Formal and Informal Assessments


Formal assessments are the systematic, pre-planned data-based tests that measure what and how well the students have learned.  Formal assessments determine the students’ proficiency or mastery of the content, and can be used for comparisons against certain standards.


  • standardized tests
  • criterion referenced tests
  • norm referenced test
  • achievement tests
  • aptitude tests

Informal assessments are those spontaneous forms of assessment that can easily be incorporated in the day-to-day classroom activities and that measure the students’ performance and progress. Informal assessments are content and performance driven.


  • checklist
  • observation
  • portfolio
  • rating scale
  • time sampling
  • event sampling
  • anecdotal record


Characteristics of good formal assessment:

  • should be able to answer the questions: What does the student know? How competent is the student based on the targeted learning outcome?  How much knowledge and skills has the student attained and retained from studying a specific lesson/course?
  • should be valid (should measure what it’s supposed to measure) ;
    • should be able to measure the student’s knowledge of the intended content
    • should be able to provide strong evidence if the student has achieved the learning objectives/outcomes; should be aligned with the objectives and outcomes
  • should be reliable (should provide consistent results)
  • should be well-timed (should give students ample time to answer the test and demonstrate what they know
  • should be comprehensive (should cover all areas/topics taught)
  • should be easy to administer
  • should be apt for the intended purpose and target audience
  • should be able to provide information that can be used for comparisons (comparing student’s performance against national standards like in standardized tests; comparing students against other students like in norm referenced tests  or comparing students against pre-determined criteria like in  criterion referenced tests)

Characteristics of good informal assessment:

  • should be valid and reliable
  • should be fair (should give students with diverse backgrounds equal opportunity to do well in the assessment; should have clear procedures for scoring and interpretation ; should make use of set criteria and rubrics)
  • should be relevant (should be pertinent to the content as well as applicable to real life)
  • should be appropriate to target population
  • should be practical and appreciated by students; should be able to motivate students
  • should be able to provide feedback (to improve student’s performance; to modify instruction and teaching styles; to re-teach if necessary; to apply necessary interventions and accommodations)
  • should be constructive (should be able to point out strengths and weaknesses of students; to provide direction for improvement)
  • should be clear (should manifest true purpose of assessment; identify target behavior/skill)
  • should be unbiased (should maintain objectivity; record only what is actually observed and heard without missing the minute details)
  • should preferably be interactive (should elicit response and interaction from and among students)
  • should be timely

Informal assessment cannot completely replace the formal assessment. We need both, as one complements the other, in depicting accurate pictures of our students.  We can use either type (depending on the intended purpose) to improve teaching and learning. The type of assessment we should use should match the intended purpose of the assessment. For example, if we want to assess the students’ academic achievement and compare it with other students, then we can use the formal assessment. If we want to use assessment to monitor students’ progress and help them maximize their own learning, or use assessment to improve instruction, then we can use the informal assessment.


Weaver, Brenda. (2015). Formal vs. informal assessment. Retrieved from

Williams, Yolanda. (2013-2015). Formal assessments: examples and types [lesson]. Retrieved from