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When should teachers choose formal assessments over informal evaluation and vice-versa? It all comes down to understanding the critical differences between these two forms of educational assessment. When you nail these, then you can make the right decision. 

Distinguishing formal evaluation from informal assessment can be challenging. For one, both methods use similar tools like quizzes and surveys. But how they apply these tools to specific questions separates one from the other. 

In this article, we will consider 15 key similarities and differences between formal and informal assessments. 

What is a Formal Assessment? 

Formal assessments include multiple data-driven methods that teachers depend on for student evaluation. These types of evaluation often use a standard grading system that allows teachers to score every student objectively. 

Depending on the context, formal assessments can be norm-referenced or criterion-referenced. For example, if you want to know how a learner's score compares to the average class score, then a norm-referenced is your best bet. 

What is Informal Assessment?

Informal assessment is an intuitive evaluation method, where the teacher assesses students without measuring their performance against some rubric or metric. The structure of informal evaluation methods allows teachers to observe the student's progress at different points in the learning period. 

Informal assessments take different forms in the classroom. For example, a teacher can ask students to fill out an exit survey with closed-ended questions at the end of a lesson. In this survey, the students can highlight any difficulties they experienced in the class and the most important things they learned. 

The instructor can also ask students to take part in group quizzes or brief presentations about a particular subject. Informal assessments allow instructors to provide immediate feedback to students and address any learning gaps in time. 

Read: Motivation Assessment: Definitions, Types, Tools + [Questionnaire Examples]

Differences Between Formal and Informal Assessments

Definitions 

A formal assessment is an evaluation method that uses a grading system to score a student's level of knowledge. Typically, students respond to the same questions under the same conditions, and the instructor grades them based on the extent to which they satisfied pre-defined requirements. 

An informal assessment measures students' progress and performance with no standard grading criteria. The instructor uses different methods that allow students to show their knowledge while providing feedback on learning gaps. 

Types

Common types of informal assessment include quizzes, writing samples, and project-based assignments. In informal assessment, quizzes are used to improve class engagement and participation. So, you'd find the instructor splitting the class into groups while every student has a go at the questions. 

Project-based assignments and writing samples are intertwined. For example, the teacher can ask students to create a science project and write a summary of their ideas for the project. 

"students-project"

There are two major types of formal assessment, namely norm-referenced assessments, significantly, and criterion-referenced tests. In norm-referenced evaluation, the teacher measures a student's performance based on the average performance in their class. Criterion-referenced tests are the opposite—the student's performance is judged individually, using a rubric or some other standards. 

Examples

Common examples of formal assessment include tests, quizzes, surveys, and questionnaires. Exit surveys, observation, and oral presentations are examples of informal assessment. 

In some sense, formal and informal assessments can use the same methods. What matters is how the instructor applies these methods to achieve specific objectives. For example, the structure of a quiz for formal assessment significantly differs from a quiz for informal evaluation. 

When to Use

Teachers use formal assessments when they want to determine students’ knowledge based on specific standards and criteria. Instructors use traditional assessment methods when they need factual data that qualifies a student for the best learning phase, for example, moving from high school to college. 

Use informal assessment methods to gather immediate feedback on what a student has learned so far. Informal assessments help the instructor identify learning gaps and guide instruction. You can think of it as a preparation for formal evaluation. 

Advantages of Formal Assessment Over Informal Assessment

Since formal assessments have standard evaluation criteria, there's little or no opportunity for examiner bias. This differs significantly from informal evaluations, where the instructor's subjectivity determines how they rate the student and the type of feedback given. 

Another advantage of formal assessment over informal evaluation is it spurs students to pay keener attention during classes. Since a formal assessment is high stakes, it motivates students to perform better to get higher grades. 

Also, formal evaluation determines whether a student moves to the next phase in the learning process. An individual who wants to gain admission into college needs to ace the required promotional examination. 

Advantages of Informal Assessment Over Formal Assessments

To some extent, formal assessments are a game of luck—a student can ace an exam because of the question selection. With informal evaluation, the instructor has a better picture of a learner's abilities. The teacher can observe a student's performance at different points in the learning process. 

Also, informal assessment gives room for improvement, unlike one-off tests. Since there's little or nothing at stake, students can make mistakes and improve their knowledge without undue pressure. Informal evaluation methods allow students to explore different angles of a particular subject. 

