• Moderation is part of the teaching, learning and assessment quality assurance process.
  • Consensus moderation is any process broadly defined as peer review that results in calibration of judgement and consensus being achieved.
  • Consensus moderation should be viewed as a staged process of quality assurance spanning multiple aspects of academic activity.

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Moderation Processes and Practices Consensus Moderation Stages of consensus moderation Unit continuity over time Examples

Moderation Processes and Practices

Moderation encompasses a range of processes and practices that are designed to ensure the validity and reliability of assessment of students’ work (Bloxham, 2009; Beutel, Adie & Lloyd, 2017). These judgement making processes and practices need to be moderated or verified and consistent with the standards of qualification (TEQSA) and other professional standards to be considered valid (Bloxham, Hughes & Adie 2016; Beutel, Adie & Lloyd, 2017).

Moderation can therefore be viewed as part of the teaching, learning and assessment quality assurance process (Beutel, Adie & Lloyd, 2017). While validity and transparency need to frame moderation processes and practices, the goal of moderation should be “to develop shared understanding of the valued qualities in student work to inform teaching, learning and assessment activities” (Beutel, Adie & Lloyd, 2017, p. 3). Achieving this shared understanding requires discussion and dialogue to enable consistency and consensus and what Sadler (2013) refers to as calibration.

Consensus Moderation

Consensus moderation is about achieving comparability or equivalence between what happens in one class, assessment or program and others that are of a similar level or standard, and is founded on the development of shared understanding.

Consensus moderation is most commonly engaged in through meetings involving a number of staff coming together, individually marking the same pieces of students’ work using the relevant marking criteria and comparing the results. Through discussion, the different markers seek and achieve clarification on the reasons for any differences in marks proposed by each marker. By working together, each member of the group gradually come to a consensus on the marks/grades they would award for a piece of work, thereby reducing the variance between markers to a level that all agree is acceptable. When this stage is reached, markers are very much more likely to give comparable marks for the same piece of work – and, even more importantly, to give those marks for comparable reasons. At this stage, the judgements of each marker are ‘calibrated’ to match the judgements of all the others.

Extending this example, simply put, consensus moderation is any process broadly defined as peer review that results in calibration and consensus being achieved (Nulty 2011a).

In consensus moderation, the moderation part relates to the change in the views of participants that is needed to reach the consensus. The consequence is their judgements, and their marks, broadly match those given by each other, and by others elsewhere.

In consensus moderation, the consensus part relates to genuine peer agreement. Consensus is more than a mere accommodation, like "agree to disagree", it is a genuine change to a common position (this means calibration!)

Importantly, consensus moderation is different from moderation, and for this reason consensus moderation is the term used consistently throughout this guide. You may find that this distinction is often not made in general conversation, so you should be sure to check that the processes being discussed involve consensus seeking activities.

Consensus moderation involves markers reaching a consensus by reference to high-quality benchmarks, and then acting in ways that are both consistent with those benchmarks, and comparable with each other.

Moderation generally involves just one individual (for example a NLIC) reviewing and sometimes adjusting marks so that all the marks from different markers are comparable. The latter practice does not involve multiple markers making adjustments, but it might draw on detailed and sophisticated knowledge and understanding of disciplinary benchmarks and their application in practice, based on many years of practice. In principle, this practice uses deep expert knowledge of required standards that matches the standard commonly applied through the sector. In this case, the moderator’s actions might ensure all marks are in fact consistent with those standards before being awarded. However, this argument is generally not regarded as sufficient for adequate quality assurance. Consensus moderation is now regarded as a standard requirement throughout the sector, in particular by TEQSA.

The following examples are NOT consensus

The impost of procedure For example, adhering to a grade distribution based on a “normal curve”.
The impost of seniority For example, “I out rank everyone else here, what I say goes.”
The impost of authority For example, “I am the Course Coordinator …”
The impost of expertise For example, “I am the industry expert …”
Agreeing to disagree The only thing agreed is that there is no agreement. We agree on that!
Conceding to the average The average does not reflect anyone’s view.

Source: Adapted from Nulty (2011b)

Stages of consensus moderation(pre-, peri and post-assessment)

The ‘Internal moderation of assessment’ team from ACU’s Faculty of Health Sciences developed an overview of the quality controls for consensus moderation by adapting original research and development by Nulty at Griffith University which considered consensus moderation as a staged process of quality assurance spanning multiple aspects of academic activity.

They termed these stages pre-, peri- and post-assessment. They listed some good practice considerations for each stage of the process.

 Stages of consensus moderation (pre-assessment, peri-assessment, post-assessment)

Pre-assessment consensus moderation

Consensus moderation practices which ensure the unit content, assessment tasks and associated learning outcomes are aligned, and that the assessment tasks are valid, reliable, fair and equitable, and equivalent across sites. Pre-assessment consensus moderation is also about maintaining appropriate academic standards.

Firstly, this means ensuring assessment standards are in accordance with the requirements of the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF Council 2013) - that is, ensuring that the assessment tasks reflect the level of qualification, and year (or level) of study being undertaken by the students (100-level, 200-level units) and are comparable to similar courses at other institutions. Secondly, this means ensuring assessment standards meet the requirements of any particular professions the course may seek to prepare students for (frequently, these requirements are codified by relevant accrediting bodies). (Note: not all courses have specific vocational alignments.)

