Authentic Assessment

This article discusses authentic assessment and its merits in the learning environment.


Authentic Assessment

As an educator, how do you know if your testing methods accurately capture your students' learning? To be valid, a method of assessment must accurately measure what it is designed to measure. For instance, a student should not lose points for grammar mistakes on a math competency exam. Neither should a student be penalized for a poor understanding of certain non-medical English words or idioms on a nursing multiple-choice exam.

Authentic assessment is any method of evaluating student learning based on the "real world" criteria of tasks and activities. ("Performance assessment" is an alternate term.) This is in stark contrast to the standardized "response" methods of traditional assessment, which include multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, and true-false test items. With authentic assessment, students are asked to demonstrate learning in ways that mimic actual experience or practice outside of the classroom. A prime example of this type of learning is simulation scenarios.

Authentic assessment is valuable in that it accesses learning at the higher cognitive levels of analysis, synthesis, and application of knowledge. It takes the focus off the content and onto the learners. It encourages teachers to use multiple forms of assessment to accommodate students and the learning. Educators can refine instruction as well as assessment. As such, authentic assessment is a potent mechanism for improving instructional planning and delivery.

The key to authentic assessment is providing an authentic simulation in the "real life" setting in which learning will be required. To plan for authentic assessment, the educator must "reverse engineer" the curriculum by first determining the tasks the students must perform to demonstrate mastery in an area and then designing a curriculum that will enable the students to perform these critical tasks.

Methods of authentic assessment include simulation, tests of discrete competencies, exhibitions, portfolios, interviews, writing, and creative learning projects.

To demonstrate meaningful application of skills and knowledge, systems of authentic assessment must include:

  • Criterion-based standards: Provides the objective standards that are used to evaluate the learners. Scores indicate levels of performance.
  • Multiple indicators of quality: Most academic tasks require multiple skills and abilities. Authentic assessment allows the educator to provide multiple ways to represent student performance.
  • Judgment reliability: Reliability is consistency and stability of measurement. Assessment criteria should be broad enough to accommodate multiple types of assignments.

Drawbacks to authentic assessment include the fact that these assessment procedures can be time consuming and cost-intensive. Ideally, educators should combine methods of both traditional and authentic assessment. Relying on just one form of assessment can lead to an incomplete understanding of student knowledge and skill.

Which methods of authentic assessment do you use in your nursing program? What have been your experiences with these methods? Have teaching and learning improved?


Tanner, D. E. (2001). Assessing academic achievement. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

VickyRN, PhD, RN, is a certified nurse educator (NLN) and certified gerontology nurse (ANCC). Her research interests include: the special health and social needs of the vulnerable older adult population; registered nurse staffing and resident outcomes in intermediate care nursing facilities; and, innovations in avoiding institutionalization of frail elderly clients by providing long-term care services and supports in the community. She is a Professor in a large baccalaureate nursing program in North Carolina.

105 Articles   5,349 Posts

Share this post

Share on other sites


17 Posts

Specializes in pacu/er/med surg. Has 31 years experience.

Thanks for your explanation! I could understand it so much better.:)


76 Posts

These convolutions to accommodate seem to me to push away from measurable results toward more subjective analysis. There is an air of rationalization woven into your arguments. While small grammar or spelling errors can be overlooked I question whether non-medical english or "idiom" should be tossed out as well. Why is the onus of communication difficulty being shifted to the patient in their own country of origin? Is there a shortage of qualified students?

The older testing methods are there to teach the basic knowledge so that it can be applied. Don't put the cart before the horse.


286 Posts

We had crazy quiz questions such as "what skin condition does your instructor have?" We had a test question with the word "dangle" in it (such as "dangle your legs"). Many of the younger students didn't know what dangle meant, so got it wrong. Many of our test questions were more to see if we could be fooled, than to test our knowledge.


42 Posts

Specializes in General Nursing.

Hands up on simulations as a better way to examine a learner's understanding than writing pages and pages of essay.



2 Posts

Specializes in Geriatrics. Has 26 years experience.

I think this is a great framework for my dissertation on the use of HESI exams in LVN programs. Does anyone have more information in relation to nursing?