Traditional vs. Authentic Assessment



Traditional assessments refer to conventional methods of testing, usually standardized and use pen and paper with multiple-choice, true or false or matching type test items.

Authentic assessments refer to assessments wherein students are asked to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of what they have learned.

To better compare traditional vs. alternative assessments, here’s a table I prepared:

Traditional Assessment Authentic Assessment
  • Purpose: to evaluate if the students have learned the content; to determine whether or not the students are successful in acquiring knowledge; to ascribe a grade for them; to rank and compare them against standards or other learners
  • Purpose: to measure students’ proficiency by asking them to perform real life-tasks; to provide students many avenues to learn and demonstrate best what they have learned; to guide instruction; to provide feedback and help students manage their own learning; to also evaluate students’ competency
  • Provides teachers a snapshot of what the students know
  • Provides teachers a more complete picture of what the students know and what they can do with what they know
  • Measures students’ knowledge of the content
  • Measures students’ ability to apply knowledge of the content in real life situations; ability to use/apply what they have learned in meaningful ways
  • Requires students to demonstrate knowledge by selecting a response/giving correct answers; usually tests students’ proficiency through paper and pencil tests
  • Students are asked to choose an answer from a set of questions (True or False; multiple choice) to test knowledge of what has been taught.
  • Requires students to demonstrate proficiency by performing relevant tasks showing application of what has been learned
  • Provides indirect evidence of learning
  • Provides direct evidence of learning/competency; direct demonstration of knowledge and skills by performing relevant tasks
  • Requires students to practice cognitive ability to recall/recognize/reconstruct body of knowledge that has been taught
  • Provides opportunities for students to construct meaning/new knowledge out of what has been taught
  • Tests and strengthens the students’ ability to recall/recognize and comprehend content, but does not reveal the students’ true progress of what they can do with the knowledge they acquired. Only the students’ lower level of thinking skills, (knowledge and comprehension), are tapped.


  • Tests and strengthens the students’ ability to reason and analyze, synthesize, and apply knowledge acquired; Students’ higher level of cognitive skills (from knowledge and comprehension to analysis, synthesis, application, and evaluation) are tapped in multiple ways.


  • Hides the test
  • Teaches the test
  • Teachers serve as evaluators and students as the evaluatees: teacher-structured
  • Involves and engages the students in the teaching, learning and assessment process: student structured
  • Assessment is separated from teaching and learning. Test usually comes after instruction to evaluate if the students have successfully learned the content.
  • Assessment is integrated with instruction. Assessment activities happen all throughout instruction to help students improve their learning and help teachers improve their teaching.
  • Provides limited ways for students to demonstrate what they have learned
  • Provides multiple avenues for students to demonstrate best what they have learned
  • Rigid and fixed
  • Flexible and provides multiple acceptable ways of constructing products or performance as evidence of learning
  • Standardized; valid and reliable
  • Needs well defined criteria/rubrics and standards to achieve reliability and validity
  • Curriculum drives assessment.
  • Assessment drives curriculum and instruction.

  • True or False; multiple choice tests
  • standardized tests
  • achievement tests
  • intelligence tests
  • aptitude tests



  • demonstrations
  • hands-on experiments
  • computer simulations
  • portfolios
  • projects
  • multi-media presentations
  • role plays
  • recitals
  • stage plays
  • exhibits


Advantages of Traditional Assessment Over Authentic Assessment:

Traditional assessments do have advantages over authentic assessments:

Traditional Assessment Authentic Assessment
Advantages: Disadvantages:
  • Easy to score; Teachers can evaluate students more quickly and easily.
  • Harder to evaluate
  • Less time and easier to prepare; easy to administer
  • Time consuming; labor intensive
  • Sometimes, time and effort spent exceed the benefits.
  • Objective, reliable and valid
  • Susceptible to unfairness, subjectivity, lacking objectivity, reliability, and validity if not properly guided by well-defined/clear criteria or rubrics/standards
  • Economical
  • Less economical

Advantages of Authentic Assessment Over Traditional Assessment

On the other hand, here are the advantages of authentic assessment over the traditional assessment:

Traditional Assessment

Authentic Assessment

Disadvantages: Advantages:
  • Provides teachers with just a snapshot of what the students have truly learned
  • Provides teachers with the true picture of how and where their students are in their learning; gives more information about their students’ strengths, weaknesses, needs and preferences that aid them in adjusting instruction towards enhanced teaching and learning
  • Provides students limited options to demonstrate what they have learned, usually limited to pencil and paper tests
  • Provides students many alternatives/ways to demonstrate best what they have learned; offers a wide array of interesting and challenging assessment activities
  • Assessment is separate from instruction.
  • Assessment is integrated with instruction.
  • Reveals and strengthens only the students’ low level cognitive skills: knowledge and comprehension
  • Reveals and enriches the students’ high level cognitive skills: from knowledge and comprehension to analysis, synthesis, application and evaluation
  • Assesses only the lower level thinking/cognitive skills: focuses only on the students’ ability to memorize and recall information
  • Enhances students’ ability to apply skills and knowledge to real lie situations; taps high order cognitive and problem solving skills
  • Hides the test
  • Teaches the test
  • Teacher-structured: teachers direct and act as evaluators; students merely answer the assessment tool.
  • Student-structured: students are more engaged in their learning; assessment results guide instruction
  • Involves students working alone; promotes competitiveness
  • Oftentimes involves students working in groups hence promotes team work, collaborative and interpersonal skills
  • Invokes feelings of anxiety detrimental to learning
  • Reduces anxiety and creates a more relaxed happy atmosphere that boosts learning
  • Time is fixed and limited; students are time-pressured to finish the test.
  • Time is flexible.
  • Focuses on one form of intelligence




  • Focuses on the growth of the learner;
  • Learners express their understanding of the learning content using their preferred multiple forms of intelligences.
  • Provides parents and community with more observable products, proofs of the students’ learning which motivate them to support their kids’ learning more



Assessment FOR Learning:

Informal-formative-alternative assessments can best serve the purpose of assessment FOR learning as they continuously inform and guide instruction, and help students become better learners. Assessments are integrated with instruction and help teachers monitor students’ progress, identify their learning needs and adjust their instruction accordingly. They also give feedback to students and help them become self-directed, metacognitive and successful learners.

Assessment AS Learning:

Informal-formative-alternative assessments can also very well serve the purposes of assessment OF and AS learning. There are various informal-formative-alternative assessment strategies (e.g. journals, self and peer assessments) that can help students become self-reflective and be good managers of their own learning, making adjustments and developing more effective learning strategies, hence serving the purpose of assessment AS learning.

Assessment OF Learning:

At the same time, there are also various informal-formative-alternative assessments (recitals, visual and oral presentations, etc.) that can give a picture of what the students have actually learned after instruction, providing evidence of learning and certifying competency, hence serving the purpose of assessment OF learning.

Formal-summative-traditional assessments measure and strengthen the students’ cognitive abilities to recall/memorize, comprehend and reconstruct knowledge, addressing the lower level cognitive skills (from knowledge to comprehension), while the informal-formative-alternative assessments measure and strengthen the students’ higher level of cognitive skills, from knowledge and comprehension to analysis,  synthesis, application and evaluation of what they have learned.


Dikli, S. (2003). Assessment at a distance: Traditional vs. alternative assessments. The Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology, 2(3) Article 2 [PDF document]. Retrieved from

Kwako.  A brief summary of traditional and alternative assessment. Retrieved from

Traditional vs. Authentic Assessment. (2012). Retrieved from

Wiggins, G. (1990). The case for authentic assessment. Retrieved from