Somewhere along the way the concept of assessment has become very confused and confusing. Here’s how I have come to conclude how assessment should and shouldn’t be done.

For the Learner

Assessment should always be immediately available to the person who took it, formal or informal.

When a grade is required I immediately tell the person face-to-face in the assessment interview the grade I feel they deserve and why and provide a minimal opportunity for them to respond right there. It’s not so much a negotiation as an opportunity for clarification.

Somewhere along the way those producing formal assessments stopped giving the results to the person who took it. This is wrong. Some of the reasons are understandable, some not so much:

I have spoken to frustrated members who took such assessments elsewhere and incessantly wonder what they did wrong. Did they get their numbers wrong? Did they miss something silly? Others have passed with perfect scores. Wouldn’t it be nice to frame those results someplace as a personal trophy for all their hard work preparing for it?


The best possible assessment occurs when you can interview the person being assessed.

First of all you get to see each other as humans and not adversaries. You get to ensure the person being assessed that you are on their side, that you want them to succeed and are there to help them do so. That you care enough to do whatever it takes to make the time to assess them in person instead of throwing them in a testing center with 500 other nameless bubble-fillers.

I have been able to adjust based on the individual and come to understand they understood a concept that a multiple-choice question would have immediately, coldly, and—most importantly—incorrectly marked wrong.

Multiple Guess Testing

💢 Multiple guess testing of any kind is ridiculously stupid, lazy, and uninformed by actual research. Yet almost every significant assessment test—including those for college entrance—is based on them.

No wonder so many colleges admissions boards have thrown them out. It is not just College Board that is broken, the entire premise is academically and objectively unfounded, as incredibly ironic as that is.

For example, one can become a “Certified … Professional” simply by answering a number of multiple choice questions even though the thing being tested is something as involved as System Administration or Programming. It is like having a person fill in bubbles with a #2 pencil to test their CPR skills.


Being personal does not mean throwing out objectivity. The content can be predictable and objective, even the language used can be identical, but it is coming from you and you are there to take in all the verbal and non-verbal queues regarding that person’s mastery of the material. You can prepare multiple ways to phrase the question or get clarity and allow everyone the same prompts when needed, if needed.


My SAT Prep class in school when I was young specifically started with the pronouncement that the test, in fact, had actually nothing to do with your actual knowledge but instead your ability to “beat the test.”

This is all too often true of all tests. At least 20% of what is being assessed is your ability not to overstress about the test and just pass it. I have asked a student to demonstrate something he just learned to his parents and I and had him literally freeze unable to type a thing. Not five minutes before he was tapping out solutions to such things without a problem. The stress killed his performance.

Some would argue that time-based stressful examinations are also testing specifically the ability to perform under stress. If so fine, but most assessments have no justifiable reason to include that unnecessary element of the test.

[Mr. Lundquist was an amazing instructor and example who lead the “gifted and talented” program for several schools. I am particularly grateful to have known and learned from him. I wonder where he is now.]


Timing how long it takes someone to do something often creates an inaccurate measure of the learning, but usually for specific skills such as typing, the amount of time to perform the skill matters greatly. It is tough to know the difference between someone taking time on an answer because they are stressed vs because they don’t know it well enough.

Timing an informal assessment turns it into a challenge with a little competitive motivation. People like a good achievement challenge, and so long as it remains relatively informal, they love some friendly competition to push them to improve themselves. That is the only good reason for competition, ultimately to motivate one toward self-improvement, not “winning at all costs.”


Most assessment can be done simply by looking at the work the person has done. You can review it at length and then reduce the amount of time assessing the person face-to-face mostly just to let the person explain their creation and how they chose to apply what they have learned. When done this way assessment becomes more of an enjoyable show-and-tell session with the proud learner explaining how amazing their thing is rather than the learner-v.s.-test battle traditional assessment has become.

This also provides a window into the motivation of the learner. If they are clearly only doing the minimum and not that into it I know immediately that either the material is not engaging enough or that this is simply not this person’s thing. This insight is incredibly valuable and informs the entire learning plan for that individual.