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Assessment Without Tests

Jordan Catapano

Assessment of student mastery does not have to come through a formalized, traditional test. Instead, consider some of these other forms of assessment that are not tests, but still help students to demonstrate the extent to which they have or have not mastered skills and concepts. Here are 20 ways you might be able to assess the extent of student mastery without giving a formal test. Which assessment examples do you like?

Assessment Models

Verbal Assessment: Just have a conversation with your students. It’s pretty easy to talk to someone and surmise to what extent they understand what they’re talking about or are just making it up as they go along. Your conversation will reveal how comfortably your students can have a meaningful dialogue about what you’ve been studying.

Video Explanation: Ask students to film themselves talking about their learning. Give them a set of questions to answer, a guided outline for their explanation, and even time and formatting parameters, and watch what they create! Easy video editing apps like Splice and Videolicious, or even iMovie, might serve as useful tools for students to record their explanations and share with you their mastery.

Artistic Project: Let your students create by offering them the opportunity to artistically portray their learning. Open up the world of art as an option, asking students to create a drawing, painting, sculpture, or digital rendering that imaginatively depicts their thinking. Also, ask students to present their creations to classmates, and find a place where all work can be proudly displayed.

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Website or Blog: Students can demonstrate their mastery in a truly 21st-century way – by creating a website dedicated to the topic! Now their learning is not something privately shared on an assessment to a teacher, but something available publically and meant to be used by the world. The more in-depth and meaningful students make their blog or website, the more useful it will prove to be by others. Here, students showcase their learning not just by acing a test, but they must master the material enough to be able to share it with others.

Podcast: A podcast is a like a downloadable radio show. Students can work together to record and edit an original audio production that talks about their topic and demonstrates the extent of their knowledge. This is a highly creative platform allowing for students to piece together conversations, interviews, sound bites, music, and other effects to share what they know.

An Infographic: There are many free infographic templates available online today that teachers can use to help students create a visual summary of their learning. Infographics are perfect for highlighting the essentials of any concept through an easy-to-understand visual. So offer some of these templates to your students and let them create these digital summaries and share their learning with their classmates and online.

Self-Reflection: One of my favorite methods of assessing how much students understand is by simply asking them. Offering students a sequence of guided questions helps them indicate to what extent they feel like they have mastered the desired skills and content. Along with reflective questions, allow students to look at their own work, see your feedback, examine sample pieces, and consider a rubric. When students become responsible for assessing their own extent of mastery, they are more likely to personally identify their perceived areas of strengths and weaknesses and make adjustments for the next time.

Create a Guide: One of the true tests is if a person understands something well enough to explain it to someone else. Ask students to create their own study guide or explanatory eBook that targets the most important concepts from their recent learning. Ask them to include pictures, examples, comprehension questions, real-world applications, and other creative ways of processing their recent learning. Tell your students that, if their creation goes well, you’ll use it in upcoming years to help future students!

Teach the Class: Ask students to design a lesson that teaches others about what they know. Oftentimes it is the teacher who learns more than the students, because they are forced to master the material and design activities that help others achieve the same knowledge. Therefore, we should give our students many opportunities to not just report their learning, but to literally become the teacher. This will help students master the material as well as demonstrate to what extent they can successful explain their understanding.

Make a Game: We all love a good challenge or competition. Ask students to demonstrate their learning by creating a new card game, board game, or gamified learning challenge that the whole class can engage in. Games are fun and help students draw upon otherwise hard-to-remember information. And when students can make a game that successfully incorporates elements of their learning, everyone wins.

Breakout EDU challenge: You can learn much more about this breakout room inspired activity here, but essentially this task requires students to use their wits, collaboration, and course-based skills to break into a locked box. This is a competitive and memorable activity that helps you get insights into how well they can apply various skills and knowledge from your course towards the puzzles needed to complete the challenge.

Create a Tellagami: Tellagami is a creative, easy-to-use app that allows students to present via avatar. Instead of students giving a live presentation, they can utilize pictures and videos, plus a digital version of themselves, to give a scripted presentation recording. Students have fun creating their Tellagami production, but the end product offers a look into how well they understand and can explain their assigned concept to others.

Digital Portfolio: Instead of asking students to work on a test that requires them to demonstrate all they know in a timed, make-it-or-break-it assessment, why not ask them to create an ongoing portfolio that showcases their ability to apply their learning? Real life won’t ask people to complete a test; instead, real life needs people who can create original productions based on their knowledge and understanding of certain concepts. Let students demonstrate their learning not through a test, but rather through a collection of various work that demonstrates they don’t just know the material, but can apply it in a meaningful way through a variety of outputs. The digital portfolio is a collection of their work stored via electronic means such as eBooks, YouTube videos, Google Docs, social media links, and other digital locations.

Record a Screencast: A screencast is simply a recording of what you show on your screen along with your explanations. Students can record their own screencasts that demonstrate their ability to create, apply, and talk about what they know. For example, students might create a screencast if they want to share some “How-to” tips for a digital process. Student might also use screencasts to talk about a digital product they have found or created. Teachers can view these recordings and assess students’ understanding based on how well they articulate their understanding of the applied concept as well as see the quality of materials students use within their screencast.

Host a Seminar Conversation: Instead of asking students to independently answer questions during a set period of time, we can ask them to hold a mature, academic conversation revolving around their course topics. A seminar conversation is a great way to assess student understanding because it removes the teacher and puts student learning at the forefront. Students can sit in a circle and share their thoughts about a broad, open-ended question, and they can even have been given time in advance to prepare their own notes for the dialogue. Here, teachers take a very ancient method of assessment and apply it in their classrooms: The Ability to hold a conversation about a topic and share thoughts, evidences, and questions with other participants.

Give a Presentation: The most knowledgeable people are presumably the ones who can speak intelligently about a given topic and teach others. Ask students to master a topic well enough to explain its details in a clear, organized manner to others who don’t know it as well. Have them blend text, pictures, videos, and audio into a multimedia presentation to showcase their knowledge and synthesis.

Perform: Get rid of the textbook and put a script into students’ hands. Ask them to demonstrate their learning by composing and/or performing a scene that acts out the concepts of they should know. This creative, kinesthetic approach gives students an experiential learning opportunity and a memorable way of reinforcing their core learning!

Have a Debate: While speeches can be intimidating, debates can be invigorating. Debates add a somewhat competitive element to your average speech or presentation, pitting students against one another to prove one particular perspective more valid than another. A well-organized debate gives students the opportunity to blend multiple talents together – research, speaking skills, collaboration, synthesis, composition, and raw knowledge – to earn the most respect from an audience showcase how they can adeptly apply their learning to a critical thinking situation.

Write in an Alternate Form: We may have a variety of formal ways we want students to write about their learning, such as an analytical essay, lab report, or summary. But perhaps students can demonstrate what they know just as well through a more creative manner, such as by crafting a first-person story that narrates from a unique perspective, by composing a poem, or by creating diary entries for a character they create. Each of these alternative forms helps students not just recite their learning, but to creatively apply it in an adapted – and fun! – form.

Let Students Generate Make Their Test: Challenge your students by asking them, “What should a test on this look like?” At first, they might come up with the traditional multiple choice, matching, and true/false questions they’re accustomed to. But put students in the driver’s seat of their own application and push them to consider how the skills and knowledge would look in the real world. Ask your class to use collaborative design and take their own test to demonstrate in a practical manner how their knowledge and skills have applicable value.

What do you like from the list above? What assessment would you add or change? Share your thoughts with our community in the comments below!

Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website

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