Using Exemplars to Support Student Success with Assessments

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Exemplars are “carefully chosen samples of student work which are used to illustrate dimensions of quality and to clarify assessment expectations” (Carless & Chan, 2017, p. 1). Exemplars can help students increase their understanding of the skills, content, or knowledge and internalize established criteria or standards (Sadler, 2010). Particularly, through exemplars, your students can get a clear idea of the specific expectations of an assignment (Scoles et al., 2013).  

This guide will provide you with some ideas to consider for how best to utilize exemplars in your learning spaces in order to support students towards success on their assessments.   

Benefits of Exemplars 

  • Ensures transparent communication of criteria and standards for an assessment task. 
  • Encourages self-reflection and guides students’ understanding in a very clear and contextual manner. 
  • You can use exemplars as a form of feedback to your students in identifying common misconceptions. 
  • Creates a better sense of coherence and integration in complex assessment tasks. 
  • Evidence-based research suggests that the use of exemplars may be helpful in improving students’ grades on assessment tasks. 
  • Helps your students practice applying criteria to samples of work as well as learning through the application process.  

Considerations for Using Exemplars 

  • Creating exemplars from scratch can be very time-consuming and may not adequately reflect the actual work that you see from your students. 
  • Using past student papers requires seeking consent from the owners of the work and redacting personal information. You are encouraged to obtain written permission to use student work as examples. Redact any names or personally identifiable information before sharing it with your current students.  
  • Providing exemplars may suppress creativity as some of your students may attempt to imitate rather than create. You can consider emphasizing that students should not simply mimic what the exemplar demonstrates, and perhaps even create a learning activity that can support this idea.   
  • There is a risk that your students may plagiarize using content from the exemplar. To mitigate this, you can use exemplars that mirror the assignment but do not exactly fulfill it. For instance, if the assignment is to analyze the writing of Darwin, use exemplars that analyze the writings of Dixon.  
  • Students may be intimidated by some exemplar models. Do your best to choose examples that promote self-efficacy for students. Carefully selected exemplars can boost your students’ confidence and encourage anxious learners to feel that they can develop the ability to do the task. 

Tips for Creating Exemplars that Support Student Success 

  • Review exemplars as a class activity with your students early in the process of the assessment so they are better equipped to self-regulate as they proceed with the assignment.  
  • Consider choosing exemplars that will help your students to firmly grasp assessment requirements. 
  • Use multiple exemplars across a range of grade points. The exemplars may be good but not perfect. This demonstrates the need for improvement without being overly intimidating to your current students.  
  • Use different exemplars so your students can see there are multiple ways to approach the same topic. 
  • Encourage higher-order thinking and discovery by choosing exemplars that allow your students to pursue assignment topics that interest them and encourage them to explain their choice and why it engages their curiosity.  
  • Annotate the exemplar to indicate how it satisfies the stated criteria for the assessment task. You could also consider something like this as a collaborative learning activity in your classroom or learning space. 
  • Use past work from your students to minimize the preparation time for creating new exemplars (Note: you will need to seek permission and de-identify personal information).
  • Avoid the use of model exemplars (i.e. those close to perfect or very high scores) as they may represent unrealistic and potentially unachievable expectations for your current students. This might also support your high achieving students to really push themselves creatively in the assessment task. 
  • Introduce exemplars as possibilities, not as templates. This allows your students to engage with them critically, helps creative thinking, and enables them to reflect deeply on and discuss what high-quality work looks like. 
  • Emphasize the need to be creative and original during the exemplar review process with students. You could even ask your students where they might see themselves doing the assessment a little differently than what the exemplar shows. 
  • Carefully orchestrate discussion activities to promote understanding of fruitful learning strategies and approaches as well as feedback through exemplars. 

Please reach out to Teaching and Learning at if you require further assistance with using exemplars in your classroom. 

Works Cited:  

Carless, D., & Chan, K. K. H. (2017). Managing dialogic use of exemplars. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 42, 930–941.  

Sadler, D. R. (2010). Beyond feedback: Developing student capability in complex appraisal. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(5), 535-550. 

Sambell, K., Brown, S., & Race, P. (n.d). Using exemplars to enhance learning and support achievement. Retrieved from GUIDE-NO9_Exemplers.pdf (

Scoles, J., Huxham, M., & Mcarthur, J. (2013). No longer exempt from good practice: Using exemplars to close the feedback gap for exams. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 38(6), 631-645.  

Monsurat Raji

Monsurat completed her Doctoral program in Education at the University of Ottawa, Canada, with a focus on Educational Assessment and Teaching Pedagogies. She has an M.Ed. (with thesis) from the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg; M.Sc. in Educational Research Methods, Assessment, and Evaluation from Liverpool Hope University, Liverpool, United Kingdom, and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Education (Educational Assessment & Evaluation) and Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry from University of Ilorin, Nigeria. She recently completed a Graduate Certificate in University Teaching and Learning from the University of Ottawa, and has facilitated teaching, learning, and assessment workshops for graduate students, newly recruited faculty, instructors, and tenured faculty members. She brings her international education background and career experience derived from studying, teaching, and consulting in different education systems and levels to work at Conestoga’s Teaching and Learning Department.

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