Which is better and why? Formal or informal assessment?

Find out the key features of both formal and informal assessments in the classroom. Learn how to use them effectively for maximum results!

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We all know the importance of assessment in the classroom. But what is considered formal and informal assessment? In this post, I will define both types of assessments to help you determine which type best fits your needs. 

Most teachers are comfortable using formal assessment in the classroom. The curriculum requires certain formal assessments at specific points in the teaching year, and guidance is provided on these requirements. When it comes to informal assessment, this is mainly left up to the teacher’s initiative. This post will discuss the differences between informal and formal assessment and offer some pros and cons of each. Informal assessments are typically less time-intensive than formal assessments but can be lacking in accuracy. Formal assessments are more accurate but require more time to complete. When deciding which type of assessment is best for your needs, it is essential to consider the amount of time you have available for assessment purposes versus how much information you need about students’ progress on a given skill or concept. 


Types of Assessment

The two main types of assessment a teacher can use are formal and informal assessment. Each type of assessment has its place in the classroom and can provide valuable information to the teacher on how well their students are doing and fully grasped topics taught.

Formal assessment

Formal assessments are pre-planned, systematic data-based tests that measure what and how well students have learned. Students can study and prepare for these assessments ahead of time, and they provide teachers with a systematic tool for measuring a student’s knowledge and evaluating learning progress. These types of tests are commonly referred to as standardized measures. Formal assessments determine students’ proficiency or mastery of the subject matter and can be used to compare students to specific standards. The information is mathematically calculated and summarized. This type of assessment typically yields scores such as percentiles or standard scores.

Formal assessment should provide feedback to teachers about what their students know and how competent they are regarding a required learning objective. They are measurable because they should provide evidence of the student’s understanding of the required content. Formal assessments are generally regarded as reliable because they produce consistent results across schools and over time. They should give the student enough time to finish and demonstrate their knowledge. These assessments are comprehensive and cover all topics covered in class. They are also appropriate for the intended audience and purpose. Finally, they are measurable, allowing students to be compared to national standards.

Informal assessment

Informal assessments are spontaneous forms of assessment that can easily be incorporated into day-to-day classroom activities and measure students’ performance and progress. Informal assessments are observational tools. Informal assessments can assist teachers in identifying students’ strengths and weaknesses and in planning future lessons. Content and performance rather than data drive informal assessments.

Informal assessments should be valid, reliable, and purposeful. It should also be fair to students from various backgrounds, i.e., appropriate for the target audience and objective. Informal assessment must also have clear scoring procedures. Informal assessment must remain relevant to the content being taught. An excellent informal assessment activity should motivate students while also providing constructive feedback to help them improve their performance. Finally, engaging, interactive activities are generally regarded as excellent informal assessments.

Formal vs informal assessment

The primary goal of formal assessment is to present a systematic method for evaluating students’ progress in a specific instructional program for which the assessment is designed. After completing a topic, subject, or term, a formal assessment can be announced, and the questions asked in that assessment will be related to that topic. With the use of formal assessment, it will be possible to evaluate all students systematically. The use of formal assessments is used to evaluate students’ presentations based on their grades. They are of a standardized nature. The nature of formal assessments is standardized because they have pre-determined evaluation criteria. Formal assessments are intended to evaluate students’ performance who become nervous when the teacher asks them to respond suddenly. The quizzes, essays, lab reports, and other regulated tools all contribute to a formal assessment.

On the other hand, informal assessment is one of the authentic assessments that can be taken by designing special activities such as group or individual projects, various types of experiments, verbal presentations, demonstrations, or actual performances. A variety of informal assessments are developed for traditional classroom environments that only include assignments, journals, essay writing, report writing, literature discussion groups, or reading logs. It is easier said than done in the informal assessment technique to demonstrate each student’s progress using actual works. In contrast, the nature of informal assessments is qualitative, and no standardized tool for estimation is available. Informal assessments can be made by pausing the lecture and checking the students for the fundamental goal of determining their level of involvement at a glance. On the other hand, the nature of informal assessments is not standardized because they are subjective, with no pre-determined criteria for evaluating performance. Informal assessments help determine learning skills in students who become nervous when taking formal assessments and thus fail to perform to their full potential.

