Informal vs. Formal Assessments: Tests are not the only end-all-be-all of how we assess.

REFLECTIVE LOG : When are informal assessments useful (versus formal assessments)? How valuable are informal assessments? Can informal assessments be good replacements for formal assessments?


It has been once said that “Everybody is a geniusBut if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Our students must be assessed relative to what their skills are. It could be done by doing formal assessments or informal assessments or combination of both. 


I realized that beyond giving formal assessments (i.e. Summative assessments: Quizzes, long tests, periodical exams, etc.), our main role as teachers is determined by how we recognize our students’ progress/stagnation through informal assessments (i.e. formative assessments: port folios, role play, record tracking, etc.) These methods allow the teacher to easily maneuver where and how his/her instuction is going.

The result of a formal test (e.g. long test) alone would not necessarily dictate the entire academic ability of our students. It does not mean that when a student fails a formal test (e.g. periodical test), we could already conclude that he’s entire learning capabilities for that subject failed as well.

Assessing students is not monopolized by just doing it formally (e.g. giving out tests, quizzes, summative exams, etc.), but rather depends on the other informal assessments (e.g. coaching sessions, reflective logs, fly-by-question and answers, etc.) that reinforce formal ones.

There are many factors why a student could fail from a test (e.g. lack of sleep, emotional and family distress, etc.), but there would only be few factors why he/she would not be able to provide a reflective insight on the lesson. But how do we separate formal assessments from informal ones?

The table and concept map I incorporated below could give some help (you could click the picture or open it in a new tab to see it clearer =).

INFORMAL VS FORMAL TABLEinformal vs formal mindmap

When are informal assessments useful (versus formal assessments)?

I believe the most applicable time to use informal assessments is when:

1. We want to gauge the students cognitive, affective and manipulative skills in the simplest way possible. We ask students to recite or write down essays to easily determine if they understood a specific lesson well or poorly, if they are enthusiastic or bored with the lesson, if they are already familiar or completely unfamiliar with the topic, etc.

2. We deem that the results of the formal examinations are not enough to give a concluding mark for the students’ performance. If a specific student performs excellently in class activities but suddenly failed a summative test, it could tell us that there could be a deviation between our formal against our informal assessments, or other factors might have been involved with such event (e.g. student factor: did not review, physically/emotionally troubled, etc.)

How valuable are informal assessments? Can informal assessments be good replacements for formal assessments?

Although informal assessments provide teachers with solid bases of how the students are performing, it would not imply that it could already replace formal assessments. They should work hand-in-hand and interdependently. One should complement the other.

For instance, if we opt to use role plays and recitals in assessing students’ communications skills informally, we should also align our formal exams with the activities our students previously engaged on. In this way, we could ensure validity and fairness of our assessments. Moreover, we could find that these methods relieve our burdens with analyzing, comparing, and understanding our students “true” abilities.

We cannot just give (formal) tests or quizzes in the same manner as we cannot just consume course-time with just giving out (informal) class activities. Arriving at a valid and reliable grades for our students is a combination of maximing both formal and informal assessments.

To summarize:
Informal assessment being a systematic observation = knowing what, when and where we are going to assess + (How) Establishing criteria for assessing students

I believe this is how it should be done:
1. Doing informal assessment > 2. Linking informal assessments with formal assessments> 3. doing feedbacks based from the results of both assessments


Is reflective teaching a necessary skill for informal assessment to effectively facilitate teaching-learning? (What does it mean to reflect about teaching?)

The term metacognition” loudly rings a bell when I brain-stormed for concepts behind reflective-teaching. Metacognitive skill is our ability to learn about learning or “knowing about knowing”. Being teachers makes us be in all professions we could possibly think of. It makes us social scientists in knowing how our students differ from METACONITION REFLECTIVE TEACHINGculture to culture, psychologists as it makes us recognize what behavior-patterns our students possess, etc. But beyond all these, being a teacher drives us in knowing not only how “we” teach but of how our “students” are being receptive/repulsive of what we are teaching.

I believe, formal assessments are insufficient to accomplish this task. As I have mentioned above, a specific score in a (formal) test would not entirely be reflective of what the students’ holistic capabilities are. What our students need is not just a “statistician” who just gathers and analyzes numbers/figures from formal tests and associates these to infer/conclude what our students performance is.

Our students need more of a “teacher” than a “statistician”. As teachers, we should be sensitive to how our students are absorbing or repelling our way of teaching. We should learn how they learn. We should reflect not only from the “numbers” they are giving us, but also from the “unscored/unrated” behavior, skills, performance they are able to express.

Reflective teaching for me means going beyond what the text book dictates. It makes us ponder the following questions:
1.How good did my students absorb the lesson? Why are they performing poorly/greatly? How do I improve their performance?
2. “Am I teaching the subject effectively/poorly?”
3. “Did I give the right questions? Were my activities aligned with what my students’ current needs are?”

Reflecting from these self assessment questions would give us a bird’s-eye view of whether we are on the right track or not. I believe it has much to do with knowing our learners’ learning styles and our own teaching styles. Knowing about knowing. Being aware of how we are teaching our subjects gives us more confidence on addressing what our students’ needs are.



Weaver, B. Formal versus Informal Assessments.
Morrison, G. Informal Methods of Assessment.
Forlizzi, L. Informal assessment: The Basics.
Navarete, C., et al. Informal Assessment In Educational Evaluation.
Mind map retrieved february 20, 2013 from the URL:

Many Thanks!

About this blog




About Jeff.M.D.C.
I'm an intricate combination of varying temperaments; Happy and living life by the minute. "I do not aspire to fame or glory. I do not aim on rivaling others whose conditions, intelligence and circumstances are different from mine." -jpr. Want to know more? Ask me. =)

6 Responses to Informal vs. Formal Assessments: Tests are not the only end-all-be-all of how we assess.

  1. loujuachon says:

    Topics to Add:

    1. Assessment with Purpose in Mind (reflection/ critical essay)
    2. Crash Course on Giving Grades (essay)
    3. Personal Philosophy of Assessment


  2. Shabana Jameel says:

    This is a really good refresher and helped me to get a much better idea of the breadth of what can be used and considered as an informal assessment. I also benefitted from the t chart. And I like how it was explained in real world terms. Thank you!


  3. tonimacasaet says:

    Reblogged this on Mary Anthonnette "Toni" Macasaet EDS113 and commented:
    Looking for further material to enhance my grasp of EDS113 assessment concepts ands tumbled on this blog. A real eye opener.


  4. Pingback: Formal vs. Informal Assessments | EDS_113 Principles and Methods of Assessment

  5. Pingback: Formal vs Informal: Is assessment the answer? | jazrey-saldua

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