Assessing your students in group work fairly

Group work poses several challenges when it comes to assessment. And when working with an external client, there is the added factor of whether and how we might want to include input from the client. In this tool, we look at different approaches to marking group work, how to balance the individual vs group assessment, and how the problem of different levels of contribution by different students can be fairly assessed. We consider the sort of evidence you might need when marking, and how clients can be included in the assessment process. Using this tool will help you to minimise the risks of perceived unfairness and help you to devise a marking approach that is fair, consistent and transparent to all involved.

Using this tool helps you to:

  1. Decide how group work is assessed
  2. Know how to best gain feedback from the client
  3. Deal with common problems that arise.

Learning Outcomes

Additional Resources




There are many approaches to creating fair and effective assessment of group work for modules in universities. However, when learning with an external client in a SEKE module, there are often several specific challenges to consider. We look at each of these, and offer some ways of overcoming them.

Different contributions in group work

There are often different contributions by individuals in a group project. Social loafing is when a student, in a group, does not pull their weight and contribute adequately. As well as leading to low motivation for the group, and potential conflict, social loafing causes problems when the group is formally assessed.

Even when there is no social loafing, students can get concerned as to how the marks will be fairly awarded in a group project.

Solutions to different contributions in group work

There are two broad solutions:

  • Making the assessments individual, whilst still maintaining the group project. The assessment task could be for each student to demonstrate their own learning, perhaps including what they have contributed to the overall task and/or group work. 

The challenge here is how to fairly weigh up different forms of contribution from each student (e.g. one may have produced a powerpoint presentation, another may have done a lot of analysis that is written down, another may have focused on creating a survey). 

  • Using differential marking for the group artefact. This is when a group mark is awarded for an artefact, but each student has more or less marks based on evidence of contribution.

Options for using differential marking for the group artefact

There are two main methods:

Method 1. The group decides an overall split of contribution
E.g. out of 100 marks, person A gets 25, person B gets 25, person C gets 10, person D gets 40. This is then applied to the group mark (e.g. 60%), so person D’s 40 is the baseline, and so gets the full 60%, person A gets 60% x (25/40) = 37.5%. The tutor applies this without any moderation of the contributions.

  • Advantages
    This puts the group fully in charge of the differential and is simple.
  • Disadvantages
    The discussion in the group about the contributions might be left to the end of the project, and be based on subjective views, with little or no evidence spanning the duration of the project. There may be some coercion to say a team member is accepting a low % of contribution, when there may be personal circumstances (such as a learning difficulty) that other team members are not aware of.

Method 2. The group provides evidence of differential contributions
The group provides documented evidence of differential contributions, e.g. from meeting records, project work. The tutor decides on any differential marking, and may take into account direct observation of effort in class or at any meetings the tutor has attended with the team and the client.
The tutor needs to clearly set up the parameters of how this will be done, at the start of the project.

  • Advantages
    All evidence is taken into account, and thus a fair decision is made. 
  • Disadvantages
    Full records might not have been kept. One way round this is for records to be formally submitted to the VLE (e.g. Moodle) on a regular basis, and not at the end of the project. There may be difficulties in comparing the worth of different types of evidence provided.

Advice on using evidence

Meeting records. Provide an excel template for teams to fill in, that has columns for attendance at seminars, at team meetings, and at client meetings.

Action tracker. Ask teams to submit a pdf of their action tracker, created in a shared excel sheet, which shows who has been assigned to which tasks, with red/amber/green status for each task’s completion.

Screenshots of social media messaging. These should be used with caution if at all. These may provide evidence of persistent non-engagement by a student. However, there are data privacy issues to consider.

Screenshots of emails. This can be helpful in showing the interaction between the team and the client, and may reveal extremes of students being involved. A problem may be that the team leader may have had more interaction by simply being the team leader, but their contribution may not necessarily be more than other students.

Involving the client in feedback and assessment

You can involve the client in offering formative (developmental) feedback to the students. It is a good idea at project start to make the client aware of the module's learning outcomes, and how students will be assessed. This can guide any feedback from the client.

If there are different clients for different projects on a module, it is not usually advisable that the clients should have a formal say in the summative (marked) assessment. This is because different clients are likely to have different criteria for what is good or not. We cannot normally expect the client to be involved in the formal University marking criteria and assessment - but there may be exceptions to this.

If there is a single client, but several teams in the cohort learning on the same project brief, then it is perfectly acceptable for the client to be involved in some aspects of the formal marking, provided they are briefed, and expectations are agreed.

If a client is involved in marking, beware the client perceiving that student C has performed better than student D. The client may be unaware of the wider situation, the work done behind the scenes by other students. Furthermore, the client might not be aware about particular academic requirements, e.g. in a written report, the use of academic literature, referencing, or a particular language style.


To summarise, group work can often be difficult to mark fairly due to differing amounts contributed to the project. There are a number of different methods to fairly assess students undertaking a SEKE group project some of which include involving the student and others involving the client, you will find which method is best suited to your module.


Please download these additional resources and worksheets.

References used in the creation of this tool:

We'd love to hear your feedback

Please add any questions or suggestions you have about this tool below or message us at Thanks!

Previous Tool
There is no previous post
back to all posts
Current Tool
Next Tool
There is no previous post
back to all posts