Reflection Toolkit

Assessment criteria

Assessment criteria are critical when posing a reflective assignment. This page provides example criteria as well as questions to help you identify what you are looking for.

Criteria are your best ally in order to ensure both you and your students know exactly what you want from your reflective assignment or activity. Therefore, the first thing you should do is ask yourself the following:

  • Why am I asking students to reflect (what do I hope they gain from it)?
  • How does this assignment/activity relate to my learning outcomes?
  • Is there clear alignment between this assignment/activity and the course’s learning outcomes?
  • What does doing well on this assignment/activity look like?
  • What will not be sufficient to pass?
  • What questions/aspects must be addressed for this work to be acceptable?
  • What are the different dimensions that make up the assignment/activity? (For example clarity, critical thinking, evidence, etc.)

These questions will help you think about what your criteria should look like. While you can reuse criteria from one reflective task to the next, you should ensure that they are applicable and updated for the specific reflective activities/assignments.

Example criteria are provided below. Use what seems helpful, but do not apply them without considering the relevance to your specific reflective activity or assignment.


What does ‘good’ look like?

Developing an idea of what you want a ‘good reflection’ to look like will help you decide your criteria. You can begin defining your expectations by asking yourself:

  • What do I think good reflection looks like?
  • What will students need to demonstrate in the reflective task to make it helpful for achieving my learning outcomes?
  • To what extent do I want students’ reflections to be similar to my idea of good reflection? Is it enough they just reflect?


Consider setting the criteria in discussion with colleagues, tutors, or students

Given the sometimes challenging nature of ensuring a fair and consistent assessment of reflective work, it can be beneficial to include other people when setting assessment criteria. This can help  ensure that all the nuances of your assessment are made clear and explicit.

This can be done in preparation for the course/initiative with colleagues or tutors – especially if they are involved in the marking.

If you have time, it can also be done with the students/reflectors being marked. Doing this ensures that everyone understands what the reflective assessment is supposed to look like. This can be time consuming and may require that you finalise the criteria and assessment questions during the semester.


Example assessment criteria for reflection

These criteria are only examples; please make sure you adapt these to your needs. Once you choose a criterion, you should write you own explanation of what it means in relation to your specific assessment. Make the criteria and explanations available to your students prior to completion of the assignment or activity.

For each criterion a few comments are made on where and why it is relevant. Some of them will be general with clear overlaps, while other are very specific.

Criterion Comments
Analysis (description from Steven Jones) The reflection goes beyond description of experience to an analysis of how the experience informs the reflectors’ self-understanding, others, and/or course concepts.
Appropriate description of context/critical incident/experience/conflict To set the stage for the assessor. Are there enough details for you to understand the experience that is the foundation for the reflection? You also want to ensure that too much of the reflection is not spent on description.
Appropriate for the audience

When asking for reflections the reader is the audience, therefore the level of detail/emotional disclosure should be appropriate for their role.  For example, if you are a lecturer it is not likely to be appropriate for a student to share deep personal issues – they may share challenges, but should not feel that they need to share secrets.

By defining this criterion, you can help students write appropriate reflections.

Appropriate use of model This criterion is appropriate if you decide that students should structure their reflections according to a model of reflection.
Attention to assignment/activity question This may seem obvious, but is not required for all reflective assessment. This might not be relevant if you are asking students to keep a general journal. But it would be highly relevant if you are asking them to reflect on a specific topic, for example what it means to be a professional in your field.
Attention to emotion

Most literature on reflection agrees on the centrality of emotions to make the most of learning incidents.

When including and describing this criterion, you should make it clear that including intense emotions without addressing them critically, or oversharing emotional hardship alone, will not receive good marks.

What is important is including emotional responses to critical incidents as a guide for one’s analysis of the situation and synthesis of new learning.

Authenticity of reflection

When using this criterion, be aware of the information on the page ‘Authenticity and reflection as performance – reflection with an audience’.

Authenticity and reflection as performance – reflection with an audience (within the Facilitators' Toolkit)

It is possible to be authentic, while writing for an audience. Reflectors will likely curate their reflection, however it is still important that they communicate honestly and genuinely.

The fact that their reflections are assessed is likely to affect what a reflector shares, but it should not change that what they share is genuine.
Clarity (description from Steven Jones) The language is clear, and a reader is able to picture the situation described. Abstract concepts are explained accurately. Both the situation and the concepts are assessable to an uninformed audience.
Depth of reflection

Does the reflection go sufficiently deep, or is the reflector just scratching the surface?

Has the reflector made an attempt to find the nuances of the problems and explored beyond what is immediately evident?

Evidence of changed practice

Reflections should be used in action. Therefore, is it clear that learnings from the previous reflection are used in later experiences?

This is particularly important if there are multiple entries, or the reflections deal with a process or series of experiences rather than a single event. 

Evidence of creativity

Presented problems are responded to in a way that addresses the uniqueness of the problem rather than ‘going through the motions’. There is an attempt to create a new solution to problems without a clear answer.

