Our university has a diverse student body, many of whom speak English as an additional language. Its multilingual and multicultural environment is a rich learning resource, but it also offers challenges regarding how we develop our learners’ language skills. Meeting these challenges has become even more important with the new requirement by the Office for Students (OfS) for universities to assess language proficiency. In response, new criteria for the assessment of language proficiency and tools to support academic staff have been created.

Key Principles

When providing feedback on students' English language proficiency, the following principles apply:

  • Specific - Languagelearnersneed feedback that helps them to develop their language skills. Rather than using general terms such as ‘quality of writing’ or ‘grammatical accuracy’, comment on specific language features. You can use the UoB marking key and the QuickMark category ‘UoB Language Assessment’ on Turnitin to do this (see below).
  • Consistent - Learners need to understand the terminology used. Use the general assessment criteria for written English, the UoB marking key and the QuickMark category to standardise the way language is described.
  • Actionable - Ensure students know where to find information about language features (e.g., LEAP Online, LEAP Live workshops, the EAP team).
  • Inclusive - Avoid vague or judgmental terms and references to ‘standard’ English. 

Good Practice


The UoB marking key for language

To make sure language feedback is specific, actionable and consistent, use a marking key. This gives the student enough information to correct their mistakes and learn from them, seeking the relevant help where necessary. The UoB marking key is aligned to the General Assessment Criteria and reproduced below. It is also available as set of QuickMarks in Turnitin (called UoB Language Assessment).

Applying the marking key

Below are two examples of how the marking key can be applied:

  • There has been a dramatically [wf] increase in the number of international students.
  • Zhang (2019) is stating [t] that culture shock is inevitable but can always be overcome.
UoB Marking Key
 Abbrev.  Category  Explaination
 style academic style Style is not academic. Have you used informal words (thing, a lot), or expressions (to be honest…) or personal pronouns (I, you, we etc.)?
 art article the (definite article), a (indefinite article). Have you used the definite article instead of the indefinite article or vice versa? Have you used an article when none is needed?
 sent incomplete sentence Part of the sentence is missing. Every sentence must have at least one independent clause that has a subject and a main verb.
 link linking word/phrase Linking word or phrase is needed, or you have chosen a linking word/phrase that is not right for the sentence or intended meaning.
meaning not clear Difficult to understand. Check your vocabulary, grammar, punctuation. Is the sentence too long?
^  missing word Word (s) missing. Have you omitted an auxiliary verb (is/are/do/does/have/has), a main verb, or a preposition (of, in, with etc?).
 new para new paragraph Every paragraph should contain one main idea that is supported with detail and examples. If you change the topic of your paragraph, you need to start a new paragraph.
 para str paragraph structure Paragraph not well structured. Paragraphs should begin with a topic sentence that contains the main idea. Use linking words and signposting to connect your ideas in the paragraph.
 prep preposition Wrong preposition is used. Prepositions = in, on, out, of, for etc. A good dictionary will show which preposition to use with a word.
 punct punctuation Punctuation is not right. Think about where your sentence should end, whether you have used a comma instead of a full stop, and whether you need a comma between clauses
 sign signposting Extra sentence or a phrase needed to show how this section is relevant to the question.
 s/p single/plural Single or plural? If referring generally to something, make the noun plural. If you have used a word that means more than one (some, few, many etc.), make the noun plural.
 sp spelling Check the spelling of this word. Use British standard spelling.
sv subject/verb Make sure the subject and the verb agree. If the subject is singular (he, she, it), the verb needs an ‘s’ on the end.
 t tense Wrong tense used. Make sure the tense you are using is right for the sentence (i.e. the present/past/future).
 vf verb form Incorrect verb form. Consider whether you need a past participle (written), infinitive (write), or ‘ing’ (writing).
 w/f word form Have you used an adjective instead of a noun or a verb?
 wo word order Word order is wrong. The usual word order is subject, verb, object, manner, place, time. e.g. Catherine will read the newspaper carefully at home next week.
 ww wrong word Word does not have the right meaning. Use a good dictionary to understand what the word means and how it should be used.

Office for Students (OfS): Considerations

The requirement for technical proficiency in the English language to be assessed is made explicit in the OfS’s General Ongoing Conditions of Registration under B4.2

The provider must ensure that:

d. academic regulations are designed to ensure the effective assessment of technical proficiency in the English language in a manner which appropriately reflects the level and content of the applicable higher education course.

Further Reading

Nicol, D. and MacFarlane-Dick, D. (2006) Formative Assessment and Self-regulated Learning: A Model and Seven Principles of Good Feedback Practice. Studies in Higher Education Practice. 31 (2), pp. 199-218

Northcott, J. (2019) Academic Writing Feedback: Collaboration Between Subject and EAP Specialists. In Hyland, K. and Wong, L. (eds.) Specialised English. Abingdon: Routledge. 

Office for Students (2021) Assessment Practices in English Higher Education Providers: Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar. [online]. Available from: https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/publications/assessment-practices-in-english-higher-education-providers/

Office for Students (2022). General Ongoing Conditions of Registration [online]. Available from:https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/quality-and-standards/how-we-regulate-quality-and-standards/