Authentic Assessment

Author: Scott Farrow

Assessment is considered authentic when it requires students to apply newly acquired knowledge and skills to realistic scenarios. Assessment tasks can then reflect those expected from graduate-level professionals. Wiggins (1990) defines assessment as authentic if it is realistic, requires judgement, simulates real life contexts and assesses students’ judgement in negotiating a complex task, whilst allowing appropriate opportunities to practice and receive feedback on performance.


Authentic Assessment:

  • Helps develop skills that traditional assessment wouldn’t typically cover (Arnold, 2019).
  • Closes competency gaps between education and professional life (Ashford-Rowe, Herrington, & Brown, 2014; Cranmer, 2006; Mungal & Cloete, 2016).
  • Focuses on higher order thinking skills (Koh, 2017) as students are required to apply knowledge creatively to problem solve.
  • Motivates students by providing tasks relevant to professional and everyday life (Coon & Walker, 2013).

Putting it into practice

To design successful authentic assessment tasks, ask:

  • What skills and knowledge standards do I want students to achieve?
  • What authentic tasks do I need to design to determine students have met these standards?
  • What criteria am I looking to assess and what does good performance look like?

Explore ways you might:

  • Design tasks to resemble activities expected within professional or everyday environments.
  • Present tasks with no fixed solutions.
  • Assess factual, procedural and conditional knowledge (Anderson et al., 2000).
  • Ask students to communicate their knowledge for a specific audience of purpose.
  • Require students to address professional or untrained.

Authentic assessment can drive curriculum design, by using what has been referred to by Wiggins and McTighe (2005) as backwards design. First, by shaping what tasks students will perform to demonstrate their mastery, then developing the curriculum to ensure students acquire the essential knowledge, skills and experience to perform those tasks well.

Clear communication, student involvement in designing tasks, providing helpful feedback and incentives for students to improve are all key elements of good assessment practices (Case, 2013). Clarity is essential when designing authentic tasks – be clear on what you require from students, and explain how tasks are relevant to their learning outcomes. Ensure marking criteria is shared and understood so students know what you are looking for in their work.

Managing expectations

Have realistic expectations – consider the time students have available to complete the assessment and any other demands they have on their time. Encourage students to be free-thinking and creative; this could be through the medium they produce, or freedom to choose tools and technologies.

Involve local businesses, charities or community groups with authentic assessment tasks. Ask externals to offer real world problems to solve, community projects that could involve elements being undertaken by individuals or groups or invite them to provide feedback on tasks. Collaborating with external stakeholders is also great for employability, linking students to future employers. Authentic projects might cross disciplines, e.g. marketing students creating a video might brief music students to produce a commercial soundtrack.

Work with colleagues to consider how authentic assessment can be a journey throughout the programme. Build confidence in students and other staff delivering the tasks, by scaffolding authentic assessment. Small-scale tasks early in the programme will equip students and colleagues to undertake these types of assessment. This concept may be new to students so progressively building authenticity into assessment as the programme develops is key.

Authentic assessment doesn’t have to be a large scale, group project including numerous stakeholders to provide a brief and feedback. It can be for example: team projects, professional simulations, case studies, clinical evaluations or writing for and presenting to a specific audience.

Challenges and resources

  • Authentic assessment can be hard to envisage in courses which do not align directly to a specific profession – if this is the case aim to design tasks that will emphasise the key skills graduates may require. Auditing an assessment task (Centre for Innovation in Education, 2019) can be beneficial here.
  • Not all students will want to follow the most common career paths, focus on the wider benefits and skills learnt from undertaking the tasks.
  • Student support requires thought, consider what skills and knowledge need to be in place before undertaking the assessment tasks, specifically if students are required to deliver in a different format to what has previously been taught.
  • Build in design time for yourself, especially if external resources are required.


Creating a rubric ensures all involved with the assessment have clear guidance on how and what is being assessed such as the weight of marks given to the content and to the process (Case, 2013).

If you are looking to embed authentic assessment into your curriculum for the first time, it may be beneficial to seek support from your colleagues who have already introduced similar assessments.


Anderson, Lorin W. et al. 2000. “A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives.”

Arnold, Lydia. 2019. Authentic Assessment. (April 15, 2019).

Ashford-Rowe, Kevin, Janice Herrington, and Christine Brown. 2014. “Establishing the Critical Elements That Determine Authentic Assessment.” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 39(2): 205–22. (April 26, 2019).

Case, Roland. 2013. “Four Principle of Authentic Assessment.” In , 319–28. (April 9, 2019).

Centre for Innovation in Education. 2019. “‘Audit’ an Assessment Task.” (May 2, 2019).

Coon, David R., and Ingrid Walker. 2013. “From Consumers to Citizens: Student-Directed Goal Setting and Assessment.” New Directions for Teaching and Learning 2013(135): 81–87. (April 26, 2019).

Cranmer, Sue. 2006. “Enhancing Graduate Employability: Best Intentions and Mixed Outcomes.” Studies in Higher Education 31(2): 169–84. (April 26, 2019).

Koh, Kim H. 2017. 1 Authentic Assessment. Oxford University Press. (April 15, 2019).

Mungal, Avika, and Melanie Cloete. 2016. “Preparing Underprepared Students for Higher Education and beyond: The Development and Implementation of an Integrated Project.” Accounting Education 25(3): 203–22. (April 26, 2019).

Wiggins, Grant. 1990. 2 The Case for Authentic Assessment. - Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation. (April 5, 2019).

Wiggins, Grant, and Jay McTighe. 2005. Understanding by Design. 2nd ed. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Devlopment.

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Authentic Assessment by Scott Farrow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.