This criterion is often included in the literature (for example Moon, 2006; Thompson and Thompson, 2008).

Evidence of criticality Reflectors should be critical of multiple aspects in their reflections. They should be critical about their own actions and assumptions. If you are requiring or suggesting reflectors to incorporate literature/theory to support their reflections, or if their actions are based on theory (for example patient consultation in medicine), the reflector should be critical of that literature.
Evidence of increased understanding

It should be clear from the reflections that the reflector has gained new knowledge about themselves, the situation, and/or their own practice.

This is appropriate for all reflections, but might be hard to quantify for a rubric. This can be broken in to sub-criteria. 

Evidence of willingness to revise ideas This is critical to all reflection, but may show up implicitly in other criteria. Does the student seem defensive of their own view, or are they willing to suggest or accept they were wrong and use the new knowledge to further inform practice.
Honesty and self-awareness

Has the reflector been honest with themselves and understood their role in the situation?

There are some links to the ‘Evidence of willingness to revise ideas’ criterion above.

Interconnections (description from Steven Jones) The reflection demonstrates connections between current experience and material from courses, previous experiences, and/or existing knowledge.
Learning and development Reflection is about integration of theory and practice, where ‘theory’ can refer to one’s own thoughts and past information or experiences if you decide that theoretical literature is not essential for your reflective task. Therefore, there needs to be evidence that learning has happened and how it has/will be integrated into practice. The consequence of learning has to be clear.

Is the written reflection within the agreed word-limit? Make sure that the word count is appropriate for the depth of reflection you are looking for. Short and regular entries have benefits of ensuring regular practice without being too time consuming, but might not document the full depth of the reflection. 

For an example of two different lengths of reflections over the same incident, see Gibbs’ reflective cycle in the Reflectors’ Toolkit. The short entry is about 270 words, while the long is about 950 words. You can use the depths of those two examples to calibrate what you are looking for in terms of length.

Examples of two different lengths of reflection in Gibbs’ reflective cycle (within the Reflectors’ Toolkit)

Number and regularity of entries This criterion is highly relevant for any kind of sustained reflective assessment such as a reflective journal or portfolio. Including ‘regularity’ may help ensure that students do not write all entries in the last moment.
Planned future actions There are different opinions about this criterion. Some people suggest that to create a good piece of reflective work it has to have a clear action plan, which stems from the insight coming from the reflection. Others suggest that the realisation and challenging of assumptions is sufficient for good reflection.

You might want to assess on how present or engaged you find the student to be in their writing or activity. 

This can be useful for tasks that are completed in contact hours rather than those completed outside contact hours - just remember that ‘vocal’ does not necessarily mean engaged, and quiet does not mean ‘not present’.

Presentation and legibility Presentation is important for all assignments, but you might consider this criterion more relevant if you are using hand-written reflections.
Recognising competing perspectives Within any situation there is a range of perspectives. A good reflective account will accept that there are multiple perspectives to a situation and use this information to get the deepest learning.
Relevance (description from Steven Jones) The learning experience, past experiences, previous knowledge, and literature are all relevant and contribute significantly to the development of the reflector’s argument/reflection.

Are only the relevant aspects included throughout the full reflection? This means the descriptions are not too long, and also that only relevant conclusions from the analysis and synthesis of new learnings are included. This is especially important if you are looking for evidence of reflection rather than the process of reflection (see ‘How do I introduce reflection?’ for a distinction of the two).

How do I introduce reflection? (within the Facilitators’ Toolkit) 

Self-criticism (description from Steven Jones) The reflection highlights the reflector’s ability to question their own biases, stereotypes, assumptions, and uses these questions to form new approaches/learning.

You should be clear whether you want free writing or whether you want students to structure reflections according to a model or another form of structure. 

Moreover, generally the reflection should have internal structure, for example relevant information is presented in a natural order, and students spend the majority of the reflection analysing and synthesising new learning, rather than describing.

Use of first person writing style Reflection is highly personal and should therefore be written in first person.
Use of theoretical literature

You might want students to develop and evidence their thought processes using existing theories. This is particularly useful in vocational degrees such as nursing or veterinary medicine where students often try theoretical frameworks in practice.

Moreover, using theoretical literature can change an opinion (‘I think that …’) into an evidenced approach (‘according to … it makes sense to…’)


Where to next

As highlighted in other places in the Reflection Toolkit, when posing reflective tasks to students it is important to know your assessment criteria. If you are marking the assessment, an assessment rubric becomes particularly important and should be provided to students to guide them in their reflective assignments. Therefore, the next place that might potentially inform your criteria is rubrics.

Assessment rubrics (within the Facilitators’ Toolkit)



Jones, S. (n.d.) Using reflection for assessment. Office of Service Learning, IUPUI. (link to PDF on external site)

Moon, J.A (2006) Learning Journals: A handbook for reflective practice and professional development. Routledge, London.

Thompson, S., Thompson N. (2008). The critically reflective practitioner. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.