Teaching & Learning

Task Design

Authentic Assessment

violin-girl2While the term, ‘authentic assessment’ was coined by Wiggins (1989), there is no agreed definition in the literature. The original concept was that assessment should be either in real work settings or as closely aligned as possible. While this may not be possible in all university contexts, it is still possible to design assessment that requires students to use knowledge and skills in ways that are akin to how they are used in real (authentic) contexts.

The emphasis then is on authentic learning by making the assessment as ‘as authentic as possible in the context of the unit’ and ‘oriented towards the world external to the unit itself’ (Boud, 1998:11). See also Questions to use when critiqueing a task.

An authentic assessment task has four main components Rule (2006). It:

  •   involves real-world problems that mimic the work of professionals
  •   includes open-ended inquiry and higher order thinking skills
  •   engages students in social learning.
  •   empowers students by choice to direct their own learning.

See also Authentic and Investigative Activities http://www.iml.uts.edu.au/assessment-futures/elements/authentic.html

Herrington & Herrington provide the following guidelines for designing an authentic task with the caveat that:

any teacher wishing to use these guidelines to design authentic assessments needs to be able to accommodate university policies (some are more restrictive than others), and to be mindful of the need to clearly align the task with its assessment (p47).

Guidelines to design authentic assessment tasks
(Herrington & Herrington, 2006: 147)

  • Requires fidelity of the task to the conditions under which the performance would normally occur (Reeves & Okey, 1996; Meyer, 1992; Wiggins, 1993)
  • Requires connectedness and transfer to the world beyond the classroom (Newmann & Wehlage, 1993; Newmann & Archbald, 1992)
Student factors
  • Requires problem solving skills and higher order thinking (Reeves, 2000; Newmann & Wehlage, 1993)
  • Requires production of knowledge rather than reproduction (Newmann & Archibald, 1992)
  • Requires significant student time and effort in collaboration with others (Linn, Baker, & Dunbar, 1991) (Reeves, 2000)
  • Requires students to be effective performers with acquired knowledge, and to craft polished, performances or products (Wiggins, 1990, 1993)
  • Promotes depth of knowledge (Newmann & Wehlage, 1993)
Task factors
  • Stimulates a wide range of active responses (Reeves, 2000)
  • Involves complex, ill structured challenges that require judgement, multiple steps, and a full array of tasks (Wiggins, 1990, 1993; Linn, Baker, & Dunbar, 1991; Torrance, 1995) (Reeves, 2000)
  • Requires the assessment to be seamlessly integrated with the activity (Reeves & Okey, 1996; Young, 1995)
  • Provides multiple indicators of learning (Lajoie, 1991; Linn, Baker, & Dunbar, 1991)
  • Achieves validity and reliability with criteria for grading varied products (Wiggins, 1990; Lajoie, 1991; Resnick & Resnick, 1992)


Examples of authentic assessment tasks

  • Software Engineering (second year task). Design a software program to suit a client brief. Present it as a series of ‘deliverables’ to the client (the tutor) in an industry template for feedback. Refine each deliverable and adapt the software (if necessary) based on client feedback. Present the completed package with supporting documentation to the client.
  • Dietetics (third year task). Create a presentation about how to cook nutritious inexpensive food for a group of very young mothers with low literacy and numeracy levels. The presentation is to be in a local community hall during the day. Liaise with the social workers in the area to ensure you are briefed fully about any additional features you need to take account of when preparing your presentation. Document feedback from the audience and evaluate your presentation.
  • Medicine (third year task). As part of your Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCEs) or Clinical Skills Assessment, you are to interview a series of patients (GPs who present with different symptoms) to ascertain what their symptoms are and make a diagnosis and possible treatment. Each patient will rate you on both your personal and clinical skills. Each interview is to be no more than 10 minutes.
  • Agricultural Science (first year). On a field trip to 4 different farms, you are to interview the farmer and ask them questions about what sustainable practices they are using. You are to collate your notes of the interviews and observations of the farms into a report. The report evaluates the extent of each farm’s sustainable practices based on given criteria.
  • Accounting (Masters). Carry out a feasibility study for a hypothetical small business to determine its potential viability. This requires you to calculate and correctly set out data, then analyse and interpret it while taking into account assumptions and limitations. The report to the client includes the results of the feasibility study and justifies your recommendations. It is to be written in language the client can understand and be presented in the given ‘professional’ format.
  • Nursing (second year). In the exam, you will be presented with two realistic scenarios about aged care. In each, a synopsis is provided that refers to some, but not all aspects of the scenario. Your role, as part of a team of health professionals, is to interpret the scenarios and answer questions that focus on various management issues associated with care of the aged persons. As well, you are expected to demonstrate knowledge of which health services and other care providers are relevant in each scenario and offer advice to the families involved.

Boud, D. (1998). Assessment and learning– unlearning bad habits of assessment. Presentation to the Effective Assessment at University Conference 1998, University of Queensland, 4-5 November. Accessed 14/7/00 from http://www.tedi.uq.edu.au/conferences/A_conf/papers/Boud.html

Herrington, J., & Herrington, A. (2006). Authentic conditions for authentic assessment: Aligning task and assessment. In A. Bunker & I. Vardi (Eds.), Research and Development in Higher Education. Volume 29, Critical visions: Thinking, learning and researching in higher education (pp. 146-151). Milperra, NSW

Wiggins, G. (1989). A True Test: Toward More Authentic and Equitable Assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 70: 9 (May).

Rule, A. C. (2006). The components of authentic learning. Journal of Authentic Learning, 3(1),1–10.