Authentic Assessment

Introduction and Definitions

“An authentic assignment is one that requires application of what students have learned to a new situation, and that demands judgment to determine what information and skills are relevant and how they should be used.” Authentic Assessment


“Authentic assessment helps students to develop skills, requires students to practice creative thinking and problem-solving, and allows for multiple paths to demonstrate knowledge. Most authentic assessments involve complex questions and tasks that do not have straightforward solutions; students must research, brainstorm, practice, draft, and refine solutions in order to complete the assignment.” Building Authentic Assessments


“The term ‘authentic assessment’ commonly refers to assessments that measure not only what students have learned from course content, but also their ability to apply that knowledge in some kind of real-world situation.” Authentic Assessments

Thus, authentic assessments measure student learning through application of knowledge or skills, usually in the form of a project or a product involving real-world tasks. This approach differs from traditional assessments, such as exams or tests, that rely on recalling and restating information and are often indirect measures of a student’s ability to apply the knowledge and skills gained in a course. It focuses on students’ ability to understand, analyze, and integrate, and apply information; that is, it encourages students to use higher-order critical thinking skills and to reflect on their work. The differences in the two approaches to assessment are summarized in this table:

Authentic Assessment Low-Impact / Traditional Assessment
Requires students to do something to demonstrate knowledge skills Requires students to respond to a question to demonstrate knowledge and skills.
Fosters active learning Fosters passive learning
Requires students to contextualize and apply what they have learned Asks students about what they have learned out of context and tends to encourage rote memorization
Achieves deep learning, which is more likely to transform students’ views and be remembered Achieves shallow learning that is less likely to be retained over long periods of time
Inspires students to make connections between course content and the real-world Generally, keeps learning confined to a book or other academic context

What is Authentic Assessment?

More simply, Mueller summarized the defining attributes of traditional and authentic assessment this way:

Traditional ——————————————— Authentic

Selecting a Response ———————————— Performing a Task

Contrived ————————————————————— Real-life

Recall/Recognition ——————————- Construction/Application

Teacher-structured ————————————- Student-structured

Indirect Evidence ——————————————– Direct Evidence

Defining Attributes


According University of Washington/Tacoma Digital Learning, Grant Wiggins, who popularized the concept, identifies 27 characteristics of authentic assessment, including that they:

  • Are appropriately public,
  • Do not rely on unrealistic, arbitrary time constraints,
  • Are not “one shot,” but are process-based,
  • Are contextualized and complex, not “atomized” into isolated objectives,
  • Are representative of challenges of the field or subject,
  • Involve essential criteria, not what is easily scored,
  • Allow appropriate choice for students to express their style and interests,
  • Uses rubrics for transparency of expectations and evaluations,
  • Incorporate self-reflection and meta-cognitive exploration,
  • Allow for feedback, practice and second chances, and
  • Make self-assessment part of the assessment.

What Is Authentic Assessment?


Authentic assessments have several advantages over traditional tests and assignments for both students and instructors.

  • They are likely to be more valid than traditional tests, particularly for learning outcomes that require higher-order thinking skills.
  • They are likely to be more interesting for students.
  • They are more likely to engage and motivate students.
  • They simulate contexts that are relevant to the students’ professional and personal experiences.
  • They force students to work with the ambiguities and grey areas present in the real world.
  • They introduce variety into course assignments.
  • They allow students to demonstrate proficiencies in multiple skills or tasks.
  • They demonstrate to students how much they’ve learned and where they still have room to grow.
  • They support the construction of knowledge, rather than memorizing or learning only for a test.
  • They reduce the tendency for students to “cram” the night before an exam.
  • They reduce the likelihood of academic dishonesty (plagiarism, cheating).
  • They provide an opportunity for creating assignments that students can take with them and use after the end of the course.
  • They help students develop their interpersonal and communication skills.
  • They can provide instructors more specific and usable information about what students have learned as well as what they have not learned.
  • They provide opportunities for instructors to have more individual contact with students.
  • They allow instructors to make a holistic assessment of students’ achievements.


