Formal vs Informal Assessment: Which is Best for Evaluating Student Performance?

Formal vs Informal Assessment: Which is Best for Evaluating Student Performance? Header Image

Both informal and formal assessments provide educators with an opportunity to evaluate student performance and ensure that they are on track to reach their long-term goals.

What is an informal assessment?

An informal assessment is a method through which you can assess how well a student is grasping a topic or class without having them sit down to take a test. Examples of informal assessments include quizzes, educational games, and group work.

What is a formal assessment?

A formal assessment typically takes place at the end of the academic year or term as a way to measure how much your student(s) have learned over this period. Unlike informal assessments, they are also graded.

Advantages of Informal Assessment.

There are many advantages associated with informal assessments in learning environments.

Firstly, there is a lot of anxiety surrounding formal examinations, especially if students need certain grades in order to progress to the next stage of their academic career. While this can act as an incentive for studying, a study published in the Educational Psychology Review found that “test anxiety is significantly and negatively related to performance in standardized tests, such as intelligence tests and aptitude/achievement tests.

Informal assessments, however, do not carry the same stigma of anxiety and pressure, which means that a student’s performance is less likely to drop. This, in turn, can provide them with the opportunity to accurately demonstrate their skills, knowledge, or understanding.

Typically, informal assessments are also viewed by students to be more fun or engaging, whether they take the form of quizzes or group projects.

Understanding Formal Assessment.

If you are currently questioning what is formal learning evaluation, this is simply another term for a formal assessment, such as the SATs. While educators have voiced concerns relating to how accurate they can be in assessing a student’s skills, it’s important to note that they still play an important role in their development.

Preparing for formal or standardized testing helps students to develop a range of skills relating to both studying and perseverance and can also help to further consolidate their knowledge of a topic. They can also provide teachers and educators with insight into how they can better support certain students who may be struggling.

How Informal Assessment Enhances Learning

If you are not a fan of formal testing, you may want to question how does informal assessment benefit teaching and learning so that you can rely on this assessment method more heavily moving forward.

Informal assessments enhance learning by:

  • Ensuring students who may not perform well in exam environments have the opportunity to showcase their skills and competency
  • Challenge students in a way that does not feel overwhelming or stress-inducing
  • Consolidating knowledge through fun, interactive methods such as quizzes
  • Creating an equal playing field for all students

The Importance of Formal Learning Evaluation

Formal learning evaluations are important in terms of both student progression and assessing a teacher’s own skills and capabilities. For example, the results gathered through formal assessments are often referenced during the college application process or when seeking out jobs in the future. In some cases, grades are used to admit children into academic support or excellence programs.

If students are routinely underperforming in formal assessments, this could be an indicator that the teacher needs to rethink or reshape their teaching style or lesson plans. For example, it may bring to light shared gaps in their knowledge that require further attention moving forward.

Exploring Different Types of Assessment

Different Types Of Formal Assessment

There are two main types of formal assessments that are conducted in the classroom. This includes diagnostic tests, carried out at the start of the academic year/term, which are designed to assess a student’s pre-existing understanding of a topic, and summative Tests, carried out on the completion of a module, term or year, designed to assess how much a student has learned during this time.

Summative assessments can come in many forms, including:

  • Written reports
  • Practical projects
  • Oral reports
  • A thesis/dissertation
  • Multiple choice tests

Different types of informal tests.

Informal tests are sometimes described as formative tests, and they can take place at regular intervals throughout the year. The results of these assessments can help track a student’s progress and ensure they will achieve their goals before the end of the school year.

Informal tests come in many forms, including:

  • Group projects
  • Group discussions
  • Quizzes
  • Educational games

Informal vs Formal Assessment: Which is Better?

If you are unsure where you sit in the “formal assessment vs. informal assessment” debate, it's important that you begin to approach this topic on a case-by-case basis. Some students, for example, may thrive when presented with the challenge of a formal assessment, whereas others can prove themselves during informal assessments.

However, in the classroom, a blend of the above two methods is perhaps the most effective. This way, should a child underperform in the final exam, a teacher can look at their performance in informal assessments when writing their report or assessing whether or not they have reached their goals. In both cases, this means that the child can be offered further support moving forward, meaning they’ll likely perform better in the next lot of standardized tests they complete.

The Role of Assessment in Teaching and Learning

As mentioned above, assessments play a key role in both teaching and learning. From a teacher's perspective, they ensure that teachers are putting in the required groundwork to set every student up for success. From a learning perspective, they can help students to understand their own competency so they know what to work on moving forward.

Evaluating Learning: Formal vs Informal Approaches.

Moving forward, it's crucial that educators use a mixture of formal and informal approaches when evaluating how much their students have learned in a given period. For example, weekly quizzes can highlight which subjects students understand and which they struggle with, while formal assessments can help to assess their progress over a longer period of time.

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