Formal and Informal Assessment Methods: Advantages and Disadvantages


Assessments are the processes by which teachers measure the growth of their students. Assessment methods can be categorized as either formal or informal. The main similarity between formal and informal methods is that they both strive to identify a student’s understanding of what they learn in class. On the other hand, the main difference between these methods is how they are administered. Formal assessments are data-based, tests or quizzes are used, and it is from these that a student’s performance is given a score or grade. Informal assessments, however, focus on the performance of the students on a regular basis. They generally give the teacher a quick idea of what the student knows and they do not contribute to the final grading (Salvin, 2009).

Formal Assessment Methods

Standardized Tests

Standardized tests are the main tools used informal assessments. The tests are designed in a predetermined manner so that grading procedures are consistent. They are mainly characterized by tests that aim to measure the knowledge that students gain at a particular learning level. Basically, students are taught in a particular grade level for a defined period of time. Afterward, they are given a test which is used to decide whether these students are prepared for the next grade (Miller, Linn & Grounlund, 2009).


The main advantage is that the tests give a true reflection of what a student has been able to learn in a particular grade level or course. After a student has been taught for a specified period of time, they are given tests that try to determine their level of understanding in an environment where they have nowhere to refer to. In short, they try to summarize the students’ history of learning through tests that are keenly monitored (Miller, Linn & Grounlund, 2009). Another advantage of these tests is that, where a student fails to meet the pass mark, they are given an opportunity to repeat grades or courses. This usually gives the student a better chance of attaining the required pass rates, and hence gets admission to higher learning institutions.


A disadvantage of standardized tests is that they narrow the curriculum used in schools, such that, teachers only focus on teaching what will be examined. This means that all areas and instructions that students need to master at a particular grade level are not put into consideration and this defeats the use of classroom learning. Another disadvantage is that they only measure specific skills and facts which students are entitled to learn. They limit the ability of the students to illustrate their creativity and other valuable skills that are not necessarily in the curriculum (Salvin, 2009).

Aptitude Tests

Aptitude tests are closely related to standardized tests but are different from them because they in essence predict what a student is capable of achieving in a particular course of study, rather than measure what a student has achieved in the course of study. They are mainly used to measure learners’ ability and level of intelligence in a particular field. They are commonly done through the use of computers and mainly test the learners’ numerical, verbal and logical reasoning (Shea, 2000).


These tests, because of their ability to measure learners’ capabilities in particular courses before they are even taught, provide an easy means by which teachers can know which students should or should not take a particular course. Also, aptitude tests, especially online ones, provide assessors with quick and immediate results of students’ performance. They are therefore less time-consuming, hence preferred by assessors.


Aptitude tests are unfair methods of judging students’ abilities because; learners’ abilities may not manifest themselves at that point when the test is taken but rather at a later date in life. It, therefore, does not give opportunities to individuals whose abilities are acquired through step-by-step learning experiences. Learners may also score low on a particular aptitude test as compared to if they were to be given another test. These circumstances also prove to be unfair ways of evaluating one’s abilities.

Informal Assessment Methods


When using observation as an informal method of assessment, the teacher walks around observing the behavioral and social aspects of the students. This is most effective when these students are working in groups, such that the teacher is able to know how each student interacts in a group and what contributions they make (Cole, 1999).


An advantage of this method is that it enables the teacher to pinpoint problematic areas and take corrective action in time. Problematic areas could include; one student dominating group discussions and dismissing others’ ideas or a situation where other students do not make adequate contributions in group work (Cole, 1999). Also, it proves advantageous because the teacher is able to know the strengths and weaknesses of each student, and hence embark on a program that builds upon strengths while eliminating the weak points.


Disadvantages of the method include a situation where the teacher does not take adequate time to observe the students. He/she may get the notion that one student does all the group work as others do nothing but what actually happens is that that student regards his/her opinions as superior to the others. Also, observing a group may not be enough to detect all weaknesses, the teacher may need to be involved in active talks with the students.

Assessment Conversations

The use of assessment conversations enables the teacher to make use of constructive conservations in assessing how well students understand concepts and instructions. Teachers may involve themselves in the questioning of particular subjects, and this helps them gauge their students’ communication skills, understanding of problematic issues, and language use (Ruiz & Furtak, 2004).


