Criterion-Referenced Assessment: Definition, Types and Examples

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What do you know about criterion-referenced assessment?

There are a lot of conflicting ideas about what a criterion-referenced assessment is. The reason for this confusion is the misunderstanding of what criterion means.

However, this is a comprehensive write-up about criterion-referenced assessment and the difference between norm-referenced assessment and criterion-referenced assessment.

According to the Oxford Language Dictionary, a criterion is “a principle or standard by which something may be judged or decided”.

Now that we know the meaning of criterion, let’s delve into what criterion-referenced assessment is and some examples of criterion-referenced assessment.

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What is Criterion-Referenced Assessment?

Criterion-referenced assessment, as the name implies, is a method of assessment in which a student is scored based on criteria set or a specified standard.

Depending on the examiner, criterion-referenced assessments may include true or false questions, open-ended questions, surveys, or multiple-choice questions.

Additionally, a criterion-referenced assessment judges a student’s score based on their dominant knowledge of the subject, unlike the norm-referenced assessment method.

Furthermore, this method of assessment is transparent and independent of other students, i.e., it focuses on one student at a time.

However, it is also a mastery test, showing when an examinee gains mastery in a particular subject.

For instance, an examiner can set a cut-score for a test at 70%, and any student that scores up to 80% will pass with the criteria that the student must answer the first question (question No. 1 ) before choosing randomly from other listed questions.

If student 1 scores up to 80% without answering the first question (Question No. 1), he has failed. If student 2 answers question 1 but didn’t score up to 80%, that student also failed.

However, if the third student answers question No. 1 and scores up to 80%, he has passed. This is because the criteria set for the test is that in order to pass,

  • you must answer question No. 1 and other questions.
  • You must score at least 80%.

As a result, grades determined using this method are typically transparent and can be directly linked to each student’s performance on each set track.

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Advantages of Criterion-Referenced Assessment

Basically, in schools, the criterion-referenced assessment method is frequently used. It applies to a variety of educational settings, including high school, college, etc. Amongst these are some of the advantages of criterion-referenced assessment tests;

  • It enables you to assess a student’s level of comprehension of a specific body of knowledge.
  • It shows that they have mastered a specific set of skills for their educational level.
  • Criterion-referenced tests assess the extent to which a student exhibits criterion behavior.
  • It helps students build strong self-evaluation skills by giving them resources to review, edit, and enhance their work.
  • Additionally, the assessment design is consistent and promotes learning progression within and across courses and programs.
  • Criterion-referenced assessment helps in Identifying practices in teaching, learning, and assessment that may require revision.
  • Assessment tasks links to program outlines, as well as course-level learning outcomes.
  • Assessment is carried out in a way that is inclusive and impartial, and it is valid and reliable.
  • A criterion-referenced test makes it possible to report student progress or achievement on a number of essential criteria rather than just as a single grade or percentage.
  • Also, students have timely access to assessment details, and assessment procedures are consistent and transparent.

Although these grades are often in percentages, they can also be in alternative categories such as basic, proficient and advanced.

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Characteristics of Criterion-Reference Assessment

Some common characteristics of the criterion-referenced assessment are:

  • The students are given a list of evaluation criteria when the assessment is created, such as
  • specific standards for each unit’s assessment task
  • Descriptive standards for each evaluation criterion that are meaningful 
  • Prior to submitting the assessment task, there is a moderation of the criteria and standards and active student familiarization with them.
  • Utilization of the rubric to grade student work, give feedback, and evaluate student work.
  • Following the marking of each assessment task is the review (and modification) of the criteria and standard descriptors.

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Norm-Referenced Assessment

Generally, a norm-referenced assessment is an assessment system that determines the students’ grades by comparing them with the grades of other students. This system is a function of a theoretical average of the test takers.

However, Unlike the criterion assessment, the norm-referenced assessment grades examinees by who did better or worse.

Also, this grading method is fully dependent on the performance of other students, and transparency might be a bit difficult.

Interestingly, this is the computing method that is presently in use for pageantry and some competitions.

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Criterion-Referenced Assessment vs. Norm-Referenced Assessment

Furthermore, these two assessment methods are useful irrespective of their differences and disadvantages. Take a look at a comparison of the criterion-referenced assessment and the Norm-referenced assessment.

