What is portfolio writing assessment?

elt portfolio portfolio assessment writing writing assessment writing portfolio Oct 22, 2021

By Dr Jeremy Koay

A limited view

Traditionally, assessment has focused on testing students’ knowledge and skills. In this approach, teachers evaluate students’ learning based on end products, such as assignments and test answer scripts. This approach does not encourage learners to monitor their own progress.

In portfolio writing assessment, learners collect their work throughout a language course and use it to reflect on and demonstrate their effort, progress and achievements. In a writing class, some teachers limit this collection to students’ final essay drafts. However, this collection can include initial essay drafts, notes and teachers’ feedback, as long as students select them appropriately.

A holistic view

Portfolio assessment encourages learners to be self-directed. However, this does not mean that teachers do not have an active role to play. They can and should guide learners to reflect on their progress by providing a checklist or writing assessment criteria.

One of the benefits of portfolio assessment is that it promotes self-directed learning (Mak & Wong, 2018). When learners are introduced to monitoring their progress, they become more aware of their strengths and weaknesses and how they can improve their writing.

Portfolio assessment can be a form of both formative and summative assessments. As a formative assessment tool, portfolios allow teachers to provide feedback on learners’ progress (Lam & Lee, 2010). Including portfolio assessment as part of summative assessment allows the assessment to capture learners’ perception of their own learning.

Practical applications

Schools and language centres can consider incorporating portfolio assessment into their summative and formative assessments. Students should be informed about the procedure so that they can collect evidence throughout the course.

In learning environments where learners do not sit formal tests, teachers can introduce portfolio reflection tasks. This is to help learners become more aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Learners can plan their learning goals based on their portfolio reflection.


Lam, R. & Lee, I. (2010). Balancing the dual functions of portfolio assessment. ELT Journal. 64(1), 54-64.

Mak, P. & Wong, K.M., (2018). Self-regulation through portfolio assessment in writing classrooms. ELT Journal. 72(1), 49-61.

Dr Jeremy Koay is a New Zealand-based Independent Researcher and a Research & Development Consultant at EduMaxi. He obtained his PhD in Applied Linguistics from Victoria University of Wellington in 2015. His research interests include Discourse Analysis, Genre Analysis and TESOL.

Image source: shutterstock.com/Olena Yakobchuk