“When all else fails, read the instructions.

— Agnes Allen

What is instruction?

Something that someone tells you to do. A statement that describes how to do something. 

Have you ever scratched your head assembling a piece of IKEA furniture, took a wrong turn after reading a confusing road sign, or received an incorrect food order?

Poor instructions not only cause poor quality communication but also increase the liability and risks of your organisation.

Assessment Instructions

Badly constructed assessment instructions are frustrating and hard to use, slow down productivity, and confuse the content of the message.

In a training & assessment setting, well-written instructions can:

  • influence assessment outcomes,
  • improve the learning of the subject matter, and
  • help learners to correctly demonstrate skills.

Candidates sometimes struggle to understand what you expect when completing their assessments. Giving clear instructions can significantly improve the opportunity for success. But you may get frustrated when the performance of candidates is poor because they did not follow the instructions. You can avoid this by ensuring their instructions are clear, concise, and objective. We will discuss the importance of this, and ways of developing clear assessment instructions to improve outcomes for both assessors and the candidates.

The Importance of Giving Clear Assessment Instructions

  • The candidates will understand what is expected.
  • Clear instructions reduce misunderstandings.
  • The assessors don’t have to repeat instructions.
  • Both the candidates and assessors save time.
  • Activities described in the instructions can flow logically.
  • Candidates will do precisely what they are supposed to do.

Tips for Giving Clear Assessment Instructions

It is critical to understand that candidates have different capacities for understanding & learning needs.

Language, literacy, and numeracy, commonly referred to as LLN, comprises five core skills that assessors can address to improve understanding among candidates. You can adopt holistic instructional strategies to encase all five core skills.

Assessment instructions should be contextualised to meet the assessment conditions. Clear assessment instructions help candidates focus on their tasks rather than on guessing what is expected from them.

The following tips can improve the way instructions are provided:

1.  Use Simple and Clear Language

Using short, precise, and complete sentences improves readability. The choice of words is also key to making sure that the instructions are clear. For example, avoid using pronouns and jargon. Instead, use words that can be easily interpreted in everyday conversation. This is often referred to as ‘plain English’. Being simple and clear will also keep the candidates engaged. Avoid using vague words that will leave the readers guessing. Start with the main verbs such as, ‘read’, ‘complete’, ‘write’, describe’, and use keywords to focus the reader onto the things they need to do.

Remember, the level of language that fits Diploma level candidates is not ideal for Certificate II students.

2.  State Assessment Goals (clearly)

Candidates will need to understand the purpose of the task. Articulate the expectations clearly and explain the assessment outcomes. Instructions should inform readers why and how the assessment should be completed, the sequence of the tasks, what the candidates need to do in each task, and when and where they should complete the assessment. 

To ensure candidates feel more confident about the assessment, clearly connect it to the knowledge covered in their previous learning and allow time for clarification prior to the assessment.

Strategies to address LLN deficiencies, reasonable adjustment, and the appeals process should be documented.

3.  Split Instructions into Manageable Chunks

Assessment instructions can be challenging if they are overly complex or communicated in bulk. It is always better to break the instructions into chunks. Splitting the instructions into clear paragraphs or statements makes it easier for the candidates to understand and follow. They will also be more confident in doing the tasks when the instructions are given in clear steps.

4.  Describe The Specifics

Some instructions may require specific procedures or materials. These must be described carefully to the candidates. Materials and procedures may come from existing industry-based documentation or be specifically written for assessment purposes. In both cases, these need to be contextualised and edited to meet the guidelines for using plain English.

5.  Provide Examples

Where possible, provide an example when giving instructions. Examples make complex instructions appear simple by helping readers relate the instructions to a tangible activity or observation.

6.  Use The Right Tone

How you say something matters as much as what they say – whether it’s oral or written communication. Ensure that the tone and pace of the information are ideal for the candidates’ competency level. Don’t be too quick or too slow. Give the candidates time to digest the instructions by pausing frequently in verbal instructions or breaking them down into smaller paragraphs if they are delivered in written form.

Repeating instructions can also help when the candidates seem to be lost. Some candidates lose their attention after some time, and it is always good to repeat. Repeating the instructions will also help in case you were too quick for someone.

Be polite when giving instructions. Don’t scold, yell, or mumble. Using the right tone will grab your candidates’ attention. Ensure that your voice is audible. Make sure your voice is loud and clear. In written communication follow the 7 Cs of clear communication.   

7.  Use Written, Video and Audio Instructions

It is normal to forget what was said. Candidates may not remember all the instructions that they hear of see for the first time. It is therefore essential to issue written instructions so that they can be referred to when needed.

You may spend a lot of time going through the instructions and discussing each step with the candidates. However, remembering 100 percent of what was said is not possible. Written instructions will act as a point of reference, especially for complex and lengthy instructions. You may wish to provide pre-recorded audio and video instructions for online learners to meet these same criteria.

8.  Make Sure Your Candidates Understand

You can ask the candidate to rephrase or repeat their expectations. Additionally, ask specific questions regarding the instructions so you can clarify what your candidates does, or does not, understand. These are known as instruction checking questions (ICGs) and they allow you to see if the candidates understand the instructions. It is also good to give your candidates a chance to ask you questions. Questions will allow you to clarify any confusion.

9.  Encourage Candidates to Seek Help

An assessor should always be approachable.  By pausing and engaging the candidates, you will always make them feel free to enquire about anything they do not fully understand.


Clear instructions are essential to the success of any assessment process. Issuing clear instructions will improve the experience for both the candidate and assessor. Always seek to improve the way in which instructions are provided.

Raj Paul