  • Constructive alignment between learning outcomes, learning and teaching activities and assessment.
  • Conduct meetings with marking teams to ensure understanding of marking standards, and comparable marking outcomes.
  • Shared rubric and marking guide development to ensure shared understanding/interpretation of the rubric/guide, and therefore comparable marking practice/outcomes.
  • Discussion of expectations to ensures comparable information is provided to students on the expected quality of performance.
  • Discussions between teaching staff during unit development to inform teaching strategies assuring that students are provided with appropriate opportunities to learn the relevant knowledge, skills and understandings.
  • Ensure lecturers are knowledgeable of the expected standards, so that this information can be shared with students so that they become insiders to the expectations of quality and able to self-regulate their own performances.

Peri-assessment consensus moderation

Peri-assessment consensus moderation practices take place throughout the semester, and during the marking processes that arise, to facilitate comparability of standards between different markers, and also to allow ongoing monitoring of the effectiveness of the overall assessment design in a unit to support students’ learning.

Peri-assessment consensus moderation ensures members of a marking team to review their mark and grade allocations throughout in the marking process to ensure these are consistent from marker to marker, and also in alignment with required standards.

  • Marking team meetings part-way through the marking process for each assignment to review mark and grade allocations to date.
  • Blind marking part-way through the marking process to ensure comparability (both within any one campus and between campuses).
  • Coordination of marking days on campus/ via a Teams meeting or Zoom for members of the marking teams to encourage discussion about ‘difficult’ mark allocations.
  • Mentoring of new or sessional marking staff via regular meetings during the marking process to ensure they are familiar with application of the marking criteria, and the relevant academic standards.

Post-assessment consensus moderation

Post-assessment moderation practices occur after marking has been completed. The purposes are continuous improvement as well as the maintenance of appropriate and required academic standards. Post-assessment moderation includes assurance that final grades which have been provisionally allocated are fair and representative of the standards of work produced by each student overall.

Post-assessment moderation can also review how successful the unit has been in achieving the stated learning outcomes and how the assessment regime in particular supported this. It is an evaluation and a self-improvement process for the unit, enabling changes to be made for subsequent iterations.

  • Review of borderline assessments on every grade boundary, but particularly those awarded fail grades to ensure the grades awarded reflect academic standards and have been allocated appropriately.
  • Double marking of a sample of assessment tasks (both on any one campus, and between campuses).
  • Review of rubrics and marking guides in consultation with entire marking team for ease of use and of interpretation in light of the way these were interpreted by students in the completion of assignments.
  • Review of unit evaluations by students alongside a review of the assessment regime in the unit.
  • Feedback from the marking team.

Unit continuity over time

Consensus moderation is likely to lead to the development of consistent standards over time. To achieve this goal, you need to keep records of annotated unit outlines, assessment plans, rubrics, selection criteria and a sample of marked student work across grade levels. These examples can be used to inform your unit design and marking between semester offerings each year and for later assessment of multiple unit offerings using peer review. The goal is consistent standards over time (FHS Quick guide, 2012, p. 12).

Examples of Practice

Professor Karen Nightingale discusses the importance of planning in the marking moderation process. She discusses the different stages of marking moderation, pre-, peri- and post-assessment, and the need for an overall design process that enables equitable feedback and marking across a unit. For more information on feedback see Good Feedback Practices.

Dr Richard Colledge discusses the importance of collaboration in the design of assessment tasks, and facilitation of equitable marking moderation processes. He explains the role of collegial discussion in developing a common vision about learning outcomes, assessment, and feedback. And he examines ways to use this shared understanding to facilitate a more effective marking moderation process. For more information on assessment design see Assessment Review and Design.

Australian Qualification Framework (AQF) Council (2013) Australian Qualifications Framework, 2nd edn. www.aqf.edu.au

Beutel, D., Adie, L. & Lloyd, M. (2017) “Assessment moderation in an Australian context: processes, practices, and challenges”, Teaching in Higher Education, 22:1, 1-14, DOI: 10.1080/13562517.2016.1213232

Bloxham, S. (2009) “Marking and Moderation in the UK: False Assumptions and Wasted Resources.” Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 34: 209–220.

Bloxham, S., Hughes, C. & Adie, L. (2016) “What’s the point of moderation? A discussion of the purposes achieved through contemporary moderation practices”, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 41:4, 638-653, DOI:10.1080/02602938.2015.1039932

FHS quick guide (2012), A quick guide to consensus moderation of assessment, prepared by the ‘Internal Moderation of Assessment’ project team, ACU Faculty of Health Sciences, September.

Nulty, D. D. (2011a) What …? Consensus moderation? But, you’re probably doing it already. Paper presented at the Annual Conference for The Society for Research in Higher Education. Newport, Wales, December 7-9.

Nulty, D. D. (2011b) Consensus moderation for quality assurance of assessment: Overcoming the illusion of consensus. Paper presented at the Annual Conference for The Society for Research in Higher Education. Newport, Wales, December 7-9.

Sadler, D. R. (2013) “Assuring Academic Achievement Standards: From Moderation to Calibration.” Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice 20 (1): 5–19.
Page last updated on 15/03/2024

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