Assessment, confidence and Imposter Syndrome

Imposterism is a negative phenomenon that affects all humans.  We need to remind ourselves, others and particularly our students: “You have talent, you are capable and you DO belong!”

Assessment of learning can be reconceptualised as Assessment for learning.

Chapman (2017) discusses how academic staff in their classes and assessment should build confidence in their students to get over “Imposter Syndrome” by discussing assignments sensitively in regards to their tone and style.

When students over 20 enter university, they often are giving up their careers and other responsibilities.  There are educational, financial and other risks when studying too.  They feel like they don’t belong to the new institution and to the group of other students they are surrounded by.

Assessment is key because it allows these first-year students to finally get a sense of their position and form their new identity.  Therefore the feedback cycle should be faster, happen earlier and be “low-stakes” allowing dialogue to improve future attempts.  Although this sets up the chance for positive results, if that first assessment does not go well, the imposter syndrome does not get avoided.  To make that first assessment more dialogical peer-feedback can be used, but again students have mixed responses to this technique.

Mastering all the new conventions of Academic writing is particularly important for higher education.  Unlike academic writing, assignments though, have a finality about them that makes it hard for the students to let them go.  This high pressure and striving for perfection in their writing are hallmarks of imposter syndrome.  Ideally, at the institutional level, lecturers should be required to offer first draft feedback before students submit assignments or supply you with pre-course workshops.

The most important point in this text is best quoted:

Short, clear feedback with explicit detail on how to improve for the next assessment is of far more use to the learner. A dialogue is crucial if academic language is a barrier. Feedback needs to be understandable to the reader if they are expected to act upon it.


Chapman, A. (2017). Using the assessment process to overcome Imposter Syndrome in mature students. Journal of Further and Higher Education41(2), 112-119., DOI: 10.1080/0309877X.2015.1062851

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