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Assessment: Types of assessment

Types of assessments

Most of us are familiar with the traditional methods for assessing student learning, such as the research paper or the final exam. However, there are so many other ways for us to assess whether or not students have met the course learning outcomes. Have a look at these two extensive lists:

Key considerations

It can feel a bit overwhelming at times: How should you decide which approach to use and when?

Here are some key considerations:

  • Do the assessment tasks mirror the verbs (or the actions) in the course learning outcomes?
  • Do the assessment tasks enable students to demonstrate their learning (what they know, can do, or appreciate/value)?
  • What fits with your contextual factors? (e.g. discipline, cultural considerations, indigenization)
  • Have you included a variety of assessment methods in the overall course assessment plan?
  • Do you have a mix of formative and summative assessments?
  • What needs to be graded versus ungraded?
  • What can be done in and out of class?
  • Are course assessments manageable in terms of student and instructor workload? (Including the demands on your students in their other courses) What is sufficient?
  • Are the assessments an authentic indication of students ability to perform a “real world” task, demonstrating the behaviour the learning is intended to produce?

Bloom’s Taxonomy can be helpful in deciding when to use different assessment methods. Consider the cognitive processes of “Remember and Understand” as building blocks that need to be achieved earlier in the term or when introducing new information. You may use low stakes quizzes (e.g. multiple choice, true/false questions) to reinforce and drill basic core concepts. Later in the term, or in higher level courses, we often want students to “Apply” the basic concepts, as well as “Analyze, Evaluate, or Create”. Assessments that involve these higher order cognitive processes include: short answer scenarios on exams, open-book exams, take-home exams, case studies, group projects, presentations, debates, demonstrations, reflective papers, portfolios, etc.

Traditional assessments, such as quizzes and exams, are often tightly timed and may be looking for specific correct responses on isolated facts and skills. While they can play an important role, they can tend to focus primarily on measuring the lower level cognitive processes, unless higher order word problems are also included. Providing students more time to think can really help those who struggle with test anxiety and encourage a more reflective process. Authentic assessments require students to use knowledge and skills in several different ways that tend to be more complex, and may take more time to complete.

Brief examples of authentic assessment

Brief examples of authentic assessment activities (Shared with permission from: Kay Sambell and Sally Brown): All of the tasks below require students to source and evaluate reference material, which they would need to list and formulate appropriately for the context. These tasks could be undertaken under a range of time constraints in specific locations or provided flexibly should circumstances require this.

  • Interpret complex and sometimes incomplete or conflicting data, compiling a summary that is meaningful both for experts and laypersons, leading to a viable action plan.
  • Review data from a variety of self-sought published materials, informal media and other sources, and produce an executive summary for a specific audience.
  • Set up specialised equipment appropriately and draw up a ‘quick guide’ for peers that would enable them to use it safely and appropriately.
  • Articulate the central aspects of a problem, perhaps presented in a case study, and offer a variety of reasoned solutions.
  • Argue for a particular solution based on a range of complex contextual factors, together with a reasoned rationale for this choice.
  • Evaluate three proposed solutions to a problem and propose a further two of your own, with suggestions about what might work best.
  • Compile contingency plans for a professional environment for disaster recovery in case of a serious emergency, leading to mitigations and remediation.
  • Prioritise action to be taken in a busy work context where all tasks appear equally urgent.
  • In a given context, draw up an action plan with milestones of achievement and measurable indicators of success.
  • Research and reference an area of innovation, and draw conclusions from your sources of information for the success or failure of the initiative.
  • Offer synopses of multiple and diverse sources including text, image and data which can explain a particular phenomenon discussed within a program.
  • Critique three perspectives on or readings of a text, choosing one that is most convincing to you and giving your reasons for this choice.
  • Provide a rationale for a course of action taken in a professional setting, illustrating this with appropriate, relevant and current publications.

What is authentic assessment?

Authentic assignments should be based on “student activities that replicate real world performances as closely as possible” (Svinicki, 2004, p. 23).

"Few students end up with jobs where they get paid to fill out multiple-choice test bubble sheets.” (Frye, Schmitt, and Allen, 2012, p. 12).

Authentic assessment…

  • Aims to determine the level of student knowledge or skill in a particular area by assessing their ability to perform a “real world” task in the way professionals in the field would perform it.
  • Asks for a demonstration of the behaviour the learning is intended to produce. (e.g. asking students to create a marketing campaign and assessing that campaign vs asking students to answer test questions about characteristics of a good marketing campaign).
  • Is more likely to motivate students and reduce plagiarism.
  • Can work very well with online courses.
  • Can be completed using real-time constraints (e.g. need to respond to a simulated urgent work problem within 24 hours).

Get more ideas here for designing authentic assessments

Subject specific examples

Other examples of subject specific, fully-developed, authentic assessments (used with permission from Sambell and Brown)

For more examples, check out Sambell and Brown’s Assessment Collection(Note these may need to be adapted for a Camosun and current context). If you have Camosun specific examples to share here, please contact Martha McAlister. (