Reflective writing as summative assessment in higher education: A systematic review




reflective writing, summative assessment, assessment literacy


Reflective Writing as summative assessment has gained popularity across a wide range of subjects in Higher Education. This systematic review searched three cross-disciplinary databases and analysed twenty-two primary research papers published between 2007 and 2022 to investigate (1) the reasons for setting reflective writing as summative assessment, (2) support offered to students engaging in this kind of assessment, (3) student and (4) staff experiences of reflective writing as summative assessment. Using descriptive coding methodology, the review found reflective writing to be used mainly as part of larger assessment tools in professional degree programmes to foster employability and encourage students to reflect on professional practice. Support was provided through specific frameworks, exemplars, feedback and workshops, and when used to foster the incremental development of reflective writing skills in students led to positive experiences. However, the review also highlights a number of issues relating to lacking assessment literacy among students and staff. Moreover, the personal nature of reflection and power dynamics between students and markers can lead to performative instead of genuine reflection and can call into question the validity of reflective writing as summative assessment.

Author Biographies

Micky Ross, University of Glasgow

Micky Ross is a lecturer at English for Academic Study within the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at the University of Glasgow. His research interests include autoethnographic and reflective academic writing, the queering of academic literacies, and teaching English as an international language. 

Julia Bohlmann, University of Glasgow

Julia Bohlmann is an Academic Development Adviser at the University of Glasgow where she coordinates the PGCAP course Intercultural Learning and Teaching in HE and co-convenes the Teaching Excellence Network (TNE). Her research interests include intercultural pegaogy, international students and decolonising the curriculum.

Aneta Marren, University of Glasgow

Aneta Marren is a lecturer at English for Academic Study within the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at the University of Glasgow. Her research interests include teacher training, reflection and reflective practice and multilingual language practices.  


Altbach, P. G. (2004). Globalisation and the University: Myths and Realities in an Unequal World. Tertiary Education and Management 10 (1), 3–25.

Ashby, C. (2006). The Benefits of Reflective Practice. Practice Nurse : The Journal for Nurses in General Practice 32 (9), 35–37.

Barton, G., and M. Ryan. (2014). Multimodal Approaches to Reflective Teaching and Assessment in Higher Education. Higher Education Research & Development 33 (3), 409–24.

Bolton, G. (2018). Reflective Practice: Writing and Professional Development. 5th ed. Book, Whole. London: SAGE Publications.

Boud, D. (2001). Using journal writing to enhance reflective practice. L. M. English & M. A. Gillen Eds., Promoting journal writing in adult education. New Directions in Adult and Continuing Education No. 90, 9–18. Jossey-Bass.

---, and D. Walker. (1998). Promoting Reflection in Professional Courses: The Challenge of Context. Studies in Higher Education 23 (2), 191–206.

Brookfield, S. (2017). Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. Second. Book, Whole. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.

Burnett, E., G. Phillips, and J. S. Ker. (2008). From Theory to Practice in Learning about Healthcare Associated Infections: Reliable Assessment of Final Year Medical Students’ Ability to Reflect. Medical Teacher 30 (6), E157–60.

Carson, L., and K. Fisher. (2006). Raising the Bar on Criticality: Students’ Critical Reflection in an Internship Program. Journal of Management Education 30 (5), 700–723.

Carter, A. G., D. K. Creedy, and M. Sidebotham. (2017). Critical Thinking Evaluation in Reflective Writing: Development and Testing of Carter Assessment of Critical Thinking in Midwifery (Reflection). Midwifery 54 (November), 73–80.

Chan, C. K. Y., and J. Luo. (2020). An Exploratory Study on Teacher Assessment Literacy: Do Novice University Teachers Know How to Assess Students’ Written Reflection? Teachers and Teaching 26 (2), 214–28.

Cotton, A. H. (2001). Private Thoughts in Public Spheres: Issues in Reflection and Reflective Practices in Nursing. Journal of Advanced Nursing 36 (4), 512–19.

Cunliffe, A. L. (2016). Republication of On Becoming a Critically Reflexive Practitioner. Journal of Management Education 40 (6), 747–68.

Cunningham, N., and K. Moore. (2014). Beyond the “Swampy Lowlands”: The Welfare Benefits of Reflective Practice through Learning. The Journal of Poverty and Social Justice : Research, Policy, Practice 22 (3), 271–75.

Dahlback, J., H. Berg Olstad, A. L. Sylte, and A. Wolden. (2020). The Importance of Authentic Workplace-Based Assessment: A Study from VET Teacher Education. International Journal for Research in Vocational Education and Training 7 (3), 302–24.

Dewey, J. (1904). The Relation of Theory to Practice in Education. In Teacher Education in America: A Documentary History. New York: Teachers College Press.

Dunne, J. (2019). Improved Levels of Critical Reflection in Pharmacy Technician Student Work-Placement Assessments through Emphasising Graduate Attributes. Journal of Teaching and Learning for Graduate Employability 10 (2), 1–14.

---. (2017). Work Placement Reflective Assessments and Employability Enhanced through Highlighting Graduate Attributes. Journal of Teaching and Learning for Graduate Employability 8 (1), 40–59.

