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Understanding authentic assessment

This article will provide you with a brief overview of authentic assessment and some simple steps and considerations to help design more authentic methods of assessment and feedback.  

What is authentic assessment? 

Authentic assessment refers to assessments that require students to use the same combination of knowledge, skills and attitudes they will need to apply in realistic situations within their professional lives. Authentic assessment moves away from essay and exam-based assessments towards those that more accurately represent the scenarios faced in a graduate’s future career.  

Whilst there are several definitions of authentic assessment, some of the main elements of an authentic assessment are that:  

  • the assessment takes the form of a performance or product. 
  • requires students to explore problems with no fixed solution. 
  • students should be able to develop evaluative judgement and peer review.  

Why is authentic assessment important? 

Authentic assessment helps to prepare students for their future lives by exposing them to simulated real-world experiences which allow them to practice and refine higher order thinking skills. Well-designed authentic assessment also tends to be more engaging for students, and more interesting for markers. Neil Morris sums up the need for assessment to reflect students’ future careers: 

When I see students writing 2,000-word coursework essays on topics that they’re never going to use in a professional setting, I really do wonder what the point is.” 

Professor Neil Morris, Dean of Digital Education, University of Leeds 

How can I make my assessments more authentic? 

  • Map skills and competencies – When designing your assessment, as well as the module’s learning outcomes, refer to the Talent Team Skills Framework. Communicating this to students can help them to understand the alignment between their assessment and the relevance to their future career. 
  • Move away from essays and exams – Authentic assessment should reflect the kinds of activities students are expected to undertake within their careers. When designing assessments, ask yourself whether a student will write an essay or take an exam whilst carrying out their everyday job? 
  • Incremental changes – If you are not able to change the fabric of the assessment, for example due to MID constraints, you can still take incremental steps towards authenticity. For example, you might ask students to reframe an essay in the form of an open editorial piece of writing.  
  • Project based assessment – When designing an assessment task, consider how your assessment immerses students into a realistic project. Project-based assessment tasks usually have no fixed solution and allow students to apply a broader set of skills.  
  • Explore simulation as a form of assessment – Developing such simulations does not mean that you need be part of large well-funded projects and pursue major changes to practices. Small, incremental developments can be pursued successfully in this area 

Where can I find out more? 


  • Oliver Atkins-Wood

    Oliver is an Academic Developer supporting curriculum design and development across Coventry University Group. He works for the Academic Enhancement and Professional Development Unit in the Office of Teaching and Learning.

Updated on December 9, 2020

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