Types of coursework include practical reports, essays and problem sets, but other forms of assessment will be also be included too, e.g. presentations, in order to help you develop a range of skills. Make sure you are familiar with the rules concerning Academic Integrity and Misconduct, as well as the assessment criteria.


  • E-submission/e-feedback (ESEF) will be used for all coursework submissions, unless there are valid reasons why this is not possible. This will be via Canvas online: accessed under the Assignments tab in each module.
  • Make sure you have written you candidate number at the top of your work; do not include your name. Make sure your work is complete before you submit it and you have submitted to the correct Canvas module: you can upload new versions until the deadline, but once this has passed, you cannot submit a replacement.
  • Submit your work as early as possible to avoid losing marks for being late. The system may be slow at peak times as lots of students try to upload work just before the deadline. If Disability Advice has granted you permission to submit work up to seven days late without penalty (as part of a reasonable adjustment), the same rules apply.
  • If network problems prevent you from uploading your work, contact IT services immediately: (
  • Where a physical submission is required, you will need to hand in two paper copies to the School Office. You will need your student ID card, a cover sheet, and your candidate number
  • Make sure you check your assessment deadlines timetable in Sussex Direct (Timetable > Assessment Deadlines & Exam Timetable) regularly for up-to-date information about the coursework assessment modes for each of your modules and submissions deadlines.

Word Limits

For each assessment involving written work,  the maximum word limit is publicised to students. The limits as stated do not include the bibliography, footnotes/endnotes, appendices, abstracts, figure legends, tables, acknowledgements.

Students are requested to state the word count on submission and remaining within the word limit will be recognized by the Marker when evaluating the organization of the assessment. Where a student has exceeded the word limit by >10% the Marker need only consider work up to the designated word count and discount any excessive word length beyond that to ensure equity across the cohort


Not all coursework will necessarily require referencing (e.g. some lab reports) but many do. Make sure you apply the correct referencing system (e.g. Harvard, Vancouver). There is a guide on Skills Hub here.

Late Submissions

Any coursework assignment that you are not allowed to submit after the deadline is indicated on your assessment deadlines timetable in Sussex Direct with [+0]. For other coursework assignments, late submission penalties are:

  • Up to 24 hours after original deadline date and time = 5 percentage points
  • Up to 7 days after original deadline date and time = 10 percentage points
  • Over 7 days: submission not permitted = zero mark for the assignment

If you have a genuine problem getting your work completed on time, you should talk to a Student Advisor. You can make an Exceptional Circumstances claim if sudden, unforeseen and temporary conditions or events stop you from submitting your work on time. If your claim is accepted and considered valid, any penalties for late submission may be changed or removed.

Within Year Retake Policy

There may be instances where a student either misses a deadline or fails a piece of coursework that was scheduled during the teaching semester. Retake opportunities are provided in the summer assessment periods. However, in some cases it will be possible to retrieve an assessment during the semester by applying for a “Within-Year Retake”, where the student is given a new assessment and submission date. Students should follow the steps below to apply for this opportunity: 

  • For non-submission, students should apply to the Curriculum and Assessment Officer ( immediately following the deadline (and within one week of the marks for the assessment being released to the rest of the cohort at the latest). For a failed assessment, students must apply within one week of the marks for the assessment being released.
  • The decision as to whether a Within-Year Retake can be given will be based on the mode and timing of the assessment.
  • If a new submission opportunity is given, the mark will be capped at 40% in the same way as a retake in a Retake period. The mark may be uncapped where an Exceptional Circumstances claim is accepted against the submission.

For more information, view the full policy here.


Examinations for each module occur after the term in which the module has been completed. Check your exam timetable in Sussex Direct (Timetable > Assessment Deadlines & Exam Timetable) regularly for up-to-date information about exam dates and times.

There are three exam periods throughout the year, as follows:

  • Mid-year assessment period (A1): January
  • Year-end assessment period (A2): May-June
  • Summer vacation assessment retake period (A3): August-September

See key dates here.

Please note that exams may be scheduled during evenings and on Saturdays and public holidays. It is your responsibility to check the dates before you make any travel or other personal arrangements because you will automatically get a mark of zero for any exams that you miss.

All exams are currently online until further notice. There is information on how you will be examined for each module on the Assessments and Feedback pages on Canvas sites. Make sure you are familiar with the rules concerning Academic Integrity and Misconduct, as well as the assessment criteria.

For more information about the types of online exam you might be offered, including FAQs, please check the website here.

Please note that all marks are provisional until they are ratified by an Exam Board.

Academic integrity and misconduct

Academic integrity is key to the reliable discovery of knowledge, and fair credit to the originators. The University of Sussex has a set of Academic Integrity Values which all students are expected to follow. These values are:

  • Honesty: The work you produce for assessment is your own and where you have used other sources of work, this is clearly acknowledged by citing references in your assessments.
  • Trust: Your tutors and fellow students can trust you to be honest about the work you produce and submit for assessment.
  • Fairness: You agree that all students should be fairly treated and that you do not try to gain advantage by presenting work for assessment that is not your own.
  • Respect: You treat other members of the academic community with respect: fellow students, your tutors and the administrative staff.
  • Responsibility: You take responsibility for your own learning and follow the University of Sussex Academic Integrity values and assessment regulations.