Use of a Grading System

The significant difference between both forms of assessment is while formal evaluation uses a rubric or standard assessment criteria, the other doesn't. A rubric is an assessment tool used for judging a particular type of work. More than stating different grade levels, a rubric provides details on the requirements for each grade. 

"grading-system"

During informal assessments, the instructor doesn't use a set of predetermined criteria for grading. Instead, they compare a student's performance with their past presentations to know if they've made any progress.  

Purpose of Assessment 

The formal evaluation aims to assess a student's overall knowledge, usually at the end of a learning experience. Sometimes, formal assessments allow the instructor to compare a student's performance with others in the same age group or class. 

Informal assessment is used to track learners’ progress and identify any challenges they might face with the subject. 

Scope

Formal assessments provide a broad view of a student's knowledge, while informal assessments provide detailed information. In formal evaluation, the instructor measures a student's performance at the surface level. The aim is to have enough evidence for assigning a specific score and grade to the learner. 

Informal assessments are different. It allows the instructor to do a thorough analysis of the specific experiences of individual students. The teacher can make adjustments to instructional methods based on the specialized needs of each learner. 

Flexibility 

The instructor can adjust informal assessments based on context and the specific needs or set of students. For example, if a student cannot communicate their thoughts via summary writing, the teacher might ask them to give an oral presentation. 

A formal assessment uses well-defined criteria for performance evaluation. So, the instructor cannot deviate from the grading system, even if this system doesn't work for some students. 

Score Comparison 

Depending on the type of formal assessment, the instructor might compare students’ performances in the same class or age group. However, for informal evaluation, the instructor assesses students individually. While the instructor might compare a student's present performance with their past ones, there's no room for student-to-student comparison. 

Tools 

For formal assessments, an essential tool is a rubric or some other well-defined grading system. Formal assessments also use online quiz platforms, surveys, questionnaires, or presentation tools like Google Slides and PowerPoint. Teachers use straw polls, exit surveys, and observation methods for informal assessment on the flip side. 

Similarities Between Informal and Formal Assessment 

Feedback

Both formal and informal assessments provide an opportunity for instructors to give feedback on a student's performance. However, while informal evaluation methods include feedback, summative assessment can happen without feedback. 

Another thing to note here is feedback is always personalized in informal assessment, while formal assessment can provide generic feedback to students at different grades. For example, the instructor can send a general feedback email to everyone who scored a “B” in a test. 

Educational Assessment

Formal and informal assessments are part of educational evaluation. An educational assessment encompasses different methods of discovering how much a student knows, their skills, strengths, and weaknesses. Educational assessment methods use data to validate various aspects of the learning process. 

Instructional Needs

Teachers use formal and informal assessments to improve their instructional methods. Based on results and feedback from both forms of educational assessment, educational stakeholders can change the subject curriculum, grading system, and instructional design for the classes. 

How to Use Formplus as an Online Assessment Tool 

Formplus allows you to create quizzes, polls, surveys, and questionnaires for formal and informal evaluation as an online assessment tool. Here is a simple step-by-step guide on how to do this. 

Step 1: Log into your Formplus account. 

Step 2: On the dashboard, choose the "create new form" button. This takes you to the form builder. 

Step 3: On the left side of the builder, you'd find different form field options like rating scales, text fields, and other advanced fields like signature and payment fields. 


Step 4: Click any field you'd want to add to your form. Alternatively, you can drag-and-drop fields into the work area from the builder's inputs section. 

Step 5: After adding the fields, click on the edit icon beside each to access the editing tab. Here, you can add the specific questions to each field and make other changes like setting fields as "compulsory" or "read-only.” 

Step 6: Click on the "save" icon, so you don't lose all the changes you've made. This also takes you to the builder's customization section automatically. 

Step 7: Use the different options in the customization section to change the appearance of your form. Since you're using this for assessments, it's a great idea to add your school's logo to the survey or questionnaire. You can also create a custom theme from scratch for your form. 


Step 8: Go to the "share" section and choose your preferred form sharing option. You can copy the form link or share it via email invitations. 

Conclusion 

When it’s time to choose one form of educational assessment over the other, the most important thing teachers should consider is context. Ask questions like, “what do I want to achieve with this?” and “how does this fit into the existing learning system?”

In many cases, teachers combine formal and informal assessment methods for evaluation. During the learning process, informal evaluation methods like concept mapping and straw polls help the instructor track each student’s progress. At the end of the learning period, the instructor uses formal evaluations like end-of-term examinations to assess each student’s knowledge and make high-stakes decisions. 


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