Different courses at Imperial College London will use different methods of assessing their students, but they all have the same purpose – to help you achieve the best grade you can. You will discover during your time at Imperial that you have strengths in different types of assessment. Make sure you know what your tutor is looking for with each piece of work, and ask for advice if you are unsure.

Depending on your course, you may benefit from the opportunity to choose how you approach certain assessments. For example, some subjects may offer a choice of essay titles, optional modules that have different assessment methods (e.g. exams or coursework), or allow you to decide the focus of your third year projects.

Take a look at some of the assessment methods you may encounter during your degree:

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Problem sheets

This method of assessment is similar to a traditional “test” that you might have taken at school. They are a highly efficient and targeted way of testing a specific area of knowledge, and they’ll let your tutor build up a good picture of how comprehensive your knowledge is.

Laboratory work and lab reports

Working in a laboratory environment requires a special set of skills, and these assessments will examine your ability to handle equipment confidently, competently and safely. Follow-up reports will show how well you have understood the underlying scientific principles behind the work.


Oral presentations test your ability to communicate effectively with others in a clear, concise and interesting way. You may also be asked questions after a presentation, which will assess the depth of your knowledge and your ability to deal with unexpected situations.

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Group projects

These test your ability to work with others. Different people bring different strengths to a project, and you will need to develop an understanding of the roles individuals play – as well as your own contribution to the team. Find out more about working with others.

Essays and reports

Essays and reports are an effective way for you to demonstrate many of the desired skills you should be learning on your course - critical analysis, qualitative knowledge, mathematical and logical skills, and written communication capability.

Written exams

Written exams can be used to demonstrate all the skills you use in writing essays and reports, but under a different set of conditions. They also test your ability to use these skills under pressure and without help from anyone else.

student making notes from a computerFormative and summative assessment

Every piece of work you do will fall into one of two categories: formative assessment or summative assessment.

Each one has a different purpose, but both are very important parts of the learning process.

Formative and summative

Formative assessment

Formative assessment helps you to improve. It doesn’t count towards your final degree, but the lessons you learn through doing this type of assessment will help you to achieve a better final grade. For this reason the feedback you get on formative assessments is very important – this will tell you where your weak points are, and what you need to do to improve.

Summative assessment

Summative assessment measures how well you’ve done. All summative assessment counts towards your final degree, and is likely to happen at the end of a set period (term, semester, academic year, etc.). The feedback from this work will show you how well you have performed - and what your next steps should be.

Depending on the assessment, your tutor may provide examples of good assignments to review and reflect on. Identify what makes those assignments excel. Why is it a great piece of work? What makes this assignment stand out? What can I learn from this to improve my assignments?

For more on feedback and how to use it, head to the Improving through feedback pages.