Developing authentic assessments may require more time and effort by an instructor and may be more difficult to grade than traditional assessments. When using an authentic assessment, it is useful to create a grading rubric that specifies the dimensions to be evaluated and the criteria by which they will be judged. It is also important to provide students a clear explanation of the purpose of the activity and the objectives of the assessment. Additionally, because authentic assessments are complex and may take a long time for students to complete, it is useful to provide appropriate scaffolding for the tasks. This might include (a) breaking complex assignments into smaller tasks and shorter stages; (b) providing additional instructional material to explain the tasks; and (c) providing regular detailed feedback.

Examples of Authentic Assessments

  • Conducting structured or unstructured interviews
  • Conducting a structured or unstructured observation
  • Creating a research poster
  • Conducting an experiment or a survey
  • Producing a podcast
  • Writing and publishing a blog
  • Creating a flyer
  • Creating a manual
  • Participating in a debate
  • Creating a portfolio
  • Role playing
  • Evaluating articles or presentations
  • Providing peer reviews of papers
  • Providing consultations
  • Conducting assessments
  • Writing grant proposals
  • Developing programs
  • Evaluating programs
  • Analyzing case studies
  • Scripting, creating, and editing short films or videos

Considerations in Creating and Using Authentic Assessments

  1. Identify goals or learning objectives
    1. What is the purpose of the assessment, what do you want students to be able to do?
    2. What do you want to measure?
    3. What tasks can you use so students can demonstrate that they have achieved the learning objectives?
  2. Determine the requirements for the assessment?
    1. Do students need to provide a written document, create a product, etc.?
    2. Do students need to give an oral presentation or report?
    3. Will they complete the work on their own or teams?
  3. Think about timing
    1. How long will it take students to complete the project?
    2. Do you want to break the project into parts that are completed throughout the semester and build milestones to keep students on track?
      1. When and how will you check in with students through multiple low stakes, formative assessment opportunities?
      2. When and how will you provide students with feedback that is meaningful, timely, and includes ways they can improve?
    3. At what point in the course will students have learned the appropriate content to begin the project?
  4. Construct and distribute a rubric to communicate to students expectations and evaluative criteria
    1. What are the criteria that you would consider as an active demonstration of what the student should know and be able to do?
    2. What are the characteristics of the levels of performance for each criterion?
      1. Chose the number of points on the scale.
      2. Develop descriptors for each point.
    3. Be clear about grading
      1. If it is a group project, indicate if the work will be graded as a group or individually.
      2. If there is a peer evaluation, indicate how or if that evaluation will affect students’ grades.
      3. If students need to reflect on their own performance on each assessment, indicate if or how that self-evaluation will affect students’ grades.

The key to success in implementing authentic assessments is delimiting the dimensions of the task, clearly presenting the criteria, specifying the related performance at each level, and sharing the assessment tool and rubric with students before they begin the task so that they are aware of the expectations. In addition to sharing the scoring rubric, the instructor should show students models of good and inadequate performance to help them understand the characteristic of a strong performance.


University of Florida Information Technology
Building Authentic Assessments

University of Connecticut Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning
Alternative Authentic Assessment Methods

Indiana University/Bloomington Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning
Authentic Assessment

University of Washington Digital Learning
Authentic Assessment

Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence Saint Leo University
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University of Alabama/Birmingham eLearning and Professional Studies
Assess Student Learning Using Authentic Assessments

Butte College
What is Authentic Assessment?

Montclair State University Instructional Technology and Design Services
Authentic Assessment

University of Wisconsin
Authentic Assessment

University of Michigan Online Teaching
Creating authentic assessments

Western University Teaching Support Center
Authentic Assessment

John Mueller
Authentic Assessment Toolbox

Western Michigan University UMUX
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