Authentic assessment: what is it?

One of the main benefits of group assessment is that it can help enhance the authenticity of learning. The post below by Mojtaba Ammari-Allahyari (Academic Developer at Coventry University) introduces the concept of authentic assessment and gives an overview of key elements and dimensions to take into consideration.

Authentic assessment is a transformation from traditional methods of assessments towards more comprehensive assessment of knowledge and higher order skills and thinking. Bloxham et al. 2017 have identified this form of assessment as a key characteristic of assessment for learning. Authentic assessment has a great impact on meta-learning and motivation. It provides opportunities for students to promote their learning through the tasks which are designed for the needs of real world works and abilities which are strongly related to employability. To present a comprehensive definition of authentic assessment we first need to define what authenticity is. Gulikers, Bastiaens and Kirschner (2004) explain different opinions and approaches by different researchers about authenticity. They argued some researchers consider authentic assessment as performance assessment while others put the emphasis on task and context. They distinguished between authentic assessment and performance assessment, they illuminated that the key difference between these two “is the degree of fidelity of the task and the conditions under which the performance would normally occur.” Therefore, “every authentic assessment is performance assessment, but not vice versa.” (ibid, p. 69). Gulikers, Bastiaens, and Kirschner, (2004, p. 69) define authentic assessment as:

“An assessment requiring students to use the same competencies, or combinations of knowledge, skills, and attitudes that they need to apply in the criterion situation in professional life.”

Villarroel et al. 2018 described the aims of the authentic assessment as integrating all activities and discussions which is happening in the classroom with what needed to be applied in the real world problem solving situations. In fact, they considered authenticity as combination of contextualization of curriculum and problem-based method of delivery based on real life problems. Thus, authentic assessment is about a polygon with three vertices as: Knowledge, Skills, and real life. It is about the knowledge that students need to know, the skills they need to acquire to enable them to apply the gained knowledge in real life problem solving situations.

The above diagram demonstrates the key elements of the design of authentic assessment which will be considered later on in this document.

Jon Mueller (2018) believes there are two main components in design of any authentic assessment. First is the task related to real life that students need to perform and the second is a rubric which is needed to evaluate student’s performance.

Why is it important?

Authentic assessment is important as it has great impact on metacognition. It supports students in higher order thinking and skills through contextualised curriculum through which students have the opportunity of connecting their prior knowledge with the new concepts. Bridging the old and the new knowledge facilitate and increase students’ engagement and promote their understanding. The new challenges and needs of 21st century higher education, further demands from governments, students, and employers form highly skilled graduates left no place for HE institutes to seek modern and innovative methods of teaching and learning. Authentic assessment also addresses the increasing demons for universities and HE sector from stakeholders to embed creativity, innovative and employability components into their courses. Authentic assessment has strong potential to fill the gap between curriculum objectives and personal capacities and skills that students need to acquire to compete in the highly competitive 21st century job market.


Assessment as an integral part of education and in particular assessment for learning is one of the key elements of active learning to answer those demands and authentic assessment is of crucial importance to promote employability elements in curriculum and also supporting students to enhance skills they need to acquire to solve real world problems. Now, the question is what are the main characteristics of an authentic assessment? Answer to this question facilitate the question of design which will be discussed later on in this document.  Some of the main characteristics of authentic assessment are listed below:

1. “An authentic assessment should be challenging”

Tasks should be designed to bridge the school-based ideas and concepts with the real world problem solving situations (Lund 1997). Thus, the degree of challenge depends on the degree contextualisation of the real world situation.

2. “The outcome of an authentic assessment should be in the form of a performance or product

Brown & Craig (2004) emphasised on the knowledge and skills which needed to enable students demonstrate a product or performance throughout doing the tasks. This is where educators could bring elements of creativity in education into assessment by designing tasks in which student could promote, develop and demonstrate their knowledge & skills through engagement with complex performances and creating meaningful product /performance.

3. “Authentic assessment design should ensure transfer of knowledge”

This is about “… what learner is being prepared to do beyond the particular assessment setting.” (Ashford-Rowe, Herrington, Brown 2014, p. 208)

4. “Metacognition as a component of authentic assessment”

Metacognition is extremely important for personal development, critical reflection and self-evaluation. Custer (2009) notes, “monitoring their own learning through self-evaluation can enhance student learning.” (in Ashford-Rowe, Herrington, Brown 2014, p. 208)

5. “The importance of a requirement to ensure accuracy in assessment performance”

6. “The role of the assessment environment and the tools used to deliver the assessment task”

7. “The importance of formally designing in an opportunity to discuss and provide feedback”

8. “The value of collaboration”

Authentic assessment vs. Traditional assessment

I authentic assessment, assessment drives the curriculum. That means, educator first design or determine the tasks that students need to perform. Then the curriculum will develop in a dynamic environment through students’ performance which will not only enable students to complete the task but also will equip them with the crucial knowledge and skills. In contrast, in traditional assessment, the curriculum drives assessment. That means determined body of knowledge will become curriculum which needs to be delivered. The assessment in traditional method is the tool to test whether the students have possessed the curriculum.

Table below presents some attributes of authentic and traditional assessments:

Authentic Assessment Traditional Assessment
Process of performing a tass Testing the product
Connected to real life Contrived and artificial
Student-centre Educator-centred
Construction, Application and Evaluation Remembering & Recognition

Dimensions of authentic assessment

Villarroel et al. 2018 highlighted three dimensions for authentic assessment as, 1) Realism, 2) Cognitive challenge, and 3) Evaluative judgement


The problems in authentic assessment should be contextualized to everyday life activities and beyond the classroom discussions. They must be designed in such a way to promote and enhance students’ competencies for work performances and the task should be similar to those of real world situations with practical values. Therefore, it is not only present a “real context” that described the problem at hand, but also the task is “similar” to what students will be face din the real world problem solving situations. (ibid p. 845)

Cognitive challenge

Tasks in Authentic assessment involves building knowledge and scaffolding using higher order cognitive level of thinking. That means through this type of assessment students are encouraged to go through problem solving stages, application of knowledge, analyzing and evaluation of results and decision making. These components correspond cognitive development and metacognition skills.  “Transfer of knowledge is promoted by such assessments, since they stimulate skills that can be used in contexts other than academic ones that are required and valued in the world beyond the university.” (ibid p. 845)

Evaluative judgement

One of the main responsibilities of students through performing authentic assessment tasks is to self-evaluate their performance and produce and develop criteria and principles of a good performance. To do this they will have to self-regulate and judge their own learning through doing the task. This is what Villarroel et al. 2018 refer to as “Evaluative judgement”. “A chief component of developing evaluative judgement is formative assessment.” (ibid p. 846) Through a variety of formative activities students would be able to gain experience for a wide range of different situations that they might be confronted in the real world problem solving situations. Students access assessment criteria for the tasks is crucially important as they could see what they are required to do.

References and other useful resources

Featured imag by Suhyeon Choi on Unsplash

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