 Criterion-Referenced AssessmentNorm-Referenced Assessment
1.The criterion-referenced assessment is independent of the performance of other test writersThe norm-referenced assessment test is entirely dependent on the performance of other test writers
2.This assessment type is transparent and can be easily traced. This is one of the major advantages of criterion-referenced assessment.This type of assessment is not as transparent as the criterion assessment test, and it can easily get manipulated.
3.Also, they have fixed standards and criteria for assessmentThe standards of assessment vary and are based on performance comparison
4.Criterion-referenced assessment is useful in determining the proficiency of a test taker in a particular subject matter.Norm-referenced assessments are useful in determining the ranks of test-takers in relation to their peer
Comparison of the Criterion-Referenced Assessment and Norm-Reference-Assessment Test.

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When Can You Use a Criterion-Referenced Assessment Test?

  • Basically, you can use the criterion-reference assessment to test the proficiency of a student in a particular knowledge or skill set.
  • For professional Licensing examinations.
  • For creating a concise academic progress report while analyzing learning gaps that can be improved.
  • To assess a nation’s educational performance, typically in order to compare academic performance between different countries.
  • To assess a course, academic program, or learning experience’s effectiveness by tracking students’ progress through pre- and post-tests throughout the course of instruction and
  • Also, for writing high-stakes tests like high school examinations.

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Examples of Criterion-Referenced Assessment

Meanwhile, the criterion-referenced assessment and the norm-referenced assessment were coined by Robert Glaser.

Most criterion-referenced assessments are also applicable to high stake examinations where the results are implicating to the test writer.

Here are some examples of criterion-referenced assessment.

  • Driving test
  • Professional Examination
  • standardization assessment
  • National Assessment of Educational Progress.
  • High school graduation
  • Citizenship test
  • Advanced placement test


What are the disadvantages of criterion-referenced assessment?

  • Due to their lack of training, instructors and administrators are unable to maximize test results.
  • Some tests can be costly and time-consuming, and they can only be generalized up to a certain point.
  • Attaining prior access to the assessments could lead to an unfair advantage for students.
  • The basis of the learning standards determines how accurate and fair they are.
  • Since proficiency levels are subjective, it can be helpful for political gain to suggest that schools are performing better or worse than they actually are.

What is the difference between criterion-referenced assessment and norm-referenced assessment?

The criterion-referenced assessment compares the individual’s knowledge of a particular skill or subject to a preset standard or criteria, while the norm-referenced assessment tests compare the individuals to each other on the basis of their performance.

What is a rubric?

A rubric is a scoring guide that clearly outlines what ought to be done to attain a good grade. Additionally, a good rubric clearly describes different qualities for each criterion with excellent, good, or great. This method is usually in the criterion-referenced assessment system.

What are the types of rubrics?

There are about 4 types of rubrics.

  • Holistic rubrics
  • Analytic rubrics
  • development rubrics and
  • checklists

What are the advantages of the criterion-referenced assessment?

  • Criterion-referenced tests assess the extent to which a student exhibits criterion behavior.
  • It helps students build strong self-evaluation skills by giving them resources to review, edit, and enhance their work.
  • Also, the criterion-referenced assessment design is consistent and promotes learning progression within and across courses and programs.
  • Criterion-referenced assessment helps in Identifying practices in teaching, learning, and assessment that may require revision.
  • Assessment tasks links to program outlines, as well as course-level learning outcomes.
  • This type of assessment carries out tests in a way that is inclusive, impartial, valid, and reliable.


In conclusion, the criterion-referenced assessment is quite a useful tool, especially in the academic sector, as it has more advantages. The results are comprehensive and easily traceable.

Although a criterion-referenced exam shows how well a student understands particular ideas, they alone cannot provide a complete picture of what a student has learned in a given course.

Parents and teachers can get a complete picture of a student’s performance from their work, projects, essays, and even their participation in class discussions.


  • Wikipedia – What is Criterion-Referenced Assessment?
  • Edglossary – Examples of criterion-Referenced Assessment
  • Toppr – Characteristics of criterion-Referenced Assessment
  • psychology.fandom – What is Norm-Referenced Assessment?


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