Test Instrument Characteristics: Formal (Conventional) Assessment Types

There are two types of formal assessment which include norm referenced and criterion referenced Tests (Stiggins 1994).

Norm Referenced Tests

This is a formal assessment type whereby the students are classified according to the level of achievement in regard to their scores in a particular test. The teacher is compares a student’s performance against the others to determine the level of understanding in a particular subject.

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Criterion Referenced Tests

These are tests that are administered in order to determine the proficiency in understanding and familiarity amongst the students in a particular area of study. They may take the form of multiple choice questions whereby a student chooses the correct answer from a number of answers. All the students are likely to score well if they have knowledge concerning guidelines of the particular field.

Advantages of Norm referenced Tests

These tests enable the teacher to make a comparison of the skills of a student to the rest in the cohort. This makes it easy to determine the weaker students in particular subjects hence special attention can be offered. They also present the students with a chance to identify the areas in which they are weak in comparison to other students.

Disadvantages of Norm Referenced Test

When all the students score low marks, it can give the wrong impression since the leading students may not be motivated to work harder even if their score is low. Dependence on multiple choice questions tends to test the general knowledge of a student in the particular subject; hence he/she does not have to have a deep understanding of facts in the subject.

Advantages of Criterion Referenced Tests

These tests are useful in understanding the level of understanding of details in the particular area by the student. They also do not present ambiguous questions and therefore the student is usually certain on the answers they write.

Disadvantages of Criterion Referenced Tests

Development of the questions usually requires a lot of time in order to ensure that all the topics are covered, and that the questions are not similar to those taken by other students who studied the same subject before. These tests are usually stressful for the students, especially those who are unable to prepare sufficiently for such kind of test that requires a lot of information from the student.

Informal (Alternative) Assessment Types

There are four types of informal assessment which include writing samples, homework, Debates and experiments (Stiggins 1994).

Writing samples

Writing samples are assessments whereby the students write what they know in a particular topic.


The student demonstrates his/her level of awareness through writing thereby making it easy for the teacher to assess easily what the student has understood in the previous lessons. This kind of assessment can also be used to test the student on several theories in a particular subject learnt previously and currently, which makes it a wide ranging assessment.


The level of performance is usually determined by the time available for the test. It may therefore not give the right impression for the students who are unable to organize ideas for the write-up in a limited time. On the other hand, it may not be applicable for the subjects that have many aspects that need to be tested at once such as religion and history.


This is an assessment applied after a particular lesson. The teacher leaves the students with questions concerning what they have learnt in that day, which will be marked or discussed in class the next lesson.


The student is presented with a chance to go over what was learned the same day and therefore the concept may be understood better. There is usually ample time for the student to reason and answer the questions; hence failure can not be attributed to time constraints.


There is a likelihood that the student will seek assistance from peers or use books other than doing it from what was learnt, which makes the assessment ineffective. There may emerge certain factors that can hinder the completion of homework by the student such as electricity failures or other environmental factors, which may lead to failure of assessment.


This is a form of assessment whereby the students are tested on their oral skills. The teacher may choose the topic to be debated, or the students with the guidance of the teacher may choose too.



One major advantage is that it presents the teacher with an opportunity to assess oral skills amongst the students. The student is required to understand clearly the topic of discussion and organize information for the debate; hence the teacher is presented with an opportunity to test organization skills on top of the student’s knowledge and oral skills.


It is usually difficult for the teacher to grade the students since there is lack of a framework to be followed in grading. Instead, the teacher is required to be keen on all the points and make the necessary judgments, which is quite difficult. On the other hand, it is usually difficult to cover all the concepts in a particular subject through debate.


This is an assessment whereby the student performs practically what he/she has learnt in theory. Students are given equipment to apply what they have learnt.


It is easy for the teacher to assess the level of understanding in a student as he demonstrates his skills in handling equipment and doing things practically. On the other hand, the student relates the theoretical knowledge with what he can see and therefore they have an advantage of remembering many of the concepts.


Experiments usually consume a lot of time, which lowers the effectiveness of assessment. They are also costly since each student has to use materials for the experiments.


Stiggins, R.J. (1994). Student-Centered Classroom Assessment, New York: Merrill

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