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Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition

Choosing Assessment Methods

Choosing Assessment Methods

Written assessments

Assessment Method Description Advantages Disadvantages
Multiple Choice Candidates select the appropriate answer from several possible responses.

Efficient and reliable.

Allow a wide content sampling.

Many items can be administered during a limited time period.

Easy to administer and score.

Scoring is objective.

Measure knowledge keyed to specific learning outcomes and competencies.

Can be written to test all levels of the cognitive taxonomy.

Question construction can be difficult and time consuming.

May encourage guessing.

Multiple choice requires recognition of a pre-constructed response.

True or false has a chance score of 50% unless adjusted and facts may not be categorically true or false.

Not appropriate for higher level thinking, performance or attitudinal outcomes.

True and False Candidates state whether statements are true or false.
Matching Candidates select a second statement that best complements with each presented statement.
Fill-in-the-blank Candidates complete phrases or sentences by filling in the blanks.
Short Answer Candidates provide short answers to questions or complete sentences.

Requires recollection of correct answer.

Relatively easy to construct.

Guessing is minimized.

Allow wide sampling of content.

Test candidate ability to organize, compose and write rather than merely recognize or recall.

Difficult to score.

Tend to emphasize factual knowledge, rather than higher thinking skills, performance or attitudes.


Candidates respond to questions or directions by organizing and writing an answer.

Easy to prepare.

Candidates use their own words.

Measures complex cognitive learning.

Eliminates guessing.

Testing is limited to a narrow sampling of content.

May encourage “padding”.

Difficult to evaluate objectively or achieve reliability in scoring and requires good scoring guides, model answers and clear criteria.

Favours candidates with high language skills.

Situation-based problem solving Candidates organize and write responses to problems usually presented in a real-life context.

Able to measure complex, cognitive learning.

Candidates use their own words.

Relates learning to real world situations.

May test several competencies at once.

Time-consuming and difficult to construct.

Difficult to score reliably in scoring and requires good scoring guides.

May reduce the range of content that can be sampled.

Standardized exam

Exam designed for large scale application.

Often multiple choice and true or false format.

Many are normreferenced.

Can often be graded by computer.

Can compare performance across organizations and jurisdictions.

Are considered more objective than other methods

Are culturally bound, limiting objectivity.

Can be confusing if sequencing of questions is not clear.

Ratio of correct to incorrect answer design limits quality of assessment tool.

Oral assessments

Assessment Method Description Advantages Disadvantages
Structured oral test

Candidates respond to preset questions (and answers).

Notes are kept on responses.

Tends to be more reliable than an unstructured oral test.

Provides direct assessment of specific knowledge and skills.

Less personal

Requires training in interviewing skills and rating scales.

Can cause candidate anxiety.

May advantage candidates with strong verbal skills and comfort with speaking.

One to one interview A face to face interview during which questions may flow from candidate responses.

Allows for a more complete assessment than pre-set questions.

Useful in combination with portfolio assessment.

Requires training in interviewing skills and rating scales.
Panel interview Candidates are interviewed by several examiners. Moderate subjectivity.

Costly to conduct.

Group process must be planned.

Performance assessments

Assessment Method Description Advantages Disadvantages
Simulation (OSCE) Candidate performs in a simulated real life situation

Provides “controlled” sample of real life and work activity.

Allows for testing of complex integrated skills.

Requires clear criteria and standardized test conditions.

May be costly.

Presentation Candidate verbally presents learning. Provides candidate control over demonstration. Depends on candidate confidence.
Skills demonstration Candidate physically presents learning.

Clear demonstration of skill level and problemsolving ability in relevant contexts.

Excellent for measuring application and synthesis levels of the taxonomy.

Can be costly and time consuming.
Role play Actors or peers take on roles to simulate a problem. Practical – replicating “real world” skills as much as possible.

Group work may not be a fair assessment of individual ability.

Can create performance pressure unrelated to skills being assessed.

Observation Observer assesses behavior in a natural setting. Assessment criteria is set in advance.

Opportunity to observe the real practice context

Often more comfortable for candidates than simulation.

Allow for collaboration with employees.

Complicated to set up.

Can be time consuming and costly.

A rating sheet is critical to prevent unfair test conditions.

Can involve unplanned, uncontrolled events.

Product assessments

Assessment Method Description Advantages Disadvantages
Work sample Work sample is provided by the candidate. Provides a real life context.

Direct, practical and learner-centered.

Useful when knowledge and skills are difficult to observe during product creation.
A rating sheet is critical to prevent unfair test conditions.

Does not allow for process observation.
Portfolio or evidence collection An organized collection of materials that present and verify skills and knowledge acquired experientially. Enable reflection on learning.

May demonstrate cross-cutting knowledge and skills.
May require supplementary interviews.

Require advising services.

May favour candidates with strong writing skills.

Requires assessor training.
Self-evaluation Learners respond in writing to criteria set for evaluating their learning. Uses critical reflection.

Can be used in conjunction with other methods.

Congruent with adult education philosophy.
May not be appropriate for use as the only assessment method.

May favour candidates with strong writing skills.
External training program review Assessment of workplace and occupational training programs for academic equivalency and credit. Eliminates assessment of individual achievements based on successful program completion.

Essentially credit transfer.
Can be costly.

Training programs often do not have sufficient structure to justify academic credit.

This table has been adapted with permission from: Van Kleef, J., Amichand, S., Carkner, M., Ireland, M., Orynik, K., Potter, J. (November 2007). Quality Assurance in PLAR: Issues and Strategies for Post-secondary Institutions, volume 2, pages 10-13