This method is beneficial in helping students learn as it allows students to actively share their opinions and therefore enables the teacher to gauge a student’s understanding through the responses given. Also, this method makes the teachers act as mediators, hence this allows students to share information and try to understand concepts through their own reasoning, and the teacher only guides them where they go wrong (Ruiz & Furtak, 2004).


Problems associated with assessment conversations are; some students may not have the confidence to share their opinions, and hence will often give limited suggestions. Others may think that the teacher is not willing to help them with the problems and may therefore decide to switch off completely from the conversations.


As a method of informal assessment, brainstorming is a technique by which a group of learners gathers up a list of ideas to find a solution to a specific problem. It helps the teacher know what the students actually know about a topic or what they think should be the solution to a problem (Batra, 2008).


An advantage of brainstorming is that it helps students participate fully in the process of finding solutions to a problem because it does not offer room for criticism. The method also stirs up thinking among a group of learners, because as one student comes up with an idea, others are compelled to think (Batra, 2008).


On rare occasions, brainstorming may prove ineffective where learners are not ready to open up especially where the problem is of a more complex nature. This in turn makes a group of learners afraid of saying what they think, and hence unable to think of even the most obvious answers. Also, students who are more talkative and who present ideas faster are likely to intimidate their more reserved counterparts. This is because talkative students will always say what is on their minds without fear of what others will think of them. The reserved ones, on the other hand, will always shy away from opening up, because they believe that they will be laughed at for giving ideas that are incorrect. This hinders the learning process that is a characteristic of brainstorming, that is, to encourage students to open up.

Miscue Analysis

Miscue Analysis helps teachers to gain sufficient information on their students’ reading abilities. Here students are given texts to read aloud and the teacher notes down any omission, mispronunciation, or substitution of words. The process also involves a situation where one student is isolated from the rest to allow the teacher to gauge the student’s reading ability without distraction (Shea, 2000).


An obvious advantage of the method is that it helps to evaluate a student’s ability to read texts. Through it, the teacher is able to monitor the student’s reading progress which forms a major part of the learning experience. The method also helps students to develop confidence when they are communicating with their peers or elders, as they get used to reading aloud words that may have caused them problems earlier on.


Miscue analysis is disadvantageous because it uses a lot of time. This is because, listening to an individual student takes approximately 20 to 40 minutes, and the analysis process takes almost an hour. By the time the teacher is through with all the students considerable time is used, which should have been used in other activities. Another problem associated with miscue analysis is its level of reliability. The method does not take into account factors that cause miscues. For instance, the passage in question may be complex for a particular student, maybe because of age or because of previous reading instructions. Also, what one examiner considers a miscue, may seem utterly fine to another. These circumstances do not, therefore, produce results that can be relied on to reflect a reader’s capabilities, because they will always give varied results.


Teachers should seek to find a trade-off of how they use formal and informal assessment methods, such that one method is not overused as compared to the other. If both methods are used together and appropriately, they provide a realistic way of evaluating students.


Batra, P. (2008). Brainstorming for Creativity and Innovation. India: Macmillan Publishers India Ltd.

Cole, K. A. (1999). Walking around: Getting more from informal assessment. Mathematics teaching in the middle school, 4(4), 224–227. (On reserve in the e-library.).

Miller, M. D., Linn, R. L., & Gronlund, N. E. (2009). Measurement and assessment in teaching (10th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Pearson. ISBN-13: 9780132408936.

Ruiz-Primo, M. A., & Furtak, E. M. (2004). Informal formative assessment of students’ understanding of scientific inquiry. Paper presented at the AERA Annual Meeting Symposium, Assessment for Reform-Based Science Teaching & Learning, Stanford University, Stanford. Note: Only read pages 1–9 for this assignment. (On reserve in the e-library.)

Salvin, R.E. (2009). Educational Psychology: Theory and Practice (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson. ISBN-13:9780205616121.

Shea, M. (2000).Taking Running Records: A teacher Shares a Experience on How to Take Running Records and Use What They Tell You to Assess and Improve Every Child’s reading. New York: Sholastic Inc.

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