13 Alternatives to Traditional Testing

A drawing of a frustrated test-taker with following written beside, showing the limitation of testing: "I study, I take the test, I pass it, I forget what I learned."


A. “Alternatives to Traditional Testing” (web page) outlines 13 “reasonable alternatives to traditional tests” (or 12 for final essays!).

  • These alternate assessment strategies may be "advantageous to promote student learning and be more authentic means of students demonstrating what they have learned at the higher levels of Bloom's Taxonomy (synthesis, analysis, evaluation).”

B. The 13 explained alternatives to traditional testing include the following:

1. A paper instead of a test

  • "Make sure that the paper is integral to the course and not simply an add-on."
  • "One way to accomplish this, to help students write better, and to encourage academic integrity is to give the assignment early and ask for portions of the paper to be turned in at intervals: preliminary topic, outline, bibliography, draft, and so on."
  • "And ask students to include all drafts and notes along with the paper."

2. A series of quizzes or chapter tests instead of comprehensive, high-stakes tests

  • "Unless there is a solid pedagogical reason for a comprehensive, high-stakes test (i.e., midterm), you might consider a series of shorter tests throughout the semester."
  • "You can always add one or two questions relating to previous units in the course."

3. Memorandum or briefing

  • "Students prepare a one or two page memorandum or briefing, with, for example, the following headings: background, problem, possible solutions with pros and cons, final recommendation (and you can add as you like, for instance, final recommendation with implications, possible impact, and so on)."
  • "Besides being a good exercise in synthesizing material, it’s an excellent way for students to practice being concise and direct."

4. Professional presentation

  • "Many courses lend themselves to presentations of the kind that a professional consultant would provide to a community group or some kind."
  • "Applicable to many different disciplines."

5. Annotated anthology or course reader

  • "Students prepare a selection of works they have read during the term as a thematic anthology—they create the theme, choose the works, write a paragraph introduction to each, and an introduction to the anthology."

  • "If the works themselves are short, e.g., poems, they should be included. For longer pieces, just a table of contents, the introduction, and the introduction to each piece." 

  • "The course reader exercise works essentially the same way, but in this case, students have to organize the readings chronologically to develop the theme they have created for the course."

  • "This assignment can be made as complex as you wish, by asking for such things as assignments to go with the readings, suggestions for further reading, and so on."

6. Poster sessions (with peer critique)

  • "This is applicable to many different kinds of classes."
  • See text for chemistry example.

7. Annotated portfolio of work throughout the term

  • "Students compile their best or representative work from the term, write a critical introduction to the portfolio and a brief introduction to each piece."

8. Annotated research bibliography with introduction

  • "Rather than ask students to write a research paper, ask them instead to compile a bibliography on a problem or question. In essence they do everything but write the paper."
  • "They must read the works, evaluate their accuracy and helpfulness, and provide an explanatory introduction to the bibliography."
  • "Each entry contains an explanatory and/or evaluative paragraph."
  • "Students can also compare the relative usefulness of sources, authors’ points of view, biases, and so on."

9. Fact sheet

  • "[A] more demanding assignment than it first appears to be"
  • Useful for health issues (smoking, HIV, etc.), economics or sociology (school board budgets or trends in enrollment), history or political science (fact sheet on the 1960 Presidential Election), engineering (fact sheet on the new Bay Bridge), etc.
  • "Students must learn to search the relevant databases for the discipline, evaluate material, and present it in a concise, readable way." 

10. Reflective paper

  • "If the class is experiential in nature (e.g., student teaching, performance), ask the students to write a reflective paper/critique of their experience."

  • "The key here is to make them tie this to theory or themes in the course so that it doesn’t become an effusion of personal feeling."

  • "Even in non-experiential/performance courses, a reflective paper can be very useful. Some classes ask students to add a reflection to a term paper."

11. Op-ed piece to be sent to local newspaper

  • "A 'real world' exercise that requires not only a thorough understanding of both sides of an issue, but an ability to understand the audience."

12. Historical trial

  • "[P]reparation can be demanding."

13. Student-proposed project

  • "Students, at a pre-determined point in the class and with specific conditions tied to it to ensure it will represent their learning as related to the course goals, may have the option of suggesting a course project that they would like to undertake."
Printer Friendly, PDF & Email