Academic misconduct is cheating. It includes plagiarism, collusion, fabrication of results, and cheating in exams, or getting someone else to write an assignment for you (including purchasing one from a company). This sort of cheating is known as “personation” and is treated very seriously by the university. You will find more detailed definitions and information about academic misconduct in your Examination and Assessment handbook.

Sometimes students commit academic misconduct without fully understanding why they have done something wrong; for example, they copy some text from a paper without properly re-writing it in their own words.

To protect yourself from committing academic misconduct, you should understand what it is and learn some of the common mistakes students make.

There is more information on the Skills Hub here.

Accessing my marks and feedback

Your coursework marks and feedback from the marker should be published on Sussex Direct within 15 working days of the submission deadline. If unforeseen circumstances occur that delays marks release (e.g. tutor sickness) then you will be informed by the Module Convenor. To see the marked copy of any printed submissions, please speak to the front desk team in the School office after marks have been released.

Exam marks take longer to release because they have to go to External Moderation and be approved by the relevant Module Advisory Board.

There is a simple guide to accessing your marks and feedback (with screenshots) here.

Your marks will be published on the Module Results page in Sussex Direct. There are two types of feedback provided:

  • Generic feedback to the whole cohort, giving the mean and range of marks received and some guidance on how students overall performed on the assignment.
  • Individual feedback on how you did on an assignment: there is a link you can click on Sussex Direct to view this on Canvas.

When you graduate, you will get an official transcript (a printed record) of your course and module results: additional copies can be obtained from

Exam boards meet after every assessment period to review and confirm your marks. This means that the marks you see on Sussex Direct are not official until they have been confirmed by the exam boards.

Getting the most out of my feedback

Top tip: don’t be tempted to just look at your grade for an assignment. See what the marker has written: this not only helps you understand why you received the mark you did, but should also enable you to identify what you need to work on to improve for future assessments. It is helpful to refer back to the marking criteria when reviewing your feedback.

It is never easy to receive feedback which criticises your work, and you may feel upset, confused or demotivated. It’s important to remember that making mistakes is part of learning; feedback is not personal and your tutor is marking your work according to specific assessment criteria and wants to help you.

Look for what you did well and congratulate yourself on that. Then, go through the negative points and guidance for future assignments to understand what you did wrong and identify what you can do to improve next time. 

It can be really useful to look back at your feedback for a previous piece of work before you start a new assignment, particularly if it’s of the same type (e.g. essay, lab report). This can remind you what you need to focus on to improve.

Learn more about making good use of feedback on the Skills Hub here.

Exceptional Circumstances

Please note that individual staff members are not allowed to give extensions to deadlines for submitted work and cannot re-schedule exams. There is a University policy, whereby the student needs to apply for exceptional circumstances.

Exceptional circumstances can be submitted as a result of the following circumstances:

  • Late submission of assessment
  • Non-submission of assessment
  • Absence from an in-person assessment (examination or test)
  • Impaired performance in an assessment submitted on time and/or in-person assessment (examination) taken on scheduled date, where the assessment performance is seriously and unexpectedly impaired
  • Forthcoming absence from in-person assessment, an anticipated non-submission or claim for late submission, where evidence is compelling.

For full details on the exceptional circumstances policy and how to make claim, visit the website here.

Further information is also available from the Student Life Centre.


In order to pass an assessment or a module, you need a minimum mark of 40% (or 50% for postgraduate students). If you score below this mark, it counts as a fail.

Note that in some circumstances the University examination and assessment regulations provide that students can be automatically compensated and awarded credits for a “marginal” fail on a module: 35-39% or 45-49% for PGT students. This is likely to depend on how well you did your other modules.

If you fail a module, you will be offered a retake - this is another opportunity to pass the module. The mark is usually capped at 40%, unless Exceptional Circumstances apply (in which case it is referred to as a “sit”).

You may be offered both coursework and exam retakes.

What do I do if I think my mark for an assignment or exam is unfair?

The academic judgement of examiners is not subject to appeal, so it is not possible for your work to be re-marked.

To make sure that all marks are fair, the University has a robust marking and moderation process. Marking is checked by the Module Convenor. Additionally, all assessments that contribute to progression (i.e. year 2 upwards) and that are weighted above 30% of a module mark are subject to moderation.

In this process, a representative sample of the marked work is checked by an internal moderator (another academic within the School) and an external examiner from a different university. This procedure is designed to make sure that marks are awarded fairly, accurately and meet the relevant assessment marking criteria.

We do understand, however, that sometimes you will be disappointed by your mark, or do not feel is not a fair and accurate reflection of the quality of your work. If this happens, the best thing to do is to learn from the experience and work out how to avoid the same thing happening again. You can do this in the following ways:

1. Read the feedback carefully. If you don’t understand it, visit the Module Convenor during their student consultation times to ask them to explain it.

2. Discuss your academic progress with your Academic Advisor and/or one of the Student Mentors. They are here to help you overcome any academic problems you face.

3. Make use of the University’s support services. The Skills Hub website contains lots of helpful information and advice on study skills, exam and coursework preparation and techniques, and allows you to sign up for skills workshops.

To view the assessments and feedback policy (PDF) click here.