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What is the purpose of assessment?

Assessment is key to the learning process and one of a teacher’s most complex and demanding functions.
Students at a whiteboard

“Assessment should be an ongoing process that “arises out of the interaction between teaching and learning.” (NZ MoE).

Assessment serves a range of purposes with a range of assessment types and activities. It is also a reflective process with some key questions for teachers at each stage of the assessment cycle:

How well are my learners learning; did all my learners achieve?

The assessment identifies how well your learners are learning, or have learned. While this sounds simple, an in-depth assessment for learning is a complex process, requiring a range of assessment activities, to identify the extent to which a learner is engaging (or did engage) with both content and delivery. This is generally described as a formative assessment which we look at in detail in next week’s session.

Am I engaging all my learners? Are all my learners on board – or are some falling behind?

As our teaching relates directly to how well the learners are learning, assessment can be used to improve both teaching and learning strategies.

Did we achieve the learning outcomes for this unit of learning?

There will be many reasons why your learners met or did not meet the learning outcomes. The right assessment type at the right time will help you identify these reasons and make the relevant changes for future delivery.

In addition, assessment enables teachers and learners to:

  • Demonstrate learning achievements at critical intervals in the learning cycle
  • Offer and receive feedback
  • Self-regulate and self-assess the learning (learners)
  • Evaluate their performance
  • Modify delivery to improve the learning (teachers)
  • Redevelop their planning and learning outcomes (teachers)

The following shows a range of different types of assessment, the purpose of each type, and a range of assessment activities appropriate to each.

Screening assessment

When to use

On application to programmes where there is a higher element of risk: e.g. trades, medicine, the armed forces.


To ensure applicants can accommodate programme demands.

Assessment activities

Questionnaires (written/ oral, online), tests, exams, demonstrations/ presentations, work samples, interviews, task-based assessments, scenarios and role-plays, psychometric testing, physical competency screening.

Diagnostic assessment

When to use

At the beginning and end of a programme, course or module.


Identify baseline skills and the level of competency across these learner gain can be measured.

Assessment activities

Exams and tests (written/oral, online), specific task-based assessments, demonstrations and presentations, standard IQ tests, psychometric and physical diagnostics, questionnaires, puzzles.

Formative assessment

When to use

Following screening and initial diagnostic at regular intervals, throughout a programme of learning.


Identify learner engagement, that delivery is hitting the mark, highlight potential issues and mitigate the risk of disengagement and/or later, “failed” assessment/s.

Assessment activities

Targeted learning activities and/ or naturally occurring assessment opportunities, online quizzes e.g. Kahoot, written and practical assignments, multi-choice and short answer questionnaires; demonstrations and presentations, work samples, task-based and peer/pair assessment, observation, discussion and oral Q&A activities.

Summative assessment

When to use

At the end of a module or programme.


To provide evidence and confirmation of programme outcomes.

Assessment activities

Examinations, written assignments, portfolio, tutor observation and attestation, tasks or competency-based activities, demonstrations and presentations, practical assignments, oral tests, work samples.

Other assessment types

  • Naturally occurring evidence opportunities within community, workplace or sporting events
  • Standards-based assessment
  • Practical/activity-based assessments
  • Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL); where one compatible qualification is credited towards another
  • Recognition of Prior Experience (RPE) where appropriate work experience is credited towards a qualification
  • Recognition of Current Competency (RCC) where competency is demonstrated in the workplace, community or learning environment
  • Attestation – where a manager, supervisor or assessor verifies candidate competency
  • Cross-crediting. Often confused with RPL, cross crediting allows an equivalent assessment to be credited to another qualification
  • Integrated assessment – where assessment opportunities are applied to a range of modules. This is also confused with cross-crediting.
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Adult Education Essentials: Assessment for Learning Principles and Practices

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