The criterion-referenced test definition states that this type of assessment compares a student’s academic achievement to a set of criteria or standards. This norm or criteria is established before candidates begin the test.

Usually, schools or districts set the standard as a percentage. The test-taker’s score shows how far they’ve progressed toward the approved standard. If they miss the mark, they must work harder.

A good example is measuring your body temperature. The accepted normal level is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. If your temperature is too high in comparison, you are running a fever.


Criterion-referenced evaluations are used in schools to examine specific knowledge and abilities that students have most likely gained. This determines how close they are to mastering a standard. They allow teachers to assess how they can assist students improve in specific areas. Criterion-referenced evaluations will show you where your learners are in terms of an accepted standard, allowing you to tailor instructions and assistance for students. Criterion-referenced assessment examples include driving tests, end-of-unit exams in school, clinical skill competency tools, etc.


Now that we know the purpose of criterion-referenced tests, let’s go over the key features of this assessment type.


  1. Characteristics Of Criterion-Referenced Test

  2. Types Of Criterion-Referenced Tests

  3. Criterion-Referenced Test Examples

  4. Advantages and Disadvantages

  5. Enhance Your Teaching Skills


Characteristics Of Criterion-Referenced Test

The criterion-referenced test is characterized by the following:


  • Students are assessed independently; their performance isn’t compared to that of another student
  • The focus is student learning rather than scoring well (grades)
  • The assessment criteria are fixed
  • It usually delivers quick results


Types Of Criterion-Referenced Tests


Criterion-referenced tests are mainly of the following types:


  1. Questionnaires and surveys

     These could be about the following: the number of children served, the number of children handled by their respective language groups, or the usual level of schooling of parents. Expected replies are on a scale of 1 to 5 on an observation form or survey, etc. This information can be scored and examined.

  2. Multiple-choice questions

     In this type of criterion-referenced test, multiple choices follow a single question. There is only one answer and the scores depend on the number of correct answers chosen.

  3. True or false questions

    In this format, a given sentence can either be true or false. The student might be asked to select the correct statement or the false statement, or state whether the given statement is true or false.

  4. Open-ended questions

     In this, the student may be asked to write a short answer or an essay or summarize a passage. It may also include a combination of different question types.


Criterion-Referenced Test Examples


Regardless of how other students perform, criterion-referenced tests convey a statement about how well a student does. Here are a few criterion-referenced assessment examples:


  1. Advanced placement exams:

    Advanced placement is a college-level curriculum and examination program offered to high school students in the US by the College Board. Students who perform well in the exams may be given placement and course credit by American colleges and institutions. A panel of specialists and university teachers in that field of study creates the AP syllabus for each of the various topics for the College Board. To earn the certification, a high school course must be audited by the College Board to ensure that it meets the AP curriculum as outlined in the Board’s Course and Examination Descriptions (CED). 

  2. National Assessment of Educational Progress:

     The National Examination of Educational Progress (NAEP) is the most comprehensive and globally representative evaluation of what students know and can perform in a variety of topics in the US. NAEP is a federally mandated initiative run by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which is part of the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES). The NAEP findings are published as The Nation’s Report Card and should give group-level data on student accomplishment in several topics. Individual pupils, classrooms and schools have no results. Gender, socioeconomic class and ethnicity are among the demographic groupings for which NAEP gives findings.


Advantages and Disadvantages


The criterion-referenced test has the following advantages:


  1. Specificity

    There is a defined goal that’s being evaluated. A single item corresponds to a particular aim, and there’s no ambiguity about what you’re being tested on. This also makes the test reliable.

  2. Topic Expertise

    Criterion-referenced evaluation helps students do well in academics by tracking their progress.. You can customize test items to meet specific requirements. You can assess the student’s knowledge and understanding of the issue using a criterion-referenced test.

  3. Controlled On A Local Level

    In most cases, these tests happen in the classroom. So, the teacher can quickly determine whether the students have met the standard, and plan the next course of action.


A few drawbacks of the criterion-referenced assessment are:


  • Many instructors and administrators are undertrained, so they can’t maximize on test results
  • Some tests can be time-consuming and expensive
  • They cannot be generalized beyond a certain point
  • Students may take undue advantage by gaining prior access


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