Good Practice Guides

B8. Class Participation

General principles

The Code of Practice - Teaching and Assessment provides that class participation or online discussion may be assessed and marks may be awarded (Section 5.1.9). Where marks are so awarded: (a) clear criteria must be provided for assigning marks (as required by 5.1.4); and (b) where class participation is worth more than 10% of the marks for a subject, a record should be made by the academic staff member conducting the class, in accordance with Section 8 of this Code.

Using class participation as an assessment tool is a valuable approach to rewarding students for their contribution in an active and cooperative learning process. Not only does it encourage students to attend and to take responsibility for their own learning, it ensures that they are exposed to a number of interpretations in a discussion about the subject-related concepts and issues, thus promoting deeper learning. Participation requires preparation by and active engagement of students through articulating ideas and defending academic argument, thereby developing oral communication skills.

Problems and specific issues

The major issues related to using classroom participation as an assessment item include that staff may fail to provide clear guidelines on the way in which students are expected to participate, insufficient information about the marking criteria, and potential for subjectivity of the marker. Some staff allocate marks for attendance rather than participation and this is often seen by students as easy marks. This is contrary to the Code.

Where students are expected to participate in discussion, the facilitator is responsible for ensuring that all students have the opportunity to participate. Structuring discussion in pairs and small groups may provide students better opportunity to participate.

Assessment of participation is less reliable in large classes and/or where there is limited class time (e.g. one hour tutorial a week).

Examples of good practice

  • Set clear criteria by which participation will be marked.
  • Differentiate between attendance and participation.
  • Keep criteria simple (see Maznevski, 1996 and Tyler, 2003 for examples).
  • Consider reliability – taking into account class size/ class time. how?
  • Inform students of ways they will need to prepare to participate effectively in class.
  • Train tutors in facilitating equitable participation.
  • Provide feedback on the nature and quality of participation you are observing in class.
  • Direct specific questions to individual class members to facilitate participation.
  • Maintain records of marks achieved by each student every week.
Example 1: Class participation marking criteria
Grade Criteria
0 Absent.
1 Present. Tries to respond when called on but does not offer much. Demonstrates infrequent involvement with discussion.
2 Demonstrates adequate preparation: knows basic case or reading facts, but does not show evidence of trying to interpret them or analyse them. Offers straightforward information (eg. straight from case or reading), without elaboration or very infrequently (perhaps once a class). Does not offer to contribute to discussion, but contributes to a moderate degree when called on. Demonstrates sporadic involvement.
3 Demonstrates good preparation: knows case or reading facts well, has thought through implications of them. Offers interpretations and analysis of case material (more than just facts) to class. Contributes well to discussion in an ongoing way: responds to other students’ points, thinks through own points, questions others in a constructive way, offers and supports suggestions that may be counter to the majority opinion. Demonstrates consistent ongoing involvement.
4 Demonstrates excellent preparation: has analysed case exceptionally well, relating it to reading and other material (eg. readings, course material, discussions, experience, etc). Offers analysis, synthesis and evaluation of case material, eg. puts together pieces of the discussion to develop new approaches that take the class further. Contributes in a very significant way to ongoing discussion: keeps analysis focused, responds very thoughtfully to other students’ comments, contributes to the cooperative argument-building, suggests alternative ways of approaching material and helps class analyse which approaches are appropriate, etc. Demonstrates ongoing very active involvement.

Maznevski, M. (1996). Grading Class Participation. Teaching Concerns: Newsletter of the Teaching resource Center for faculty and Teaching Assistants. University of Virginia. (accessed 01/03/12)

Example 2: Class participation marking criteria
Outstanding Contributor Contributions in class reflect exceptional preparation. Ideas offered are always substantive; provide one or more major insights as well as direction for the class. Challenges are well substantiated and persuasively presented. If this person were not a member of the class, the quality of discussion would be diminished markedly.
Good Contributor Contributions in class reflect thorough preparation. Ideas offered are usually substantive; provide good insights and sometimes direction for the class. Challenges are well substantiated and often persuasive. If this person were not a member of the class, the quality of discussion would be diminished.
Adequate Contributor Contributions in class reflect satisfactory preparation. Ideas offered are sometimes substantive, provide generally useful insights but seldom offer a new direction for the discussion. Challenges are sometimes presented, fairly well substantiated, and are sometimes persuasive. If this person were not a member of the class, the quality of discussion would be diminished somewhat.
Unsatisfactory Contributor Contributions in class reflect inadequate preparation. Ideas offered are seldom substantive; provide few if any insights and never a constructive direction for the class. Integrative comments and effective challenges are absent. If this person were not a member of the class, valuable air-time would be saved.
Non-Participant This person says little or nothing in class. Hence, there is not an adequate basis for evaluation. If this person were not a member of the class, the quality of discussion would not be changed.

Tyler, J. (2004). Class Participation Assessment Guide. Department Of Education, Brown University. Adapted from Richard J. Murnane, Harvard Graduate School of Education. (accessed 11/5/04).

Example 3: Class participation marking criteria

Faculty of Law, Humanities & The Arts

Class Participation Self-Assessment Sheet

No ….


From: .../.../... to .../.../...

Student's Name:

Lecturer's Name:

During this period I assess my participation in each of the following areas as follows:

  • F (0-44%) Extremely poor
  • PC (45-50%) Poor
  • P (50-64%) Acceptable/average
  • CR (65-75%) Above average; very good achievement in part
  • D (75-84%) Well above average; very good achievement overall
  • HD (85-100%) Outstanding in all respects


Area of Activity







Learning and understanding material
Planning study; coverage of assigned material
Organisation of study and preparation
Assisting other members of the class
In full class groups
In buzz-groups and syndicates
Informally and outside class
Expressing and countering arguments orally
Understanding and expressing abstract and complex ideas orally
Comprehension of class discussion

Special factors affecting me during this period were:


[Note: In making the next assessment, you must decide how much weight you give to each of the above factors in light of the need to measure achievement of your learning objectives]

Overall, I assess my participation in class during this period at: _________%

Last reviewed: 7 October, 2015