Purpose of assessment

The assessment method used must be appropriate for the assessment. Formal or standardized measures should be used to evaluate overall achievement, compare a student’s performance with others their age or grade level, or identify comparable strengths and weaknesses with peers. Informal assessments, also known as criterion-referenced measures or performance-based measures, should be used to guide instruction. Through the use of questioning, informal assessments can provide a teacher with quick feedback. Formal and informal assessments both have a place in the classroom. When selecting an assessment, consider the goals, uses, and benefits of each type of assessment. In general, a combination of each category will provide the most accurate picture of a student’s achievement, which is critical for accurately assessing meeting standards, teaching, and understanding.

Examples of formal assessment

  • aptitude tests – used to assess a student’s cognitive abilities, attention to detail, and behaviour in the classroom
  • grades – used to assess a child’s progress.
  • tests – used to assess the appropriateness of teaching programs and strategies, and whether the student has understood content taught
  • standardised Tests – developmental assessment tests with high reliability and predictive validity (normative standardisation). Classification and placement are determined using this method.
Formal assessment examples
Formal assessment examples

Examples of informal assessment

  • 3-2-1 Students take notes on three of the ideas, concepts, or issues presented. Students write down two examples or applications of an idea or concept. Students should write down one unanswered question or potential misunderstanding.
  • 12 Word Summary -Students should summarize essential aspects of a specific chunk of instruction or reading in 12 words or less.
  • Class vote – Present several possible answers or solutions to a question or problem and allow students to vote on the best one.
  • Concept Mapping – Create a concept map. Fill in the concept map after the lesson, explanation, or reading (partner or individually). Please report back.
  • FlashCards – After 10 minutes of a class discussion or concept presentation, have students make a flashcard with the fundamental concept or idea. Allow students to work in pairs near the end of the class to exchange ideas and review the material.
  • Tickets to enter and exit – The teacher asks students a question about the lesson. Students then respond on the ticket and hand it to the teacher, either on their way out or on their way in the following day. The teacher can then assess whether there is a need to re-teach or whether there are questions that need to be answered.
  • Quick Write – For 2-3 minutes, the student writes about what he heard from a lecture or explanation/read/learned. It could be a teacher’s open-ended question.
Informal assessment examples
Informal assessment examples

Benefits of using both formal and informal assessments in the classroom 

Each type of assessment has its own set of advantages.

  • Many students become nervous when taking formal assessments and may underperform, whereas other students may be excellent test takers and excel even if they have not mastered the knowledge.
  • Comparing a student to his or her peers is one of the benefits of formal assessments.
  • Another advantage is that formal assessments are relatively simple to administer, often requiring only paper and pencil.
  • Because it is administered in the same manner at each school, students and teachers can rely on the consistency of the results.
  • Younger students perform best in informal assessments because they cannot sit for formal evaluations, let alone hold a pencil.
  • Informal assessments have the advantage of providing you and your students with a quick snapshot for making immediate decisions.
  • They don’t necessitate a lot of preparation, planning, or classroom time.

Challenges with assessing students formally or informally

  • A disadvantage of formal assessments is the use of multiple-choice questions. Students are never required to come up with their answers when using this form; instead, they must choose the best from a list. It cannot assess the breadth of a student’s knowledge.
  • Furthermore, students taking norm-referenced tests do not receive feedback on how well they mastered material but rather on how well they performed compared to others.
  • The disadvantage of informal assessment is that there is no way to remember it for planning purposes, and there is no way to track it to demonstrate progress or growth.


Informal and formal assessments are two options that can be used to assess a student’s learning. Each assessment has its advantages and disadvantages, making it difficult for teachers to decide what is the best option. As we mentioned before, informal assessments may not give as much information about how well students understand concepts or skills, while formal assessments high-stakes and time-consuming. If you have any thoughts on this subject, please comment below! Which type of assessment do you prefer?

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