Building Authentic Assessment

Why is authentic assessment important and what perceptions do students have of it?

The notion of authentic assessment was first introduced in the 1980’s in an effort to shift away from standardised testing. Remember the multiple choice tests where you would colour in a red circle (A, B, C, or D) with a 2B pencil? While these tests are helpful for checking understanding of certain types of knowledge, on their own they don’t get to the heart of the challenges of what it means to be a leader or manager (or any other modern professional for that matter). Authentic assessment is about assessment approaches that are realistic, practical and challenging. The authenticity of a task is determined by how similar the thinking required is between the task and the environment for which the learner is being prepared. This means engaging in the same type of discourse and problem solving (know how) as a leader or manager rather than simply memorising theory and frameworks (know that) (Savery and Duffy, 1995). 

What does the literature tell us?

Villarroel et al. (2018) conducted a systematic review based on literature from 1988 to 2015 and found thirteen consistent characteristics of authentic assessment that fall under three conceptual dimensions: realism, cognitive challenge, and evaluative judgment. Table 1 outlines these dimensions and characteristics.

Authentic assessment dimensions Concepts and ideas associated with AA 
Realism Problems contextualised to everyday life 
Relevance beyond the classroom 
Authentic performance 
Competencies for work performance 
Similar tasks to the real/working world 
Practical value 
Cognitive challenge Higher-order thought 
Ability to solve problems 
Ability to make decisions 
Evaluative judgement Feedback 
Formative sense 
Assessment criteria known a priori 
Table 1: Dimensions of authentic assessment (based on Villarroel et al., 2018)

Authentic assessment often involves students engaging in complex problem-solving that mirrors the types of real-world problems experienced in the workplace, meaning they are less predictable than the well-structured problems encountered in traditional assessment (Wieriora & Kowalkiewicz, 2019). These tasks should focus on higher order thinking, problem solving and decision making. Additionally, authentic assessment should incorporate evaluative judgement which includes making the assessment criteria known in advance and providing feedback.

Examples of authentic assessment

Case studies are just one example of an authentic approach to assessment. Other examples include simulation, role play, problem-based learning, completing real-world tasks, portfolios, and being assessed in a workplace setting (e.g. work integrated learning). Multiple forms of authentic assessment can also be combined. For example, the case study approach can be strengthened when combined with other forms of assessment such as individual reflections. In fact, this approach was studied by Wierora and Kowalkiewicz (2019) as students took on the role of strategic culture and leadership advisor and were instructed to evaluate the provided case study, diagnose issues based on theories and concepts taught during classes, explain why the issues were occurring and recommend a course of action.

Authentic assessment together with self-reflection was found to 1) enhance comprehension of theory, 2) enhance leadership skills, and 3) assist with the development of elements of students’ self-concept, which is a crucial component of authentic leadership and is commonly overlooked in traditional assessments. Assessments that expose students to real leadership scenarios may challenge their existing assumptions, leading them to revise their self-concept. 

What do students think?

Interestingly, Ajawi et al. (2020) found that students make judgments about the assessment tasks they are given, including judgements about their authenticity. Student perceptions of authenticity are important because they have been found to contribute significantly to attainment of generic learning outcomes. The qualitative analysis conducted by Ajawi et al. (2020) found that students perceived assessments as being more authentic when they received feedback from an industry supervisor, perceptions of authenticity for reflective journals varied, and final written assessments were perceived as lacking authenticity. This was because the individualistic nature of assessment tasks focusing on report writing and reflective writing did not enable students to demonstrate the communication, problem solving and collaboration skills they had learnt. Students also perceived written assessments as being unable to adequately capture learnt professional skills and felt they instead were best assessed by means of direct observation. 

How would you describe your assessment?


Ajjawi, R., Tai, J., Huu Nghia, T. L., Boud, D., Johnson, L., & Patrick, C.-J. (2020). Aligning assessment with the needs of work-integrated learning: the challenges of authentic assessment in a complex context. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 45(2), 304-316. doi:10.1080/02602938.2019.1639613 

Savery, J. R., & Duffy, T. M. (1995). Problem based learning: An instructional model and its constructivist framework. Educational technology, 35(5), 31-38

Villarroel, V., Bloxham, S., Bruna, D., Bruna, C., & Herrera-Seda, C. (2018). Authentic assessment: creating a blueprint for course design. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 43(5), 840-854. doi:10.1080/02602938.2017.1412396 

Wiewiora, A., & Kowalkiewicz, A. (2019). The role of authentic assessment in developing authentic leadership identity and competencies. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 44(3), 415-430. doi:10.1080/02602938.2018.1516730 

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