English, L. M. (2001). Ethical Concerns Relating to Journal Writing. In New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 2001: 27.

Feest, A., and Kenneth I. (2006). Making Reflection Count. Engineering Education (Loughborough) 1 (1), 25–31.

Ferreira, J. F., M. Basseches, and A. B. Vasco. (2017). Guidelines for Reflective Practice in Psychotherapy: A Reflection on the Benefits of Combining Moment-by-Moment and Phase-by-Phase Mapping in Clinical Decision Making. Edited by Jennifer L. Callahan. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration 27 (1), 35–46.

Gadbury-Amyot, C. C., and P. R. Overman. (2018). Implementation of Portfolios as a Programmatic Global Assessment Measure in Dental Education. Journal of Dental Education 82 (6), 557–64.

Gleaves, A., C. Walker, and J. Grey. (2008). Using Digital and Paper Diaries for Assessment and Learning Purposes in Higher Education: A Case of Critical Reflection or Constrained Compliance? Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 33 (3), 219–31.

Grant, A. J., J. D. Vermunt, P. Kinnersley, and H. Houston. (2007). Exploring Students’ Perceptions on the Use of Significant Event Analysis, as Part of a Portfolio Assessment Process in General Practice, as a Tool for Learning How to Use Reflection in Learning. BMC Medical Education 7 (March), 5–5.

Howells, K., N. Fitzallen, and C. Adams. (2016). Using Assessment to Develop Social Responsibility as a Graduate Attribute in Teacher Education. Australian Journal of Teacher Education 41 (6), 52–67.

Kim, A. K. (2013). Reflective Journal Assessment: The Application of Good Feedback Practice to Facilitating Self-Directed Learning. Journal of Hospitality, Leisure, Sport & Tourism Education 13 (July), 255–59.

Kinsella, E. A. (2010). Professional Knowledge and the Epistemology of Reflective Practice. Nursing Philosophy 11 (1), 3–14.

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Book, Whole. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall.

Liang, C., C. Chang, K. Shu, J. Tseng, and C. Lin. (2016). Online Reflective Writing Mechanisms and Its Effects on Self-Regulated Learning: A Case of Web-Based Portfolio Assessment System. Interactive Learning Environments 24 (7), 1647–64.

Macaro, E. (2020). Systematic reviews in applied linguistics. In J. McKinley & H. Rose (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of research methods in applied linguistics (pp. 230–239). Abingdon, UK: Routledge

Markham, T. (2002). Response to: Private Thoughts in Public Spheres: Issues in Reflection and Reflective Practices in Nursing by A.H. Cotton. Journal of Advanced Nursing, (2001) 36, 512-519. Journal of Advanced Nursing 38 (3), 286–87.

Marsh, C. (2014). “It’s Quite Weird to Write … You Feel like a Nut Job”: The Practical and Emotional Consequences of Writing Personal Reflections for Assessment in Psychology. Reflective Practice 15 (2), 190–202.

Mattheos, N., C. T. Van de Velde, and A. Nattestad. (2009). Assessment of Knowledge and Competencies Related to Implant Dentistry in Undergraduate and Postgraduate University Education. European Journal of Dental Education 13 (February), 55–65.

Moniz, T., S. Arntfield, K. Miller, L. Lingard, C. Watling, and G. Regehr. (2015). Considerations in the Use of Reflective Writing for Student Assessment: Issues of Reliability and Validity. Medical Education 49 (9), 901–8.

Moon, J. A. (2004). A Handbook of Reflective and Experiential Learning: Theory and Practice. Book, Whole. London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Murphy, A., and J. Laxton. (2014). Views of a Structured Assessment Tool for Observing Practice. Social Work Education 33 (2), 190–208.

Ono, A., and R. Ichii. (2019). Business Students’ Reflection on Reflective Writing Assessments. Journal of International Education in Business 12 (2), 247–60.

Rodgers, C. (2002). Defining Reflection: Another Look at John Dewey and Reflective Thinking. Teachers College Record (1970) 104 (4), 842–66.

Schön D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action. London: Temple Smith.

Southcott, J., and R. Crawford. (2018). Building Critically Reflective Practice in Higher Education Students: Employing Auto-Ethnography and Educational Connoisseurship in Assessment. Australian Journal of Teacher Education 43 (5).

Stupans, I., G. March, and S. M. Owen. (2013). Enhancing Learning in Clinical Placements: Reflective Practice, Self-Assessment, Rubrics and Scaffolding. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 38 (5), 507–19.

Troyan, F. J., and C. S. Kaplan. (2015). The Functions of Reflection in High-Stakes Assessment of World Language Teacher Candidates. Foreign Language Annals 48 (3), 372–93.

Tummons, J. (2011). “It Sort of Feels Uncomfortable”: Problematising the Assessment of Reflective Practice. Studies in Higher Education 36 (4), 471–83.

Wald, H. S., and S. P. Reis. (2010). Beyond the Margins: Reflective Writing and Development of Reflective Capacity in Medical Education. Journal of General Internal Medicine : JGIM 25 (7), 746–49.





Reflective Analysis Papers