Criterion-referenced assessment

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The term criterion-referenced assessment is used for an assessment where the performance of the individual or group being assessed is compared to pre-defined standards of mastery, rather than compared to the performance of others being assessed.

Criterion-referenced assessment is contrasted with norm-referenced assessment, where the goal is to compare the performance of individuals or groups being assessed with other individuals or groups.


  • Driving tests (used for granting driving licenses) are generally criterion-referenced. Drivers are expected to perform a specified list of tasks at a certain minimum competency (they generally need to avoid "critical errors" and make sure that they do not score more "points" for minor errors than a certain threshold).
  • A test of basic arithmetic skills may be criterion-referenced. For instance, a test of two-digit multiplication skills may involve asking people three questions involving multiplying two-digit numbers, with the qualifying criterion being that the student gets all three questions correct.
  • Advanced Placement tests in the United States are generally considered criterion-referenced, though the performance of the student body at large plays some role in determining the cutoffs and the required competency level.
  • Concept inventory tests are criterion-referenced assessments.

Interchangeability with norm-referenced assessment

The same assessment instrument could be used as a criterion-referenced assessment or as a norm-referenced assessment. However, some instruments are better as criterion-referenced assessments, whereas others are better as norm-referenced assessments.

Influence on assessment design

Criterion-referenced assessments should be designed in a manner that the score on the assessment accurately reflects the extent to which the criterion is satisfied. (Put some details that are actually useful in clarifying this).