Formal and informal assessments

A range of assessment methods are available when measuring skills in daily life tasks.  Assessment methods can generally be separated into formal assessments and informal assessments:

  1. Formal assessments

Formal assessment procedures involve the use of standardised assessments. A standardised assessment has a set protocol which all testers must use, thus ensuring consistency across everyone assessed.  A standardised assessment will contain the following:

  • A specific set of test items which must be completed by everyone using the assessment.
  • A clear set of instructions directing the examiner in how the assessment is to be administered to ensure consistency across examiners.
  • A set of scoring instructions directing the user how to score each item.
  • Normative referencing: Many standardised assessments will provide norm references for scoring. This means that the individual’s score is compared to the scores obtained by a sample from the typical population.  Scores from a sample will have been obtained during development of the assessment.  This then allows the examiner to plot the individual’s score as average or above/below average.  Some assessments will also plot scores in terms of standard scores, percentile ranks and/or standard deviations.

Criterion referencing: Other assessments score performance on the basis of whether or not the individual has performed each item correctly. In these assessments, there is usually an overall pass score.

  1. Informal assessments

Informal assessments do not carry a set of standardised instructions or scores, and instead tend to be observation based.  Notes may be made on the quality of the student’s performance in different tasks and specific strengths and difficulties highlighted.

Formal versus informal assessment

There are benefits and challenges associated with the use of both formal and informal assessments.  If time permits, it is often useful to include both when assessing a child or young person.  The formal assessment will give a clear set of scores which can be useful in goal setting and measuring progress, while the informal assessment can add qualitative observation of skills which may be missed in the standardised assessments.

Formal (standardised) assessment Informal assessment
Objective measurement: Provides consistency across examiners and settings. Subjective measurement: Different examiners may judge strengths and difficulties differently.
Provides a standardised set of scores. Results are usually qualitative in nature e.g. examiner’s comments.
Provides a means of interpreting scores e.g. averages, percentile ranks, standard scores. Scores cannot be compared to a normative sample.
Most standardised assessments can be used a clear measurement of change before and after intervention. Informal assessment tends to be a less objective measurement of progress over time.
Small improvements in skills may not be reflected in test scores. Small improvements can be observed and noted.
Some skills and strengths may be missed as they are not included in assessment items. All skills and strengths can be observed and noted.
Performance may be negatively affected by the stress of formal procedures and time limits. Assessment tends to be more relaxed and does not have time limits for tasks.
Assessments tend to be carried out in formal settings and artificial scenarios. Assessment can be carried out in natural (real life) settings and scenarios.
Limited flexibility allowed so assessment cannot be adapted to suit individual’s learning style. Assessment can be adapted to suit the learning style of the individual.
Assessment kits usually provide all the materials required for the assessment. Materials will need to be gathered for the assessment.
Assessment kits are often expensive. No or minimal cost for assessment.