Authentic Assessment | Institute for Teaching Excellence (2023)

What is authentic assessment?

An authentic assessment evaluates if the student can successfully transfer the knowledge and skills gained in the classroom to various contexts, scenarios, and situations beyond the classroom. Authentic assessments can include amyriad of assessment techniquesincluding skill labs, experiments, presentations, simulations, role-plays, class/term projects, debates, discussions, etc. (University at Albany SUNY, n.d.).

The table below from Wiggins (1998) compares traditional assessments (tests and exams) to authentic assessments (tasks).

Typical testsAuthentic tasksIndicators of authenticity
Require correct responsesRequire a high-quality product or performance, and a justification of the solutions to problems encounteredCorrectness is not the only criterion; students must be able to justify their answers.
Must be unknown to the student in advance to be validShould be known in advance to students as much as possibleThe tasks and standards for judgment should be know or predictable.
Are disconnected from real-world contexts and constraintsAre tied to real-world contexts and constraints; require the student to "do" the subjectThe context and constraints or the task are like those encountered by practitioners in the discipline.
Contain items that isolate particular skills or factsAre integrated challenges in which a range of skills and knowledge must be used in coordinationThe task is multifaceted and complex, even if there is a right answer.
Include easily scored itemsInvolve complex tasks that for which there may be no right answer, and that may not be easily scoredThe validity of the assessment is not sacrificed in favor or reliable scoring.
Are "one shot"; students get one chance to show their learningAre iterative; contain recurring tasksStudents may use particular knowledge or skills in several different ways or contexts.
Provide a scoreProvide usable diagnostic information about students' skills and knowledgeThe assessment is designed to improve future performance, and students are important "consumers" of such information.

Source: Indiana University Bloomington's Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning

Why use authentic assessments?

Authentic assessments evaluate how students are learning the course material and subject matter over time. Traditional assessments such as quizzes and exams are useful in providing a snapshot of the students' mastery over the subject at a specific interval, but these assessments do not necessarily evaluate how the student can (or will) apply what was learned beyond the classroom.

Consider the way physicians, professional engineers, electricians, teachers, firefighters, and other professionals are assessed. Students of these professions must provide direct evidence they are competently applying learned knowledge/skills before being allowed to perform them in the real world. This is accomplished by way of an authentic assessment and does not solely rely on a written or oral exam (traditional assessment) (Mueller, n.d.).

Moreover, reliance on traditional assessments may prompt students to learn the material simply to pass the exam and then discard the material (or knowledge and skills) after the exam or course has been completed (Thompson, 2016). Authentic assessments provide students a chance to apply what they've learned and allows students to construct meaning about what they've been taught (Mueller, n.d.).

(Video) Authentic Assessment in teaching & learning (Part -1)

Lastly, authentic assessments do not have to be chosen over traditional assessments. A mix of both types of assessments can be effective, and in some cases (depending on the course objectives and outcomes), required.

Benefits and Challenges

Authentic assessments benefit students in a number of ways, but also present some challenges (adapted fromthis resourcefrom the University of New South Wales Sydney).


  • Motivates students to deeply engage with the subject matter leading to more constructive and productive learning

  • Builds a portfolio of academic work, which is helpful for students to:

    • Reflect on and assess their own work and effort

    • Seek admission into advanced degree programs and continue their academic career

    • Pursue career opportunities after earning their degree

  • Aids students in preparing for the complexities of professional life by equipping them with relevant workplace skills

    (Video) Authentic Assessment in teaching & learning (Part -4)

  • Prepares students for lifelong learning


  • Authentic assessments must be structured well or the application and results could become unpredictable

  • Unpredictably increases the potential for things going wrong, which may jeopardize students' chance to demonstrate their ability

  • Creating and applying authentic assessments is time-consuming and resource intensive

  • Assessment tasks must be carefully articulated at the outset to help students manage course workload

These challenges can be overcome with careful planning and structuring through the use ofrubrics.

Authentic, Formative, and Summative Assessment

There are two types of assessments frequently used in courses: formative and summative.

