Assessment that meets academic standards and prepares students for future learning in work and life is considered as authentic (Boud & Falchikov 2006).

The University supports authentic assessment in teaching and learning strategies. For example, the UQ Student Strategy 2016–2020 considers authentic assessment as a key initiative for creating game-changing graduates (Goal 1) and the UQ Teaching and Learning Plan 2018–2021 outlines principles for ‘Authentic, progressive and fair assessment’ (Goal 3).

Four myths about authentic assessment (Cronin 1993)

1. Assessment is either ‘authentic’ or ‘non-authentic’ - it cannot be both.

Response: Authenticity in assessment is a continuum based on appropriateness.

2. An educator must be a master of the concept of authentic assessment before they can use it.

Response: Most educators already have some experience with authentic assessment in their teaching practice.

3. Tasks that are not original, creative and fun are not authentic

Response: The point of authentic assessment is that learning resembles ‘real world’ work which is not always exciting.

4. All authentic tasks are complex and elaborate, not simple and straightforward.

Response: There can be obvious opportunities for making learning more authentic.

What is authentic assessment?

Assessment can be considered authentic when the outcomes measured represent appropriate, meaningful, significant and worthwhile forms of accomplishment and the kinds of mastery demonstrated by successful practitioners. In short, when the task challenges a learner to demonstrate knowledge or skill that is needed to negotiate the requirements of a real-life setting, it may be considered authentic (UQ Teaching and Learning Plan 2018–2021).

There are many different ideas about what defines authentic assessment, which can be confusing when you are planning your assessment tasks. It may be easier to think about authentic assessment as an ‘umbrella term for several important pedagogical strategies that seek to immerse learners in environments where they can gain highly practical, lifelong learning skills…’ (Adams Becker et al. 2018).     

Higher education has shifted from an objective and standardised testing assessment culture to one that encourages:

  • Students being responsible for their own learning
  • Interpretation, performance and collaboration
  • Use of higher order cognition skills
  • Various alternative formats
  • Formative (multiple touch points with educator) and summative purposes
  • A focus on learning and competence development (Gulikers et al. 2004).
     

Why use authentic assessment?

While we can predict some attributes, knowledge and skills that students will need in their future work life there are others that are unknown (Boud & Falchikov, 2006). As educators, we need to help students to be lifelong learners. An important benefit of using authentic assessment is the opportunity for students to learn soft skills and capabilities, often known as the twenty-first-century skills, which include:

Ways of thinking

1.  Creativity and innovation
2.  Critical thinking, problem-solving, decision making
3.  Learning to learn, metacognition

Ways of working

4.  Communication
5.  Collaboration (teamwork)

Tools for working

6.  Information literacy
7.  ICT literacy

Living in the world

8.  Citizenship – local and global
9.  Life and career
10.  Personal and social responsibility – including cultural awareness and competence (Binkley et al. 2012).

How to plan for authentic assessment?

An active learning and student-centred approach to teaching and learning highlights the need for authentic assessment, which is linked to course learning outcomes and authentic learning activities and resources. 

It can be helpful to think about authentic assessment as a continuum of different task types, primarily undertaken in a university-based context on one end to primarily workplace-based on the other end. Table 1 (below) provides a non-exhaustive list of examples of authentic assessment types on the continuum, that involve low to high activity, such as progressing from an MCQ exam, to negotiated assessment, and problem-based tasks or case studies. The year level of the students, the discipline threshold concepts, student identity verification (with hurdle) and the mapping of assessment tasks across the relevant course, major or program are also important factors to consider in planning your authentic assessment tasks.

Table 1: Some examples of authentic assessment types across a continuum of activity

Authenticity Primarily university-based Primarily workplace-based
High activity Case studies ePortfolio (portfolio, showcase and reflection on work) / capstone Simulations / Industry mentors / OSCEs Work placement / clinics
Problem-based Studio design work / working with primary sources Role-play Informal work experience
Negotiated assessment Showcase Group work Observation in workplace or society
Low activity MCQ exam Completing forms / simple work activities / artefacts Industry guest lecture/assessor Day in the office – seeing workplaces

Ways to find authentic activities?

  • Discuss ideas with colleagues from your discipline and industry
  • Reflect on the suitability of publicised examples of authentic assessment for your course
  • Explore the UQ Assessment Ideas Factory database
  • Ask your school library for assistance.

More information and references

Adams Becker, S, Brown, M,  Dahlstrom, E, Davis, A, DePaul, K, Diaz, V & Pomerantz, J, (2018) NMC Horizon Report: 2018 Higher Education Edition. EDUCAUSE, Louisville, CO. Retrieved from https://library.educause.edu/~/media/files/library/2018/8/2018horizonreport.pdf

Binkley, M, Erstad, O, Herman, J, Raizen, S, Ripley, M, Miller-Ricci, M and Rumble, M (2012) ‘Defining Twenty-First Century Skills’. In P. Griffin, B McGaw & E. Care (Eds) Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills, pp. 17-66,  Springer, London.

Boud, D & Falchikov, N (2006) Aligning assessment with long-term learning, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, Vol. 31, No. 4, pp.399-413.

Cronin, J (1993) Four Misconceptions about Authentic Learning, Educational Leadership, Vol. 50, No. 7, pp.78-80.

Deakin University, Authentic Assessment. Available: https://www.deakin.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/268511/AUTHENTIC-ASSESSMENT.pd

Gulikers, J, Bastiaens, T, Kirschner, P (2004) ‘A Five-Dimensional Framework for Authentic Assessment’, Educational Technology Research and Development, Vol. 52, No. 3 pp. 67-86.

Sridharan, B and Mustard, J  (2015) Authentic Assessment Methods: A Practical Handbook for Teaching Staff, Part 1 - Detailed Guide, Deakin University. Available https://blogs.deakin.edu.au/learning-innovations/wp-content/uploads/sites/8/2015/07/Part-1.pdf

Villarroel, V, Bloxham, S, Bruna, D, Bruna, C & Herrera-Seda, C (2018) ‘Authentic assessment: creating a blueprint for course design’, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, Vol. 43, No. 5, pp. 840-854.