Formative assessments can be thought of as "spot checks" used throughout the course to assess the student's current grasp of the material and current mastery over the subject matter (e.g. pop quizzes). Formative assessments are focused on evaluating specific knowledge and/or skills at a specific point, the results of which can be used to improve learning as the course progresses (Indiana University Bloomington, n.d.).

(Video) Authentic Assessment

Summative assessments are used to measure how well students have mastered the entirety of the material and subject matter sometimes by the mid-point of the course (mid-term) and/or at the end of the course (final).

Formative assessmentSummative Assessment
GradingUsually not gradedUsually graded
PurposeImprovement: to give feedback to instructors and students about how well students understand specific materialJudgment: to derive a grade, and to allow students to work intensively with course material
FocusVery focused on whether students have acquired specific skills or informationLess focused on specific skills or information; instead, allows students to demonstrate a range of skills and knowledge
EffortRequires little time from instructors or students; simple; done in classRequires more time from instructors and students; complex; done outside of class

Source: Indiana University Bloomington's Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning

Well-designed summative assessments can be authentic assessments requiring students to think like a practitioner of the field/discipline (Wiggins, 1998). Authentic (summative) assessments require a significant investment of time from both the student and the instructor. The student will be required to think critically and apply a myriad of skills (merging those learned within the course with those learned outside the course) to approach, evaluate, and solve a problem which may take weeks to solve (e.g. a final project). The instructor will need to take more time to evaluate and grade the students' work than they would if applying a traditional assessment technique such as a multiple choice exam.

How do you design authentic assessments?

The following infographic taken from theAuthentic Assessment Toolboxcreated by Mueller (n.d.) provides a design map for creating authentic assessments:


Authentic Assessment | Institute for Teaching Excellence (1)

Source: Jon Mueller's Authentic Assessment Toolbox

(Video) Authentic Assessment and Rubrics


The first step (STANDARDS) involves reflecting on, writing down, and determining what the goals are for your students (re:course outcomes). Standards can be one-sentence statements or phrases of what students should know and/or be able to do at some point (e.g. "students must define single integrals by week 3").Course outcomesand standards should be written usingBloom's Action Verbs, which will help with designing the assessment and to measure how much of the material students have learned.

ReadStep 1 in the Authentic Assessment Toolboxto learn more about standards.

Authentic Tasks

The second step (AUTHENTIC TASKS) determines how you will know students have met the standards written in Step 1. At this step, selection of the appropriateauthentic task(s)is performed.

There are three types of authentic tasks:

  1. Constructed-Response: students construct responses out of previously learned and newly learned knowledge
  2. Production: students create a deliverable that demonstrates their ability to apply, analyze, and synthesize what they've learned
  3. Performance: students perform a task that demonstrates their ability to apply, analyze, and synthesize what they've learned

ReadStep 2 in the Authentic Assessment Toolboxto learn more about authentic tasks.


The third step (CRITERIA) establishes indicators of "good performance" on the authentic task(s) selected in Step 2. Students must achieve these criteria when completing authentic tasks to not only demonstrate what they've learned, but that they are also capable of effectively applying what they've learned.

ReadStep 3 in the Authentic Assessment Toolboxto learn more about criteria.


The fourth step (RUBRIC) measures the student's performance on the authentic task(s). Rubrics are essential for structuring the authentic assessment. To start building the rubric, use the criteria established in Step 3 and then decide whether to create an analytic rubric or holistic rubric.

(Video) Authentic Assessment in teaching & learning (Part -5)

An analytic rubric is used when performance will be evaluated for each criterion. A holistic rubric is used when all of the criteria are evaluated together (holistically).

ReadStep 4 in the Authentic Assessment Toolboxto learn more about rubrics.



1. Authentic Assessment and Bloom's Taxonomy
(Tim Goodwin)
2. Classroom Examples of Authentic Assessment - Assessing Achievement with the ELL in Mind
(Huynh Nguyen Bao)
3. JJ Authentic Assessment
(Teaching & Learning Centre (TLC UNITEN))
4. Authentic Assessment in teaching & learning (Part -3)
(Institute of Global Professionals)
5. Authentic Assessment & Rubric Development
(UP Open University)
6. Webinar #2: Authentic assessment as a pathway to professional practice
(Open Educational Practice Special Interest Group )


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